You may remember that I have shared my love of a Christmas light before – the more colourful the better! It is such fun as I travel around this Diocese looking out for shops, offices and houses lit up with the light bright and piercing the darkness of these winter nights.
I like them for lots of reasons but in part because they remind me of Christmases past – of my father getting down the box of decorations from the loft, I can still see it now … and of the set of coloured lights that on Christmas Eve (yes, Christmas Eve, or if we were lucky, the weekend before) we would decorate our tree. Of course, in this I am remembering him and others of my family who, in the words of the traditional bidding for the Nine Lessons and Carols service, ‘rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light’ and I thank God for them.
These are happy memories for me, if tinged with loss, and I am grateful for them. For so many of us this season brings back other memories, more challenging, the loss is deeper and be it from many years ago, or recent weeks and months, the pain so much harder to bear. There can also be memories of past hurts and ills that this season brings again close to the surface of our lives and as a recent Theos report, ‘Love, Grief and Hope’ has highlighted, so many of us find our emotional engagement with death much harder to navigate in our contemporary society. We celebrate life but we hide from death and do our mourning in private and behind closed doors.
For all these reasons I am thankful that in so many of our parishes and communities, alongside our traditional Christmas celebrations, opportunities have developed to recognise this pain and hurt. St Catharine’s Church in Gloucester, for example, is holding a Blue Christmas service for all who, for bereavement or whatever reason, find some part of this season, with its images of the perfect family always having fun, a little overwhelming.
I hope, too, that events and services such as this will allow us to see and encounter that other side of the light that surrounds us, the light that pierces the darkness. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, God who comes to dwell with us. Jesus Christ who comes to our world and our lives, with all their pain and brokenness, not dismissing that pain, but embracing it, ultimately on the cross that turns darkness into light and is our greatest confidence and hope.
The light shines in the darkness (John 1) and while our Christmas lights will be put back in the box come the new year, the light of Jesus Christ, born in the stable, is one that the darkness will never overcome. For this is Emmanuel, God with us.
At A Loss is the UK’s bereavement signposting website, providing information about bereavement support and resources. Visit www.ataloss.org