THE LIGHT THAT DARKNESS CANNOT PUT OUT
©Wendell Griffen, 2015
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR
Christmas Eve (December 24) 2015
We gather on this Christmas Eve, like followers of Jesus perhaps are gathering or preparing to gather across the world, to commemorate that God has lived among us in the man born to a woman named Mary in Bethlehem, Palestine, and called Jesus.
We gather to celebrate what the introduction to the 4th Gospel calls at John 1:5 the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
And as we gather, there is still darkness—in personal lives, in communities plagued with inequality and suffering, in societies afflicted by violence, fear, and hatred, and in a world obsessed with “security” and terrorism in all its forms.
Hear this message from Patriarch Emeritus Michael Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem between 1987 and 2008, that appeared in an op ed column in The Haaretz newspaper. Patriarch Sabbah writes:
At this holy time of the year, Bethlehem, the city of the Nativity, stands at the center of attention of the whole world. What the world might overlook as it watches is that the very city where Jesus was born celebrates yet another occupied Christmas. This year, Israel, a self-proclaimed “safe haven” for Christians, has presented to Bethlehem a few unwelcome Christmas gifts.
Israel’s Christmas gifts to Bethlehem this year serve towards consolidating the separation between Bethlehem and its twin city, Jerusalem; the city where Jesus was born and the city where he was resurrected – the essence of the Christian faith. Aside from the daily violations that the besieged Bethlehem suffers as a result of the occupation, Israel issued a military order last week announcing that it has confiscated 101 dunams [a dunam is 1000 square meters] of Bethlehem’s northern lands. In the same week, the Israeli government approved the expansion of the illegal settlement of Gilo - built on privately owned lands of Bethlehem - by 891 new housing units.
Right to the west of the Gilo settlement lies the Cremisan valley in Beit Jala with its two Salesian monasteries and privately owned agricultural lands. Despite a nine-year legal battle, tremendous diplomatic lobby efforts and civil resistance, Israel continues to build the annexation wall in Cremisan, leaving 58 Palestinian Christian families robbed of their lands. Where do these families go now and to whom do they have recourse?
Despite Israel’s claim that it is the only country in the Middle East where Christians prosper, the unspoken message it sends on the ground is that it has no respect whatsoever for their rights as Palestinians and for their existence in their homeland. It is claimed that Islamic extremism is the reason behind the massive emigration of Palestinian Christians. In reality, the problems of Palestinian Christians stem essentially from the fact that they are Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation. What drives a Palestinian Christian out of his homeland to seek a better future elsewhere is the daily harassment of the occupation, and Israel’s land confiscation policies fall at the heart of the matter.
The Israeli government is quick to cite “security” justifications for its oppressive policies - while in reality, land grab and settlement expansion motives – under the pretext of security - cannot be concealed.
God came to us in Jesus to shine the light of divine love, truth, justice, peace, and hope into human darkness. And although hate and fear led to the death of Jesus, the light still shines. We, and others across the world, are the result of that light. The darkness cannot overcome the light in us because the darkness is not stronger than God’s love, truth, peace, and hope.
So we will not draw back from the holy call to shine in the darkness. We who are followers of Jesus, God’s light of love, truth, peace, and hope, will shine for Bethlehem.
We will shine the light of God’s love, truth, justice, peace, and hope on the darkness of police brutality and state-sanctioned homicide.
We will shine the light of God’s love, truth, justice, peace, and hope on the darkness of violence, be it physical, psychological, economic, or moral, wherever that violence takes place.
As followers of the Jesus born in Bethlehem, killed by Roman occupiers outside Jerusalem, who was resurrected in Jerusalem, and who will come again to govern the world for God in love, truth, justice, peace, and hope, we gather to declare that the light still shines in the darkness. And now, as on that first night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the darkness does not overcome the light.
Because the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, darkness does not overcome the light.
Because truth crushed to earth will rise again, darkness does not overcome the light.
Because the truth will always set us free, darkness does not overcome the light.
Because God is love, darkness does not overcome the light.
Because Jesus came, because Jesus lives, and because Jesus will return again, darkness does not overcome the light!
Beloved, let us faithfully live as people of God’s light confident that darkness, whether here, elsewhere, or across the world, does not overcome the light!
Thank God for Jesus, the light of the world! Hallelujah!