By Aian Macpherson
Darkness! In 2016 we saw lots of it! Social division over Europe, a rise in racist attacks, and the murder of Joe Cox. A remarkably divisive and rhetorically destructive US presidential election based on a post truth lie campaign. The Orlando night club shooting. Terrorist attacks in Nice and Berlin. The terrible war in Syria, the continued loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea crossings, the siege of Aleppo, and tragically the list could go on. The news tells us so little. Because I have friends there I hear about riots in South Africa that have never hit the headlines. Human behaviour, human evil, creates a lot of darkness.
Tragic as it is though, it can all seem a little distant from us. So what about this? I was traveling back home a week before Christmas. There were a lot of merry makers, on or after works do’s. I got off the train at Doncaster to catch my connection and a young lady got off too. She had seemed very together on the train, well made up, distant from all around her and her skin shiny with perfumed moisturiser. Just after she got off the train she met her mother and father. I saw her mum before she did, saw the blank waiting face on the platform light up with a smile. Saw as I went by the hug, and as I turned to look the young girls face was changed, no longer distant but like a child’s face; happy, safe, back home, content. Then I heard a disturbance, I turned again, as I watched from twenty meters away a man, strong, young, saved head, put himself onto the mum and daughter, ‘Oh can I join in.’ His friends laughed. A big group. In their slightly inebriated minds all just a bit of fun. To the mum and daughter, clearly intimidating, threatening, and a very beautiful private moment was gone and turned in to a public spectacle. The merry makers could have been you, if not you then a friend, family member or neighbour. Not evil you might want to argue, but it happened because of the same selfish distain for the feeling and lives of others that leads even to Aleppo. The context is wildly different, the action not ‘as bad’ but the hearts darkness is the same.
You might want to say, ‘but not me’. Well it is me. The train journey I was on was a return from a retreat, a special time with God. God used this retreat to shine a very bright light on some very dark corners in me. My desires and my past. I might not act the same as the men on the platform, but I am no better. Even in a good-natured moment I am capable of foolishness that can be fatal because it is so unthinking of others. It does not have to be maliciousness to be evil, just unthinkingly self-absorbed. Like the time I wanted to show my friend and my brother that I could throw bigger rocks than them. So I throw this small boulder and instead of going out to sea it went up, then down and almost hit a ladies head. I believe we are all capable of worse things than we like to admit, and all of us have dark corners in our hearts: desires, resentments, hatred, selfishness or foolish unawareness. Some things we might not even admit to ourselves, but they are there.
The darkness can seem very great. It is out there, and next door and inside. We can deny it, we can make it only about others, but the truth is that it is there. We are like cave dwellers, locked in the dark tunnels. We can say
it is so and despair. We can pretend that we have a light and deny the dark – it may comfort us but it denies the truth and burrys the problem even deeper and darker.
‘The light shone in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it. The Word became flesh and moved in next door. Full of Grace and Truth.’
The truth about ourselves may be that we are dark. But the truth about God and God’s Word, Jesus, is light, ‘in him is light and that light is the life of men’. And the light is greater than the darkness.
Among all the stories of human darkness, which the bible is full of and life is full of, and our hearts are full of, the light of the world came down into the cave. Light shines in the darkness. If you are determined to deny you were every part of the dark then you will hide from the light; if you admit he is the light, you admit you were in darkness. So some fight and deny him, they do not recognise him. But to all who come into his light, who receive him, he gives the right to call themselves God’s very own adopted children. Children of hope, and children of gift.
Do not despair and do not deny. Let light shine in the dark. God may shine into the dark corners where we will confront our own self and past. And we may carry his light as we work for justice and reconciliation in the world.
This is the Grace, the gift of God. We cannot climb out of the caves we are lost in, but God came in for us, ‘the Word made a home among us’, ‘Immanuel’, God is with us. We cannot shine a light we do not have, but he gave light to us. We have no right to be children of God but He sent the adoption papers with His own Son, so that we can receive them.
Darkness and Light, Truth and Grace. The light shines in the darkness full of Grace and truth.