It’s an old fear. One which countless children eventually grow out of. One which few adults will ever admit to having. Fear of the dark – and of the unknown, the unseen, that lurks within it. A fear so common that an entire movie genre has spawned from it – horrors – which some people avoid at all costs because they know that they will be terrified to close their eyes for the next few days, and some people can’t get enough of because of the thrill of adrenaline that pumps through their veins with each beat of their pounding heart.
At the heart of a horror is something we subconsciously believe to be true: bad things happen at night.
Maybe that is why the last thing we do before we go to sleep is to check that all the doors are locked and windows are closed before we turn off the lights and shut our eyes against the heavy darkness – sleeping away the hours in which visibility is poor and the world is still and horrors happen.
But amongst those who lived in days of old, there were those who were not allowed to sleep; whose duty it was to watch and to wait for morning, to ensure the safety of all who slumbered under their care. Much like modern day security guards, there were watchmen who stood on Bethlehem’s walls making sure that no enemy, no danger, could sneak into the snoring city to cause hurt and harm.
I wonder what they would have made of the events that unfolded in their humble city in those weeks and months surrounding Jesus’ birth: the new star that brightened the familiar night sky, the arrival of a heavily pregnant woman on the back of a donkey at an unsafe hour when doors were closed and inns were full, the over-excited shepherds who babbled on about an angel visiting them in the hills with good news, the caravan of wealthy wise men who left a palace in search of a king.
What would they have made of this flurry of nighttime activity? Would they have let these travellers pass without a challenge or told their unexpected visitors to come back at a more appropriate time? Would they even have known, in the dark of night, that something amazing was happening? Would you?
What happened that night was that Life came into existence, and that Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light we know as Christ Jesus blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out – not the darkness of night, not the darkness of sin, not even the darkness of death.
Yet how many people noticed?
Only a handful were part of the remarkable story unfolding. Some watched and waited for the light to appear on the tops of the mountains – a symbol of a new day dawning, a promise of rest and safety. But most, well, most missed out; slept right through it. And some even shut the door and sent the light away.
Friends, we live in fearful times. We don’t want to think about them; we don’t want to talk about them – especially not in our moment of celebration on Christmas Day.
But war is rife within the world. Hatred and intolerance of the other has stripped away our ability to walk in another’s shoes, to extend a hand in compassion and solidarity. The Laws of love are subject to the law of the land – and the law of the land is used to exploit and oppress and subdue. People starve while others die of obesity-related illnesses. Drought and corruption ravage our future and our security. Foreigners are looked at with suspicion and resentment whenever our resources dwindle. Struggling children are passed from one grade to the next to hand them a certificate but no future of meaningful employment.
People pass each other without a smile or a greeting, wrapped up in their own busyness, heartache, disappointment.
Yet we continue to deal with this spiritual darkness in the same way that we deal with physical darkness: we shut the windows, lock the doors, and close our eyes in the hope of waking up to a new day. As good Christians some of us may even pray, “Lord, send your Angel-armies to watch over us and keep us safe this night.”
But what the world really needs from the God-begotten, from you and I, this day – and every day – are watchmen on the wall, voices that proclaim: there’s a light upon the mountain, a future and a hope that blazes through the darkness; eternal and inextinguishable; accessible to all who notice, to all who want it; capable of turning the horrors of night into a new day.
This Christmas morning may you receive the Life-Light in a way that helps you to be your true self, your child-of-God-self, your bright and radiant and brave and truthful and wide-awake self. And as your life-light shines to the glory of God may the hope and the light and the love celebrated on this new day spread from the mountains to every heart and home.