Bilbo Baggins, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, was stuck in the cave with Gollum and they began their riddling contest. After a few, Gollum put the following riddle to Bilbo:
“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills,
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.”
Any guesses, My Preciouses? A: The dark.
I don’t think we could have a proper scary book or horror movie without darkness, and that is a good place for it, but so often, the darkness of our dreams and imaginings is like the purest light when held up against the darkness of this world. And even on days like this, so quiet and peaceful, we can still sense the presence of the dark. Henri Nouwen wrote, “In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness.”
Even as we look upon the child in the manger, we can’t help but also see the darkness to come and the instrument of his death, the cross.
At this point, you are probably wondering why you didn’t stay home with your new presents. Thank you, Fr. John, for depressing us this morning. But that is not my intent, because even though we see the looming darkness in the birth of Jesus, it is still the Good News. This is how God chose to bring about the salvation of the world. Today is about the birth of God, but it is always – and can never be separated from – Good Friday and the events that took place on that hill outside of Jerusalem.
Luke records those final moments of our Savior’s life: “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.” But the darkness did not have the final say. “On the first day of the week, at early dawn…”, three days later, at early dawn, the Light came back into the world.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Darkness does not win, and the Light which came into the world on that first Christmas morning and also burst forth from the empty tomb on that first Easter, continues to shine today, from Jesus through us.
Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, asked a man what the purpose of life was. For a long while, the man only stared at Fulghum, then he pulled a piece of a broken mirror from his wallet. He said, “I was a small child during the war. One day, on the road I found a broken mirror and I kept the largest piece, this one. I began to play with it and I became fascinated with it. I noticed that it could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine, deep holes, crevices, dark closets.
“I kept the little mirror and as a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I could do with my life, namely that I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design I do not know. With what I have, I can reflect light—truth, understanding, meaning, knowledge—into the black places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I do.”
Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
The darkness of this world is real, but it will not overcome us. We are children of the Light, and we can bring others into that same Light if we will choose to shine as the child in the manger shines.