I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but on this Christmas Eve night we have the most beautiful, big full moon. Over the past few weeks, in our Advent course we have been watching television Christmas adverts and thinking about what they might have to say that resonates with the Christian faith. This year’s John Lewis advert features a man on the moon, elderly and alone, spied through a telescope by a young girl who becomes fascinated by him and seeks him out day after day as Christmas draws close. Eventually, she sends him a gift – a telescope of his own so that he can look down to earth and see her waving energetically and gleefully up at him. The message of the advert is clear: Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.
One person who has said that he will be missing his own family on Christmas Day is Britain’s very own man in the moon, Tim Peake, who was sent into orbit last week amidst great celebrations and after a solemn ceremony. Years of preparation and training have led him to the point where he is now able to have the experience that so very few get to have, to look down, like the man in the John Lewis advert, and see earth from space. When interviewed, Tim Peake agreed with others who have been privileged to see our planet home from a distance, that it really is an incredibly beautiful sight. "The most unexpected thing”, he went on, “…was the blackness of space…It is just the blackest black and that was a real surprise to me."
John’s Gospel opens with the famous lines which tell us, in beautiful poetic language, that Jesus came as a light into the darkness. On a night like this, clear and crisp with its big full moon, we can maybe understand a little of what John might have seen in his mind’s eye as he wrote those words. But around here, we have street lamps and light pollution; darkness that is surprising in its depth of blackness can only be found from the vantage point of a spaceship.
That’s not to say we know nothing of deep darkness.
This year we have seen television news and read newspaper headlines which speak heartrendingly of the darkness of human suffering as record numbers of people have fled barbarity and brutality beyond belief to undertake, like the infant Jesus himself, perilous and precarious journeys in the hope of survival.
Tension between people of different ethnicities and religions has reached a point undreamt of a generation ago, with anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic abuse threatening the wellbeing and peace of people and of communities. In 2015, we know all too well what deep darkness looks like, and maybe we don’t need to be shot into space to see it. The deepest darkness which startles us every time we are confronted by it, is the darkness of the human heart which can be turned to such violent, destructive ends.
Yet it was into this darkness that the light came. It was into this world, with its brutalities and its violence, that the light of the world, the Saviour Jesus himself, was born, not insulated from the world but born right into the mess and the muddle of it all at a time and in a place of danger and difficulty. This is the Christian faith that we celebrate here tonight; yes, the world’s darkness is real, startling in its reality, but the light that shines in the darkness is more real yet. We do not overcome the darkness of the world, or the shadowed places of our own hearts and minds, by denying their reality but by seeing in the very heart of that darkness the light of the world, who calls us his people also to shine as lights.
This hope, this great faith which we ponder here tonight, is the profoundest reality you will ever hear. For the Christian faith tells us that God didn’t just show us we are loved, as the John Lewis advert suggests, by sending a gift from afar and waiting for us to open it; he sent himself as the gift that would enable us to see, in the face of the babe of Bethlehem, of heaven waving enthusiastically and gleefully at us as the God who is love reaches out to us in love.
Into the darkness, the light shines. For us who are far away, like men on the moon, the love of God in the face of Jesus draws us near. This is what we celebrate tonight; this is Christmas. May you all be richly blessed, and be as blessing to others, as your celebrations continue. Amen.