Lorna Hood: One Gospel throws real light on Christmas story

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Once again, in churches, schools and village halls, we have enjoyed the annual nativity. Shepherds, wise men and angels all enacting the story; preparing to greet the newborn king.

I love watching the excited shepherds in their tea towel headgear and little angels with tinsel haloes at a jaunty angle. I love the majesty of the wise men, clutching their gifts and I love the simple picture of Mary with Joseph standing by protectively.

It’s the story many of us know almost word for word and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. A number of years ago in my congregation in Renfrew we tried to retell the story in a modern idiom and everyone asked, “But where are the shepherds and the wise men?”

However, when I want to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and on its significance for the world and for my life, I turn to John’s gospel. There are no shepherds, no wise men or angels; not even Mary and Joseph.

John’s was the last Gospel to be written and it begins not with a story but with a pronouncement:

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was God.

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness and

The darkness did not overcome it.”

Then the staggering, incredible pronouncement: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

I love hearing it – I love reading it – but more importantly I am overwhelmed and humbled by the message these words proclaim. It’s the story beneath the story – the staggering assertion that in this child, this vulnerable baby, God came to be with us. He came to be as vulnerable and weak as any of us. He came to earth to share and bond with our humanness, in our joys, our sorrows, our hurt and our brokenness.

He is a God who comes down to us – into the glaur and grime of human life. He shares and holds us close to Himself, bringing healing and hope. That is the amazing claim of the Christmas tale, that this child in coming among us pierces the darkness of today’s world with the dazzling light of God’s love.

Then you almost whisper John’s words, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Every one of us, I suspect, has known darkness of one kind or another; and for some that darkness is very deep. It can be the loss of someone dear to us; illness; anxiety about our families, our future; the darkness of addiction; the darkness when we are bereft of hope. There are many kinds of darkness.

The message of Christmas is that we are not alone in the darkness, not hemmed in by darkness, whatever it is, because light has come. Often flickering and fragile, like the light of a candle but still burning and still dispelling the darkness.

In a world of so much uncertainty and longing for hope, we so desperately want this story to be real. We want it to offer us the comfort and assurance of a God who has not abandoned us but who cares deeply about us and our world.

So I would urge you to go back to John’s Gospel, to read that first chapter, to let the words themselves speak to you and I would urge you to grasp hold of the truth that is being lovingly held out to you.

The invitation of Christmas is to live out our lives in that light, to trust that God came in that baby and continues to come into life, the life of this world. When we live in that love, that light, no darkness will ever overcome it.

We who believe that story must live in the light of its truth.

“Long ago, 

In the dark night, in a stable behind a crowded inn, a child was born.

In him was life—

And the life was the light of all 

A blessed and peaceful Christmas to you all.

The Right Reverend Lorna Hood is Moderator of the Church of Scotland