These days we live in are short dark winter days.
The poet John Betjeman puts it this way:
The Advent wind begins to stir,
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry.
Dark days indeed in the middle of December!
But it’s not just the winter darkness that troubles our hearts, for there is a deeper and more penetrating darkness we seem to face.
All of a sudden our world seems a more dangerous and violent place, a place starved light; as Isis and terror, Syria and Nigeria fill our screens. The world seems to be a dark place at the moment.
And this was further illustrated for us by the news that the CIA routinely used torture. Such abuse of human rights by a civilized country beggars belief and will, of course, only further fuel the propaganda of hate and terror.
But the courage and insistence of President Obama to open up this sad chapter in American history to the light of scrutiny and truth goes some way to make amends.
This Sunday we read from St John’s Gospel and one of the major themes of that Gospel is the tension between light and darkness. Indeed John the Baptist is introduced to as a witness to the light.
This is a wonderful Advent theme; being a witness to the light.
And it’s a challenge to witness for the light. On cold winter nights, we would rather run for the shelter of home, close the door, draw the curtains, put the Telly on, the heating up and forget about the darkness outside.
And sometimes it works, cocooned in all the comforts of home, we forget that the darkness is only a pane of glass away.
Others aren’t so lucky. They don’t have that luxury of closing the door. Instead they are surrounded by darkness: the darkness of hunger, or cold, loneliness or grief, bereavement and pain. We think of those in our society and in our own street isolated and alone; the elderly neighbor, the sick or housebound. We can be a light to them…bring good news to them as the first reading puts it. The good news of our presence and care.
And that is what the light of Christ shining in us brings: Good News! When we show simple charity and human kindness to others. Or when we challenge injustice in the world, and we can do that! Look at the work of our Justice and Peace groups. When we roll up our sleeves and work together the hungry are feed; look at our food bank. The homeless are clothed and sheltered: this evening some of our young people are going to give Christmas gifts to the homeless in Glasgow who find shelter the hostel run by the Legion of Mary. And think for a moment of the many children who will benefit this Christmas from the love and generosity of St Bride’s parishioners who bought an extra gift for them.
We can challenge the darkness of our world when we allow the light of Christ to shine through us. But Pope Francis says this is not an option but a duty. In the final remarks of his New Year message he say:
God will ask each of us: What did you do for your brother or sister? The globalization of indifference burdens the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, all of us must forge a new solidarity capable of giving them new hope and courage.
And that hope will only come when we witness to the light of Christ. A light that challenges the darkness of indifference and apathy.