We are waiting, still waiting, and not just for England to win the World Cup a second time. You may be waiting for the start of your Christmas holiday. You may be waiting to meet with family and friends that you haven’t seen for a while. You may be waiting for some good news, a chink of hope at a difficult time.
In Advent we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, but what that means to us, and where it will take us, depends on where we focus.
We might focus on the waiting for His birth that prophets had foretold and Magi had expected. Or perhaps we might focus on the birth of Christ, on God’s emptying Himself of power and making Himself totally dependent on humans for His care.
We might focus on Christ’s life as a baby, an infant Herod sought to slay, a teenager precocious enough to question His parent’s concern for his whereabouts, or on His ministry to come as an adult.
Maybe our focus may attend to His death to come, for the prophets and Magi foretold that Jesus was born to die. Or we may focus on the culmination of His ministry in his salvational resurrection and ascension, the ministry which began on that first Christmas night.
The darkness of the night, or of this world, might take us to the dark places in the story. Jesus was born amidst darkness but that’s not where He was born to take us to. Jesus was born to bring light into the darkness, to illuminate it and bring hope.
The Journey the Magi, a poem T.S. Elliot wrote*, tells of people themselves born anew through the birth of Christ. They focused on the light of the star but traveled in the darkness, for they preferred the cold of night to the grumbling, unfriendly and expensive world that cross their path by day. We may travel in darkness too — war, poverty and pain are not far from us, they may even be with and within us.
The light that attracted the Magi’s curiosity warmed them as they drew close to it — a source they reached just before their ability to continue with the journey waned. The light that drew them on when they felt themselves faltering calls us onwards too.
The source of light that the Magi found in the Christ child was not simply the light of new life on a dark night. What they found held light and darkness together such that the darkness would never overcome them or us. What they found was the thread of illuminating hope that God lit with creation in Genesis and carried through to resurrection and revelation, both scriptural and personal.
As you wait this Advent, this Christmas, and beyond, may you not feel overwhelmed by the darkness of this world but drawn to the illuminating thread of hope present throughout it. May you receive the revelation of paths to tread and peace to travel them. And may you know the warmth of God’s love that transforms within you, beside you and before you.
This is an edited version of a homily given in a Service of Lessons and Carols at St Stephen’s Church, Lansdown in Bath, England on Sunday 11th December 2022.