A few days ago, my soccer team had a little pre-Christmas get-together, and one of my soccer buddies was telling me how much he enjoyed Christmas. He’d started a new job this year, and he’d been kind of head-down, working hard, doing what he had to do. But he was looking forward to Christmas, he told me, because he would have a few days off work, and that would give him the opportunity to think a bit, to put his life in perspective, to look at the big picture.
Earlier this year I walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800 kilometer pilgrimage across northern Spain. One of the people I walked with was a young man from Kelowna. He’d graduated from a business program at university, and he’d landed his dream job, a good job at an exciting tech start-up in Silicon Valley. But one year in, he’d become dissatisfied, disillusioned. He quit his job and decided to come and walk the Camino. He said he wanted to talk about the big questions of life, about meaning and purpose, about what it means to live a good life. He wanted to connect with something bigger than himself.
Every so often we need to ask those big questions. Sometimes it’s good for us to step back from the day to day details of our lives and take a look at the big picture.
In our gospel reading this evening, John gives us the big picture. The really big picture, so big that he has to abandon prose for poetry, or perhaps what we just heard was a song for which we no longer have the tune. It’s a different take on Christmas than the story we heard earlier this evening, the version from Luke’s gospel which speaks of the birth of a child. Luke’s story is set in a specific time and place, with Mary and Joseph and the baby wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. John gives us none of that, none of those details. His story of the Word who became flesh begins in the beginning. His setting is beyond time itself, his stage, the entire universe, if not more. He wants to connect the birth of this child to something bigger.
And I suppose that the universe is as big as it gets, certainly bigger than anything else we can imagine. Modern science and the telescope have opened up a vision of the universe for us that is immense, billions of stars in each galaxy, billions of galaxies across the universe, at distances of billions of light-years away. Science tells us not only that the universe is immense, but that despite all those stars, it is overwhelmingly dark. And it is indifferent, if not hostile, to human life. Humanity, as important as it might seem from our perspective, is according to science, nothing but a random quirk of organic chemistry that will one day break down and be no more. Given what we know about the universe, is it still possible to connect our lives, to connect the birth of a child, with something bigger?
John insists that it is. In the beginning was not indifference. In the beginning was not randomness. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John insists that the big picture makes sense, that it matters, that it is good, that it gives purpose to our lives, that we are connected, that we belong, that our lives have meaning. In fact this universe that we live in is bursting with meaning, bursting with God, bursting with light and life. It may be dark, but there is a light that shines in the darkness.
It’s a light that we can’t always see. Sometimes we have to wait to see the light. But it’s coming.
I have a brother who lives in the mountains of British Columbia, and one summer he invited my young teenage son out west to do some mountain climbing. They decided to summit a pretty serious mountain, using crampons and ropes and ice picks, the whole bit. After a strenuous climb they made it to the top, later than planned, just in time to watch the sunset. And that was a problem, because on the way down it became dark, and they were in shorts and T-shirts, and the darkness was cold. So there on the mountain side they had to hunker down for the night, without much food, no tent, shivering, in the pitch dark. And they would have been in big trouble except for one thing: they could hold on to that mountain side, knowing that in a matter of hours, the light was coming.
When it is dark, know that the light is coming. When the terrors of the night come creeping into your days, know that there is a light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. The true light which enlightens everyone is coming into the world. And to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God. To be children of the light. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
This has been made known to us. We are the ones who have seen it. There is a light that shines in the darkness. Hold on to that light, let it shine in your lives. Be the light of the world. Be children of the light.
Hold on, hold on;
There is a light
We can't always see
If there is a world
We can't always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn't doubt
And there is a light
Don't let it go out
And this is a song
A song for someone
This is a song
A song for someone
Someone like me
Someone like me
Someone like me
(U2, Songs of Experience, There is a Light)
Homily. Christmas Eve 2017. St. Albans Church
Readings: Isaiah 9.2-7; Psalm 96; Hebrews 1.1-4; John 1.1-14
Image by er Guiri, Creative Commons
 There is a Light, U2