There’s always one event or church service over Christmas that stands out. Last year it was the BBC’s carol singing in its Ormeau Avenue’s reception – people getting together to sing about the season, unheard of in most work places.
This year, the shining moment was the candlelight lessons and carols down in Westbourne Presbyterian.
Candles lit on the window sills. Congregation singing carols, interspersed with traditional readings. Simple. Participative.
Littl’un’s just turned four and she was excited about being able to come along this year. She ogled the candles lit on the window sills. She recognised many of the carols. And she made a good stab at singing along with the breathdefying
“Gloooor-oooor-oooor-ooooor-ooooor-oria Hosanna in excelsis”
in Ding Ding Merrily on High.
A line from the last reading stood out.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1v5
The light from the candles and the tree (and the odd light bulb left on!) did indeed shine out across the gloom and dim building. But go outside onto the street, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the darkness was stretching out across the city. Jobs under threat or lost; household finances stretched; relationships tearing apart; violence and distrust still visible in communities ill at ease living alongside never mind integrated with each other.
Often we sing carols as if accompanying an idyllic snowy picture on the front of a card. And even if there was snow in Bethlehem – and believe me, well believe Google, it does snow there too – it would have been anything but idyllic. The Holy Infant so tender and mild was born into a nation under occupation. Born into turmoil.
But it ... reminded me of the Simon & Garfunkel version of Silent Night set against the Seven O’clock News bulletin.
As I wait for Christmas, I remember that the Son of God, love’s pure light, was born into a world or pain and tumult, a world that echoes our own. As I wait, I rejoice that God can do noisy, scary, fearful nights as well as silent ones.
There is hope. Jobs may go. Money may be tight. But relationships can heal and be reborn. Trust can be earned and built up.
For those gathered on Sunday night, it was a declaration that the darkness had not overcome our lives or our city.