“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2 NRSV
The above verse from Scripture is one we will hear many times throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas. It is particularly associated with the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which always proves to be one of the best supported Services in the Church Year. It is as much part of the Christmas tradition as roast turkey, tinsel, presents and even Santa Claus himself! However, there are always dangers associated with over-familiarisation. When that happens we do not really hear or take on board what it may be trying to say to us.
It is a sad fact of today’s Ireland that indeed many people are “walking in darkness”. It may be the darkness of unemployment, depression, financial problems, poverty, homelessness, ill health – the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, the people who are directly affected by these problems often do so on their own and accordingly feel neglected and marginalised. In fact, unless one is directly affected themselves by a “darkness” or is close to someone who is, it can be quite difficult to appreciate the suffering which many have to endure. More worryingly, it is often at Christmas that the “Darkness” becomes deeper as those affected witness other apparently celebrating Christmas to the maximum and getting on with their lives without a care in the world.
But surely, the central message of Christmas is one of hope. And that hope should be like a great light shining in the darkness. The central message of Christmas is that “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” as the Christ child of Bethlehem just over 2,000 years ago. That was, and is, God’s greatest gift to humanity since the creation of the world. It is because of that gift of God to humanity that we have the tradition of giving Christmas gifts. But, lest we forget, God gave that gift to everyone – not just to a select few as we do with our Christmas gifts! Indeed, we cannot give gifts to everyone – it is simply not possible – but nevertheless we should be more mindful of those outside our close circle of family and friends. Perhaps as a suggestion, we might consider making a pact with some of our closest family and friends that instead of exchanging gifts, we could make a contribution instead to one or more of the many outstanding and worthy charities who are appealing for our support at this time. If we were to do so, we may make it possible that “those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” Of course there is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts and celebrating the Christmas season with family and friends, but wouldn’t it be better if we knew that we had in some way helped others to be able to do so too?
As we prepare ourselves this Advent, let us be mindful of those in need but let us not neglect ourselves either. Many individuals and families find themselves torn in many directions as there never seems to be enough time to get around to all the planned activities in our calendars. And this is not just a symptom of Christmas but is often a reality throughout the year. So as we approach the possibility of making New Year’s resolutions, let us consider that it is not always important to be doing, but sometimes it is more important just to be. If each of us were able to set some quiet time aside each day to enter God’s presence, we would find it more rewarding than all of the presents we will receive this Christmas!
May I take this opportunity on behalf of my wife, family and myself, to wish all parishioners and friends a holy and blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.
With every blessing,
The Revd. John Tanner. Tel 289 3154 / 086 302 1376