Suddenly it's dark. The fairy lights are back in their box, the fancy candles are burned away; after the tinsel brilliance of folk- religious Christmas the world has returned to its January gloom.
From the "lux fiat" of Genesis to St John's light shining in the darkness, via the star of Bethlehem, Christianity and Christmas appear to be synonymous with light, bringing a glimmer of otherness to the agnostic life of everyday. By contrast, godless J a nuary seems dark and dreary, the season of depression after the festive cheer.
The reality is different. Despite the symbolism of light in the Gospels, despite the association of divine glory with a shining brilliance, despite the halos of the saints, darkness is also part of the Christian experience. It is not confined to the secular side of life but has its own religious significance, its own symbolism with which to carry us through the gloom of our lives.
And this symbolism is more than one of absence. Night and day are both part of the divine plan, alternating in harmony like winter and summer, all God-given. Darkness is not to be equated with evil: that would be a pagan dualism. Instead it can have its own luminous holiness. The dark cloud of Sinai contained God Himself.
Darkness is a state out of which things emerge. The primeval darkness of Genesis was pregnant with all the possibilities of the created world, just as the dark earth of midwinter is alive with dormant seeds. The darkness of Easter night trembles with expectation as the tomb becomes a womb bearing the incipient brightness of eternal rebirth.
Darkness is often where we are. The state of holy light is generally far above us, out of reach, a symbol perhaps, like the saintly halo, of humanity's highest aspirations. At times like Christmas we may be able to soar upwards, to attain an unaccustomedspiritual level. But we cannot remain there. No amount of fairy lights, or even talk of not putting the clocks back, can turn winter twilight into the brilliance of summer sun. The state of darkness is our predicament, part of the rhythm of all life. Even if it often takes the form of a depression of body and soul, it is at one with the natural world, like the dull grey of a cloudy sky or the skeletal black of winter trees. If we can view it creatively it can be the rich loam nurturing unseen growth.
Tradition assigns both the Nativity and the Resurrection to the night. The Gospels also describe the agonising darkness of Gethsemane and the terrifying darkness at noon of the Crucifixion. Whether these dark moments bring glory or desolation, Christ sh a res them with humanity. Christianity does not take them away any more than night or winter can be dissolved by electric light. But it does give them meaning.
To accept that one must have trust. Light gives us self- confidence, self-sufficiency. Darkness renders us fearful and dependent, like the blind being led by the hand. In the brashness of Christmas we may have forgotten the job insecurity, the credit- cardbalance mounting up with each present bought, but the dull days of January pull us back to a murky reality which is insecure and uncertain. With the angels from the Christmas tree back in their box for another year, who will give us a hand in the darkness to see us through the bleak months ahead while we grope towards the light of spring?
The dark can threaten unknown horrors or it can spell peace. A careful reading of the Gospel will take us not away from darkness but deeper into it, but in the company of Christ who understands our fears because he has gone before us and experienced not only the depressive darkness of the winter months but the dark moments of life. He will take hold of our wrists as he leads us further into the depths. Perhaps the darkest place of all is not the threatening dark around us but our own unplumbed selves; places where in the razzmatazz of the modern Christmas we have no time to go. …