“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.” Not every claim the Bible makes can be immediately verified, but you can pretty easily verify that there is deep darkness in the world. The stories and videos that have come out of Aleppo this month, the frightening divisions that only seem to be growing in our own country, violence on the streets and at schools and in homes, the whole communications phenomenon that is going by the name “post-truth,” telling us that "all news is fake," "facts don’t matter," and you can say anything if it helps you get your way…. When we look around our world, darkness is obvious.
Now everyone knows that you can get used to darkness. Your eyes adjust. Even if a room is pitch black, you eventually acclimate enough to sort of see what is there, but here’s the catch: you don’t see it in full color. You don’t see it in its truth and its complexity. You just see grey. If at 4am you wake up and feel your way to the chest of drawers and pull out a sweatshirt, you won’t be able to tell whether it’s the orange Fighting Illini shirt you wear to games or the green one you wear around the house. Everything looks more or less the same in the dark.
That’s one reason why the Christmas message, that on those who have acclimated to walking in deep darkness a light has shined, is good news: through the coming of God in Christ, all the color and texture and difference of the world is revealed. Instead of being limited by what our acclimated, walking-in-darkness eyesight allows, instead of seeing what we assume should be there, instead of seeing what people with power manipulate us to see, in the light of Christ we are set free to notice and love the complexity and beauty and depth that is really there.
It is complex, this world of ours, after all. Episcopalians know that; we’re allergic to black and white thinking. But it’s not true that everything is only shades of grey. There is darkness, and there is light. If we care about people and about our world, we’ve got to resist the idea of being “post-truth.” Jesus Christ is full of truth, and when we announce that he has come as a light into the world, we are not merely trying to get our way, or asserting our feelings. This service is not a broadcast of fake news. It’s passing on real news of all the good things God has been made possible by being born in the city of David as a Savior, as Christ the Lord.
The next time someone tells you we’re in a post-truth era, facts don’t matter, and right and wrong are defined by whatever works for you, try telling them it really works for you to steal the new flat screen TV they got for Christmas. I predict that facts will start mattering again pretty quickly in that case.
There is darkness, it’s a fact, and there is light. But we will hear another fact at the end of the liturgy: "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." When God chose the time and the place to come as a Savior, think about the way he did it. He did it subtly. He chose not to blind us, not to force us to our knees with no choice but to acknowledge him. He came as a small light, a baby. He disclosed himself in a way so ambiguous that nobody is compelled to believe it. We don’t have a tyrant God, you see. The world has plenty of tyrants who assert and compel, but God is not a tyrant. He will never force you to say yes. When he came, he came as a small light, a baby.
Last Sunday night, about 50 homes in the downtown area of Champaign lost power for a few hours, and my house was part of the outage. It reminded me that a small light is all it takes. One candle, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. With the light that took flesh in Jesus, though, this is the thing: as the story goes forward, it’s not just Jesus that shines. Jesus offers to pass on to each of us the very light that dwells inside him. He lets us become carriers of his light. He offers himself freely, indiscriminately, to all comers, and along with Jesus, as St. Paul writes, God throws in everything else as well. The world in living color. Truth, not post-truth. Communication, not assertion. Life. Love.
The flame of God’s presence that took flesh uniquely in Jesus at Christmas was and is accessible to anybody, burning like the candles right beside me on this wreath. And if you hold out to him the grey and cold wick of your candle, it will drink in his flame and begin to glow with the very same light. He will never compel you to do it. He’s not that kind of King. But he will let you, if you want to, because he’s just that generous.
It’s true: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has dawned.” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” “For to us is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Merry Christmas.