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All out of darkness we have light1 month ago
In this week's blog post, Revd Hannah Lins has us pondering on how we can live in a way that communicates love and light in these challenging times.
The Sussex Carol is my favourite.
In the rural churches where I minister, it can feel like being on a film set created to be a ‘quintessential Christmas experience’. All the classic motifs are there - a lush festive tree, porcelain characters in a manger, candles and ancient walls. As the organ strikes up, if I close my eyes I can imagine myself in the presence of Bob Cratchit, a hygge jolly Father Christmas, some characters from Narnia and of course, outside will be snow. Pretty soon though, all sentiment is shattered because, put bluntly, we can’t keep up! I open my eyes to behold the coat-wearing congregation scrambling to sing out all the syllables in time with the music. We let the scene down as the tune gallops on and we are left behind.
This year, we will sadly forgo the giggles of corporately tumbling over those words. Instead, our carol service will go online and, as part of our Christmas provision, we will also be producing an online Longest Night service. These have become increasingly common, and we hope that this quiet, reflective time of worship will be helpful to those who are struggling.
We’ve decided to end it with the Sussex Carol (listen HERE), and it’s the line ‘all out of darkness we have light’ that has particularly struck a chord. The texture of the darkness we have endured in different ways these past months has been complex and harrowing, and even though it may only feel like a faint flicker for so many, we hold on to the truth that in Christ we have light that both knows its absence, and shines out from it, eternally. One scripture that has stood out recently is Psalm 137: 4: ‘How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’. I wonder whether this is the Holy Spirit prompting God’s people to look around in these strange times? Our message never changes (it is as clear as can be at Christmas), but the landscape into which we speak does. I have a background in Psychology and one piece of research that has stuck with me is evidence suggesting that when we experience trauma, we cannot talk about it - the language-production areas of our brain shut down when the subject is invoked. So, aware that articulation with words might be difficult, I’ve been trying to look at other ways people are communicating something of the depths in this season.
December has brought me a quite unexpected gift in this endeavour - windows.
Up and down our streets, out of darkness we have Christmas lights! More than I’ve ever known, and shining earlier. What story do they tell? On a prosaic level, I’ve traipsed along with my daughter and merrily critiqued the rates of flashing, the colour schemes, the symmetry or lack of… the list goes on. But more deeply, the very fact of light shining in the darkness is in itself a proclamation of hope. We’ve also noticed many glittery deers (forgive my clumsy phrasing)! Now, there may be no deeper meaning here, but they remind me of the Patronus charm - the guardian animal in the Harry Potter novels that provides protection from the dreaded dementors. This is well-known in the collective psyche, so it feels a likely connotation. Mostly though, there are just strings of fairy-lights - no message, simply an unapologetic, defiant shine.
So beneath the superficial sparkle, perhaps some longing, some searching and some praying might be going on? And for Christians, watching, attending and learning, how might we use this festive season to give shape to the hope to which these lights attest?
As we prayerfully contemplate the unfolding work of God today, we may sense a call to share our story in lights. We can contribute to this at home - I’ve lit up my window with a nod to the line that follows in the Sussex Carol, ‘which made the angels sing this night’, and (good Anglican that I am!), I’ve used this year’s national strapline too. One of our roadside churches is illuminated at night - again, sat alongside the more general expressions of hope, it heralds and signposts our ultimate hope. A bit like Paul did in Athens (Acts 17), we can use the tools at hand to give a name to a sense of the transcendent.
This year, like no other in my experience, has been full of watching. We’re familiar with waiting - and there are so many aids to that in the rituals of our culture. But watching is also the call of Advent - watching for the signs of the times, watching in the company of Christ and each other, in anticipation.
One of the powerful forces that has been thrown into sharp relief this December, is our longing for rhythm in a world that feels a bit like a wilderness without landmarks. Rhythm is expressed in that determination to welcome the season in too early, because it at least makes us feel something new. We are creatures that live rhythmically and who struggle when it is taken away. Rhythm is also deeply embedded in our rich Christian tradition - and we are seeing that and the more general national yearning collide just now, in ways that are creative and full of potential.
The question, to go back to the Sussex Carol, is can we respond in time to the music?!
Let’s be encouraged to keep up - because God’s loving action continues to unfold, always in the direction of light, always to bless and nourish, even if we struggle to articulate that well when we are feeling all too acquainted with darkness. We are not just a story-telling people; we live it - in the power of the Holy Spirit. We now find ourselves living in a foreign land - a strange and different place. How might we live in a way that communicates love and light in these challenging times?
Perhaps just now it all begins with the windows……
— The Sussex Carol —
1. On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring
News of great joy news of great mirth
News of our merciful King's birth
When from our sin he set us free
All for to gain our liberty?
2. Then why should men on earth be so sad
Since our Redeemer made us glad
Then why should men on earth be so sad
Since our Redeemer made us glad Chorus
3. When sin departs before his grace
Then life and health come in its place
When in its place, angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new born King Chorus
4. All out of darkness we have light
Which made the angels sing this night
Glory to God and peace to men
Now and forever more, Amen.