The Darkest Hour
Sunday 10 January 2021: South Luffenham and Barrowden/Zoom
The Darkest Hour.
A third Lockdown. It is indeed one of our Darkest Hours. And it is not the only one either. Most of us will have been horrified as we watched the events unfold on Capitol Hill, Washington last week. This will be one of the longest winters we have had to endure, whatever the weather might throw at our farmers when they begin lambing.
I am an eternal optimist but I can see all around the increasing downwards pull on the national mind-set. We will know from our own conversations that many folk are beginning to suffer with some form of depression. We will suspend public worship for a while but that sign of hope implicit in our church buildings is so important.
It is no coincidence that Christmas occurs at one of the darkest time of the year. No-one knows the exact date when Jesus was born but in the 4th century The Church decided to Christianise the Winter Solstice – the birth of the Sun-God – which then fell on 25 December. When that decision was made by Constantine, he wasn’t to know how vital it would be for the world in 2020!
There is talk in the media about keeping our Christmas decorations up to relieve some of the depression. Well, it’s amazing what can be re-discovered when conditions get tough! As we know, The Church has always cherished Christmas as a season which lasts beyond Twelfth Night until Candlemas on 2nd February. We make much of it in church but society needs to value that celebration now. It is so sad to see Christmas Trees turfed out on Boxing Day. So much of the festival has been aborted if we do that!
Today we mark the Baptism of Jesus. As we know, he was baptised as an adult to identify with our sinful nature. It happened in a dark time in the history of Israel too. The Chosen People were overrun by the Roman invaders and were looking for a sign. In Jesus and John the Baptist thy found not just a sign but a revolution.
Light and Shade.
What then has this revolution to offer the world? Basically, it has exposed God to humankind. There is God the Son, whose birth and baptism we celebrate at this time. His life and work remind us that nature must be cherished for it too is a product of God’s creative power. Finally, these two forces – the human and the natural world – work together to highlight the work of the Spirit which always draws us to the light of Christ, even in our darkest hour.
At the start of the Bible record, when darkness brooded over the face of the deep, the Spirit was moving. It was not long before light appeared. This of course is pure poetry, fused with metaphysics but that biblical record shows up other dark moments in the peoples’ search for God. At another dark time, when the Jews were imprisoned in Egypt, Moses was sent to plan their escape and lead them for 40 years in the wilderness. The Book of Job teaches us so much about suffering when we ourselves endure the darkest hours. No wonder the Jews, in Psalm 139 leaned to sing:
“Within our darkest night, you kindle a flame that never dies away.”
When the infant faith showed signs of speaking to itself, along came St. Paul who made it possible for the Good News to be shared more widely. During the Dark Ages it was the monastic communities which preserved both culture and faith for a world learning to use its freedom. Such sharing of the light of Christ was reinforced by the Reformation which allowed people to hear the Good News in the vernacular. We could mention also Wesley and Newman who both broke down barriers to help diffuse the light. Then Attenborough and Thunburg spoke as sophisticated humanity turned its back on nature.
Not all these heralds of the light were card-carrying Christians but God used them at critically dark moments. And on Capitol Hill on Sunday, it was the voice of Mike Pence who shone a torch over the chaos, forsaking his political orientation and allowing his conscience to speak.
Hope and Optimism
Every morning I walk past the Almond-blossom tree at Barrowden’s church gate. It reminds me that spring is on its way, the dark nights are waning. It fuels my optimism. It is a given. As I open the church door the font greets me, the place where so many of you have been baptised, turned from darkness to light and we began our often struggling journey in Christ.
Here is the difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is placed in something which is fixed, passive. Nature is optimistic. The Almond blossoms year after year, whatever the problem. Hope on the other hand has to be worked at. It is present where there is no recurring blossom. Our brothers and sisters who live in the slums of South Africa share the Christian hope though they may not see our almond blossom. The Good News of the gospel relates to the long game set in motion by God and reinforced in Christ that all may live in the light of His Company. It has to be worked at. It is our baptismal vocation.
The 3 vaccines which will lift the darkness of this pandemic are not recurring elements in nature but the result of ruthless research and sparkling intellect aimed at bringing in a fullness of life. They are signs of hope. There is much to look forward to. Thanks be to God. Amen.