In the name of Christ, our light. Amen.
A few years ago, Michael and I went to see a sort of avant-garde show in the city called Ghost Quartet, written by one of our favorite composers for theatre. It’s a song cycle where there are four players. These four do all of the acting, singing, and even all the orchestrations for the entire show. There is only a vague storyline, but it traverses time through a series of metaphysically connected, but loosely-defined characters. They seem to have the shadow of recognition of each other – or maybe the shadow of a memory, or the shadow of a premonition.
As each character winds their way through these shared and similar experiences, the songs are sometimes funny, sometimes a little scary, and very often pensive.
The show plays without intermission, but across four acts. As it progresses, the tension builds, but intersperses occasional levity. Nearing its climax, at one point one of the players calls out, rather directly, “Lights out!”, and suddenly every light in the theatre is off. For the next 10 minutes or so, the show continues in a total blackout – utter and complete darkness. Darkness so complete that it actually felt heavy. No matter how wide I held my eyes, I couldn’t see anything.
It’s not very often in our lives that we have opportunities to really experience true, unimpeded darkness. I remember several years ago, when I was traveling in Kenya, one of the things that I was most excited about was spending time in a remote village in the savannah which is one of the darkest places in the world – light pollution, like we are always so used to, is almost non-existent there. And when we were there, even the moon was dark. I was so excited to see what it was like to experience the stars in such complete darkness.
I expected to be stumbling around, lost in the darkness, but the thing is, without light pollution, the stars shone so brightly that you could actually walk around the camp without a flashlight. It took some adjusting, but once my eyes had adjusted, it was surprisingly easy to see. It didn’t take much light at all to overcome the darkness.
And that’s the way it was in the show, too. After 10 minutes, we’d completely settled into the darkness. The heaviness became like a kind of comfortable blanket. But then, despite the suddenness with which the light went away, the light began to return so slowly and gradually that it was almost imperceptible. At first, I wondered if it was really there, or if my mind was just filling in the gaps – until it came up a bit more and I really began to believe what I was experiencing.
In a world devoid of light, it doesn’t take much light to change the world.
When the power has gone out, a single candle can light a room.
And, at Christmas, in a world before Christ, the tiniest change – the birth of a baby – can be enough to make a powerful impact.
The gospel from John says, “the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
That’s the way it works. Just a little light can have a profound impact.
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The light of Christ that comes into the world in the birth of Jesus is small, vulnerable, and to someone who doesn’t know better, it might seem insignificant. But it only takes a little influence to spark a big change.
As we live our lives, we are called to look for these little lights – these little experiences of Christ. Christmas is about reminding us to look for them. And not just look for them passively, but to look for ways to actively share the light of Christ in a world shrouded in shadows.
Just a little light goes a very long way. Just a little can overcome the heaviness of its absence. Christmas teaches us that it doesn’t take much to mean a lot. Amen.