Monday, December 26, 2016

Looking for light: Christmas 2016

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God...
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Gospel according to John, chapter 1

Take those words literally, spiritually, metaphorically, mythically, mystically, poetically, or however you can. At the end of 2016, we all need reminders that the universe is ultimately good, creative, loving, alive; that though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. We need to hear that light overcomes darkness.

There is so much darkness.

For most of 2016 the world has felt like Narnia before Aslan showed up: always winter, never Christmas. Even Christmas alarms us as the world perches on the edge of chaos. We read W.B.Yeats's "The Second Coming" and wonder:
...[W]hat rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

And then an angel slashes through the darkness, shouting: "Don't be afraid!"

And the shepherds, who have been diving for cover, suddenly notice that the sheep are laughing at them, and so they sheepishly crawl out from behind the rocks and begin singing "Everything's gonna be all right."  And they all live happily ever after ...
... except for those Bethlehem babies that Herod murdered, of course; and Jesus's family, who were so afraid of the new king that they hid from him in Egypt; and Jesus himself, who was executed by a Roman puppet too timid to stand up to the mob; and most of Jesus's best friends, who within a few years were dead, and not of natural causes...
There has always been so much darkness.

In noontime darkness two thousand years ago, the dying Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In this dark year, 2016, the dying Leonard Cohen cried out,
We kill the flame

And yet there has always been a glimmer of light in the darkness.

The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.... 
But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.
Martin Luther King Jr., "I've Been to the Mountaintop," 1968

On the year's darkest days, we light candles for Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa. Their light is faint. It flickers. It is imperfect. But still, we light them.

As we head into a possibly calamitous new year, I think of Cohen's "Anthem":
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

If 2017 turns out to be even darker than 2016, I hope I can hang onto the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins in "God's Grandeur":
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Is it too much to hope?


Unknown said...


annie turner said...

Yes, I hear you, LaVonne. This has been a year of darkness, and the last three months especially. It is a struggle to remain balanced and to not let the darkness bring us down. Did you read my post on hope on my blog, "That Dratted Thing With Feathers"? It is all about Christian hope, different from optimism. At:

Janet Tkachuck said...

Your best ever, LaVonne. Thank you! Penny

Anonymous said...

You remind us that words of hope flung into the dark have the power to light not only their own time, but times to come. Prose, poetry, song, or sermon, these are the herald angels that bid us not to fear, and to speak our own "fear not." Thank you, Yeats, King, Cohen, Hopkins, and LaVonne!