Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! I hope the past few days have been joyous ones for you and your families -- and there’s plenty of days of Christmas yet ahead of us!
For the past couple weeks, I’ve been reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Alice and Charles, my two older kids, at night for the first time. They’re already pretty familiar with it, as we’ve had a longstanding tradition of watching The Muppets’ Christmas Carol every December -- which is in fact the best cinematic version of the story in existence. But as with every story that was first written as a book, there’s always a wealth of details to be found once you read it, even if you’ve watched the movie version before. And A Christmas Carol is no exception.
Our Collect for the First Sunday after Christmas Day is about light: the “new light” of the Incarnate Word that, as we hear in our Gospel from the first chapter of John, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”; “the true light that enlightens every man [that] was coming into the world.” Likewise, when Scrooge first encounters the Ghost of Christmas Present, it is not the direct apparition that he experiences with the other two ghosts -- where they simply come to him. Instead, when the bell tolls the hour that Scrooge had been told to expect the next ghost, he lays in bed as the minutes continue to pass with no visitors appearing before him. However, there is something strange, for Scrooge notices “a blaze of ruddy light” shining on his bed, which is of course “the only light” to be found in the middle of the night. His curiosity gets the best of him, and he suspects that “the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room” and after putting his slippers on, decides to approach it with caution.
What is significant to note is that there is a light shining in the darkness of Scrooge’s house. When the Ghost of Christmas Present appears, his arrival is announced by a curious light that Scrooge then has to seek out. It is not an immediate vision that Scrooge gets while still in bed. It’s like how we read in our Gospel that though the Word is “the true light that enlightens every man,” his coming into the world does not mean the world sees it. In fact, the Light “was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” Even though the darkness of the world cannot overcome the Light of Christ, the arrival of the Light in the world brings judgment with it. As John’s Gospel says in a later chapter, the judgment is that “the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” And considering how evil Scrooge’s deeds were, the very fact that he can see the light that shines from the Ghost of Christmas Present in the room down the hall means that he has already begun his conversion.
As Scrooge slowly opens the door of the illuminated room, he discovers that while it is very cleary his room, it has been transformed into a Christmas wonderland:
The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove…. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there…. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.
What can I say? Dickens is nothing if not descriptive. Anyway, the meaning is clear. The light reveals to Scrooge the abundance of joy and merriment that has accompanied the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost is all about living life to the fullest -- perhaps you could even say that he is like the one in whom was life itself, and the life was the light of men.
The Ghost makes this clear when he takes Scrooge on a spiritual journey around the city. He takes him to the streets where the Christmas crowds have flocked, bearing in his hand “a very uncommon kind of torch” from which he sprinkles drops of water on those he finds quarreling with each other, who then find that “their good humour was restored directly.” This sacred water (hint, hint) has a “peculiar flavour” in it that belongs to the Ghost alone; and he tells Scrooge that it is applied “to any [dinner] kindly given” but “to a poor one most,” because it is the poor that “need it most.” The resemblance to our Lord is almost uncanny.
And with what you know about our Lord in mind, consider also the:
...remarkable quality of the Ghost… that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Just like the Ghost of Christmas Present, there is no place in this world that was made through the Word that is uninhabitable for him. In the Incarnation, the Son of God dwells among us to the fullest extent; he has brought heaven and earth together; he has united everything that is in himself.
I say that there is no place in the world that the Word and the Light cannot enter -- which is true -- but as we read in our Gospel today, there is still some places where the Light does not enter: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” Dickens tells us that of all the places that the Ghost visits with Scrooge, it is “in misery’s every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door,” that the Ghost is barred from entering. “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.”
This brings us back to our Collect this morning. In those of us who have received the Word and believed in his Name, the Light of Christ has been enkindled. The question that remains is how brightly this new light will shine forth in our lives. Remember that our evil deeds reveal how we love the darkness rather than the light; they are the works of darkness, which shroud the light within us and, without repentance, can even extinguish it altogether. But it is from the fullness of our Lord that we have received “grace upon grace.” The new light of the incarnate Word has been poured upon us; God has sprinkled us with the “peculiar flavour” of the water of Holy Baptism; we have been born anew as the children of God. Like the adjoining room in Scrooge’s house that was clearly his own, the world into which Christ has been born is clearly our world. But it has come to our surprise that this world has now been filled with the abundance of grace and truth, just as Scrooge’s room was filled with all the bounty of the Christmas feast. The true light has come into the world through the birth of the Savior -- the Savior who was also born in the “adjoining room” of a stable, for there was no room for him in the inn. To see the light, however dimly, is to find that the Light has already come into us. Let us then pursue the Light; let us join with the shepherds and go to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And what we will see is this same light shining forth in our lives.
Merry Christmas to you all! Amen.