A Christmas Message from the Provincial Grand Chaplain

Rev'd Aled Lewis, Provincial Grand Chaplain

 

The symbolism of darkness and light is as old as humanity itself, or should that be light and darkness?!  How many times have we heard the expression ‘these are dark times’ during the course of the year?  We all know immediately what is meant.  Sadly, it has been heard in many different contexts throughout the year, but especially in relation to the pandemic. 

 

This time of year is also a dark time with the few hours of daylight.  I always say that I turn in to a mole – going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, and seeing little daylight in between!  The wet weather also doesn’t help, and some days it feels as though it never gets light at all.  Dark times are by definition difficult times.

 

This symbolism is extensively employed in our ritual.  We enter this world in darkness, blind to everything that surrounds us.  We are then restored to the blessing of material light, as sight is restored to our eyes, when we are able to see at least some of the things which surround us – we see, but we have little comprehension or understanding of what we see. 

 

Slowly but surely, we are led and supported on our journey, and what we see is explained to us so that we grow in knowledge and understanding.  As our time on earth draws to a close, we are told that the darkness will once again descend on our mortal life, but that it is nothing to fear, rather it is something which we have been preparing for all the time.  When we are figuratively raised from the grave it is the light of the bright morning star which heralds our full reunion with our companions on the way.  Beautiful yet so powerful.

 

It is no surprise that our ancient bretheren made such extensive use of this imagery.  We encounter it in the opening verses of the Holy Bible:

 

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

 

The scene is set from the beginning of our story.

 

The significance is not confined to those whose Volume of the Sacred Law is the Holy Bible, for so many religions and beliefs understand the significance of darkness and light.  The Jewish Festival of Lights (Hanukka) is celebrated at the darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and Pagan Festivals including the Winter Solstice bask in the light of these dark times.

 

This is partly why the Feast of Christmas is celebrated on 25th December with early Christians adopting pre-existing Jewish and Pagan days of joy.  Partly also because it is nine months from the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary which date was agreed in very early times.  It is no surprise therefore that we encounter so much light as the birth of Jesus is celebrated – both now and throughout history.

 

Our attention is directed to the light as we read the narrative accounts of the birth of Jesus.  The radiance of the angels, the light of the star (I wonder if any of you managed to see the Jupiter Saturn conjunction – a very symbolic event this year?), the birth of Jesus, the light of the world.  Yet we don’t have to look far to see the darkness as well, the darkness of the night, the darkness of Herod’s intentions, the darkness of the hearts of men.

 

The Gospel reading for the first Eucharist of Christmas in the Church is not a narrative account from Matthew or Luke as you may expect, but rather the mystical reflection from John.  I’m sure that this puzzles many of the occasional worshipers!  The truth is however, that this account of the birth of Jesus says so much more than any descriptive account could possibly do, because of the significance of the birth of this child in Bethlehem.

 

The Gospel begins with these words:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

This contrasts the helpless baby in the manger with the all powerful God who created all things.  And John continues

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

We are taken back to those opening words of the Hebrew Bible both in the creation narrative and in the symbolism of light and darkness.  The birth of Jesus is the coming of the light with whom there is no alteration or shadow of change.  Through the generations it burns and shines constantly, never diming, but one constant light.  It is us that change, our sight that fails, not the light.

 

John concludes that Jesus 

“was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

That is the faith of every Christian and why Christians are encouraged to seek the light and to stay in the light, because the light does not totally disperse the darkness.  The further from the light we stray, the deeper in to the darkness we go.  During these dark times I find these sobering, but at the same time uplifting words.  We do not find here “and they all lived happily ever after” – not in this age.  The reality is that there is still so much darkness in this world, but there is also so much light as well.

 

My prayer this Christmas is that each and every one of us will be able to see the light and draw nearer to it.  We know that we are to be children of light, but it is not always easy, and sometimes the darkness appears more attractive than the light.  The birth of Jesus gives us hope throughout our journey that whatever may come across our path, that light is always there to embrace us with open arms and to give us comfort and joy.  That is why Christmas can rightly be celebrated as joyfully this year as any year, and not only celebrate for one day, for Christmas is far too important for this – remember and celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Season of Christmas.

 

Charles Wesley’s carol (sung to Mendelssohn’s stirring tune) offers both images of the birth narrative as well as a wealth of references to the mystical significance of this great feast:

 

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

 

I offer this prayer:

 

"O Almighty God, who by the birth of thy Holy Child Jesus hast given us a great light to dawn upon our darkness: Grant, we pray thee, that in his light we may see light to the end of our days; and bestow upon us, we beseech thee, that most excellent Christmas gift of charity to all men, that so the likeness of thy Son may be formed in us, and that we may have the ever brightening hope of everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord."  Amen.

 

May I take this opportunity of wishing you and those near and dear to you a peaceful and joyful Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.

Dymunaf dangnefedd a gorfoledd y Nadolig i chi a’r rhai sy’n annwyl gennych ynghyd â iechyd a hapusrwydd yn y Flwyddyn Newydd.

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