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As I write, the symbols of Christmas are all around us: decorative lights across the streets of the city centre as well as on the walls of people’s homes and in their gardens; brightly lit Christmas trees outside and inside; cribs and other Nativity scenes in windows; holly, mistletoe and poinsettias on sale.
A poet called Archibald MacLeish once wrote:
People are more affected by symbols than by ideas. The symbol of loneliness is two lights above the sea; the symbol of grief is a solitary figure standing in a doorway.
Perhaps one of the most powerful symbols of Christmas is a candle shining in the darkness:
The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world (St John 1:9)
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it (St John 1:5)
The Orthodox icon of the birth of Jesus depicts the stable of the nativity as a cave. Mary, Joseph and the Holy Child are shown at the cave entrance, behind them the cave is in deep darkness. A ray of light descends from heaven and is shown penetrating the darkness.
The symbolism is clear: the light of God’s love revealed in the birth of His Son overcomes all darkness, penetrating to the heart of it.
The artist Banksy has painted some arresting and evocative graffiti pictures in Bethlehem. One of them shows two cherubs prising open a section of the concrete Separation Wall that surrounds and isolates Bethlehem today. They are letting in the light: they are letting the light of Christ’s justice shine into the heart of oppression and injustice; they are letting the light of hope and love shine.
This last year has in many ways been a time of darkness for us all, as the particular darkness of pandemic spread across our world, with all its many effects and consequences. But there have too, been many rays of light. Above all, as Christmas now tells us, there is Christ, the True Light, who shines deeply into every darkness bringing the light of His Presence to bear upon it:
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
the hopes and fears of all the world are met in thee tonight.
As we come together to celebrate the birth of Our Lord may the radiant Light of His Presence shine deeply into all our hearts and into every darkness, bringing the hope, love and peace that is His desire for us and for ALL.
Fr Brian, Fr Peter, Fr George, Fr David, Monica, Ann, Rhona, Jenny and Carolyn join with me in wishing you all a blessed Christmas , graced by the Presence of the One who is the true light and life of all.
With my love and prayers,