When I was a teenager, my grandfather arranged for the family, from him through my dad and his brothers, down to all the kids, to visit an unimproved part of the Carlsbad Caverns system in New Mexico. Unimproved means that there were no paved walkways, no lights to see the stalactites and stalagmites, to safety rails. It was just a cave. Once we got in far enough, I remember that the guide had us all turn our flashlights off, and when we did, it was a darkness I have never experienced again. It was the kind of darkness that would press in on you, the kind of darkness where you can’t see your hand waving in front of your own face. It is the definition of disorienting, because one whole sense is just taken away.
Darkness. The absence of light. The inability to see. Things go bump in it, we mismatch socks when we get dressed in it, and our imaginations run wild when we are immersed in it. Some of us become blind, and learn to compensate. But when it first happens, it is disorienting.
Darkness is something we know very little about today, because we have streetlights, flashlights, nightlights, headlights. Even as we douse the church lights, we cannot achieve full darkness, because of the flag lights outside, the streetlights, and the cars that go by. But we’ll have enough darkness to imagine.
There was a time, less than 150 years ago, when the world was still, as one author phrased it, lit only by fire. The stars were a bigger deal. It is not such a long ago time, either. This church was founded in a time when electricity had not yet come to every house and business.
We know little about what darkness was like to live in, but we do know a whole lot more about the darknesses we have within our souls. We all have things that we would like to be better at, to think differently about, and to be able to escape from. These are the things that keep us from being who God fully intended us to be—they are the things that are the thorns in our flesh.
We all have them.
But the people who walked in darkness, says the prophet Isaiah, have seen a great light.
The light that came when a star appeared in the sky.
The light that came when the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word came to live in our neighborhood.
The light that came into our lives, that Titus was told would “train us how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and to how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life.
The light that came into our lives, that the old man in the temple, Simeon, said “mark(ed) the failure and the recovery of many, a figure misunderstood and contradicted.”
The light that came into our lives, the one more powerful that John the Baptist, the one whose sandals he was not fit to tie.
We all have our dark spots. We all have places that we don’t want the light to shine, but God, in the man that this babe became, searches our hearts, and knows us, both the light and the dark. And loves us, utterly, the whole of us. Both who we are and who we are destined to be.
There’s a moment that I long for, every Christmas eve. Sometimes, it would come in that eternal period between dinner and when we left for church, or later it would come after all the services were over. It’s the moment when I hear nothing but silence. It’s a moment, for me of communion, when I am aware of God’s presence in the world.
When I am aware of God’s presence in me. And it is not a moment of fear, but rather of connection, to him, to the world, to you. God did so love the world, because it was his creation. God does so love us that he would send his son. The birth of that son into human life, into life on earth, is what we celebrate tonight.
That isn’t a thought that should scare us. He isn’t here to frighten us. He’s here to encourage us to be our best, to overcome our dark spots to be His people in the world, at all times and in all places.
Let us be blessed by this thought tonight, as we go home, or get on the road to family, or do whatever it is that we will do when we leave here. God was born for us, the light has come, Alleluia!