In her Christmas Message a few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth spoke about Christmas trees. She showed a picture of her great, great-grandparents’ tree – all decorated and covered with lit candles. She reflected on the fun family tradition of decorating the tree together, and the deeper meaning of the lights shining in the darkness.
The queen used her Christmas broadcast to emphasize that light can triumph over darkness after a difficult year. She noted that there have been “moments of darkness” in the last year, which has been marked by extremist attacks and a migrant crisis that has overwhelmed Europe. That’s in addition to continuing conflicts and wars, deepening poverty and hunger in many places, the chaos of weather-related disasters, and a growing awareness of the ecological crisis in our world. Unless we have ignored the news completely, most of us are aware that for many, if not most, of the people of the world 2015 was a very dark and difficult year.
The other day when I went to look up the Queen’s Christmas Message online, I came across a strange news story about the taping of this year’s message. When I investigated the website I was looking at, it turned out to be a completely open news site that posts anything and everything that is submitted to it, without verifying the sources or the accuracy.
The story claimed that the message that went out was the second take because the Queen went way off script in the first one. According to the story, she expressed deep personal regrets about the death of Princess Diana, and then she told of her deep fears that this might be the last Christmas on earth because of the malevolent forces – much stronger than her own – that are stalking across Europe, gaining ground every day.
My guess is that the story was completely fabricated. But if it was true, I think it would show that even a Queen can feel overwhelmed and fearful at times. Even a Queen, with just about as much power and influence as anyone on earth, knows that both she and the world need a Saviour.
In the Christmas message she sent out, Elizabeth cites the Bible as offering solace – a solace that I am sure she needs herself as much as anyone listening to her message. She says, “The Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
At the end of a difficult year when we expect many of the troubles of 2015 to rage on through 2016, we cannot simply pretend that there is no darkness. It is tempting to do just that in our privileged position in North America – to pay no heed to the crises happening elsewhere because we are not immediately impacted. As Christians, we are called to be people of love, and justice, and mercy. Our indifference to the plight of suffering people both near and far is perhaps the most troubling of our sins.
But when we do pay attention, when we do watch the news and hear about the struggles of our neighbours, we can get overwhelmed. We can get angry, or depressed, or begin to despair. If the Queen feels like that sometimes, is it any surprise that we might feel somewhat helpless too?
I’m not sure you can be alive in this part of the world and have missed the hype over the opening of the most recent Star Wars movie. I read a reflection this week by the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt, who wanted to go see the movie, but wondered if she would find it hard to follow since she hadn’t kept up on the other episodes of Star Wars leading up to this one. But when she learned that her sister had seen it, and asked if she would “get it,” she was told, “You’ll get it. It’s just good versus evil all over again.”
As Janet watched, she found herself reflecting that not a whole lot has changed since 1977 when the first Star Wars movie came out when she was a teenager and she found herself recognizing the darkness which too much marks our world. She noted that the role of women is much stronger in the latest film, and the special effects are much more spectacular. But in terms of overarching themes reflected on the screen, it is all much the same. For evil is still profoundly resilient. And this is so as well: we continue to cling to the hope that the forces for good are stronger still.
And no, not much has changed since St. John first put together the words which are ours to hear once more on the 2nd Sunday of Christmas. There was and there is light and darkness. Good and evil were embattled when John recorded this beautiful poetry and clearly, as John had it and as you and I know so well, this has been true for all of recorded history.
We have seen it to be so again in this last year: We find our hearts aching again and again over people killed in terror attacks, others starving or drowning as they try to escape war zones, while hatred, discrimination, and suspicion continue to grow and to shape the opinions of people and the policies and practices of nations.
There is still light and darkness. Good and evil. And one wonders if the light will prevail, for we live in a world where darkness threatens still to have the last word. War still rages in too many parts of the world and innocents are affected in ways that we cannot ignore their plight.
Oh yes, we wonder still if the Light will have the last word or not. And yet, we who cling to the Light keep on pointing to it. Like Queen Elizabeth, perhaps struggling to hang on to hope in the midst of the darkness of the world, points to the words in John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…”
Indeed, we all continue to hang on to the promises of God as we hear them again today. In spite of all evidence to the contrary: The light prevails. Good wins. God wins. And yes, as you might expect this was true in the Star Wars movie which was mine to enjoy a few days back. Light wins.
But even so, there are casualties along the way. And through it all, those engaged in this epic battle are making choices. Between light and darkness, yes. But also between responding to the impulse of fear or standing up and moving forward in courage and in hope.
Janet points out that many will go to the Star Wars movie to enjoy the special effects. And yes, many will be utterly convinced (if we are not already) that violence is the only way to combat violence. And yet, she notices that the most powerful parts of the story were those which reflected love and sacrifice.
For this is always so. The message of today’s Gospel is that the power of Light is not ours to use to destroy our enemies. Rather, it is always ours to invite and encourage and somehow enable others to follow that Light which brings Life. Even those who seem to have been consumed by the power of darkness. Yes, even those. For in the end? Light itself destroys the darkness. Every time.
The Queen put it well in her message when she once again pointed to the example of Jesus: “Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence, but simply that we should love one another.”
She went on to say that we should be inspired by his example: “It inspires us to try harder, to be thankful for the people who bring love and happiness into our own lives, and to look for ways of spreading that love to others whenever and wherever we can.”
As the Season of Christmas comes to an end, the decorations come down, and we begin a New Year, let us resolve to remember what was so clear to us on Christmas Eve. As we lit all our many little candles from the Christ candle, we knew that the light shines in the darkness and that we get to be a part of shining that light of Christ in our own small but significant ways.
As JFK and others have said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” And as Queen Elizabeth said in her Christmas message, “There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today. Christmas is a good time to be thankful for them and for all that brings light to our lives.”