St Barbara’s Carol Service
Rev Jeremy Bevan
It’s been quite a year for light. The new, light-powered James Webb Space Telescope
beamed images down to earth, capturing light from a time further back toward the creation
of our universe than we’ve ever seen before. And just this week came the announcement
that focused laser light sustained a nuclear fusion reaction for the first time, offering
potential sustainable energy in the future. Light is fundamental to who we are, and to
But for all our dependence on light, in our everyday lives and in how we relate to each other
we seem this year to be stumbling around in a darkness we thought, or perhaps hoped, that
technological progress had banished. War in Europe: and in its wake rising costs, large utility
bill hikes, hunger, debt. Record temperatures as global heating takes hold, and COP26 failing
to agree measures to tackle it. Closer to home, actions we no doubt regret, but can’t seem
to help; and inaction we lament just as much.
Amid all this, our Bible readings insist that light is key to knowing how to live better – with
ourselves, with each other, and with God. The light is where God works. It’s who God is. It’s
what God gives us so we can live our best lives. The poetry of the book of Genesis chapter 1
depicts light as the first thing God creates: the stage-lighting for all that follows, if you like,
chasing away the formless dark. God’s ways are not hidden from us, it seems to say.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote of people living in darkness having seen a great light, those
people were the Israelites, their dreams of the promised land shattered by the long night of
war and enemy occupation, economic ruin, forced migration. But even as a tide of gathering
darkness seemed to rise yet higher, God was working in the light, committed to bringing
hope to Israel through a wise ruler, king Hezekiah.
Centuries later Paul, a follower of Jesus, would proclaim that birth in a stable, and that news
the angel brought the shepherds in a blaze of glory, showed us God not only at work in the
light, but actually present among us. The light that God is, literally and gloriously embodied
in Jesus. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection shed light on God. He shows us what it means to
live in revitalised relationship with God, to live in ways that will please God, who faithfully,
and always, seeks our good.
What does God give with the light that comes into the world with the birth of Jesus? A fresh
hope that darkness will not have the last word; and, even as we wrestle with that darkness,
an offer of more light as we get to know this Christ child better. “He comes, a little child, to
bless my sight/That I might come to him for life and light.” Light illuminates our universe. It
could soon power potentially limitless energy, poured into fusing hydrogen atoms together.
What might God’s light do, the light that is in Jesus, poured into us and reflected back out,
energising us, our locality, our world?
What if we could live like him, radiating out the presence of God? Be the person that others
call a light rising in the darkness, a trailblazer, an example? If that sounds just too good to be
true, it’s no less than Christ promised. “You are the light of the world”, he told his followers.
Is there a catch? The writer of John’s Gospel, who had a great deal to say about Jesus as the
light illuminating all our lives, put it like this: he came to his own, human beings like him; he
offered that opportunity to put things right with God, to go God’s way, to live well in God’s
light. But human beings turned him down. The catch, it seems, is us. We can shine a light on
the stars to see where we’ve come from, but how often we shun God’s offer of a lamp to
light a better way ahead.
There’s good news, though. This is not an offer made once and then withdrawn. No. It’s an
offer God makes through Jesus every day to all sorts of people in all manner of dark corners.
People who, in a flash of inspiration, or the harsh glare of the truth about what they’re like –
what we’re all like – have grasped their need for more light. The Dutch painter Rembrandt
captured something of this in his painting The Adoration of the Shepherds. Here we see the
glorious presence of Immanuel, God-with-us, shedding light on the lives of ordinary people.
They wear ordinary 17 th century Dutch clothes, are no doubt preoccupied with ordinary 17 th
century Dutch concerns. Those shepherds will soon be back at the day job, razzmatazz over;
the child’s parents home and wondering what all that was about. But for now, they gather
round this solitary, powerful source of light, the one thing illuminating their faces and their
lives in the encircling darkness. Their intense absorption suggests they’ll go from this stable
filled with an awareness that God has met with them, their ordinary lives aglow afresh with
the light God gives. And the world around them the better for it.
That’s the offer God still makes today as we celebrate once again the coming of Jesus. And
the choice is still ours. We can accept his call out of the darkness we shut ourselves in with,
into what one Bible writer calls Jesus’ marvellous light. Will we step into it, for the first time,
or perhaps afresh? The offer is there, in a world that needs more light. Light for the journey: