“Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle, and you don't light a candle in a room that's already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that's so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth
What happened to those shepherds
who heard the angels sing?
Who saw the darkness dispelled by light and heard good news for all
What happened to those foolish ones who haphazardly left their flocks
And stumbled through the darkness
To where the baby lay
Did they dream wild new dreams?
Were their lives transformed?
Or did they merely wander back into the hills
Pick up their staffs, and sit once again in the cold stillness
The ardor of the moment cooling
The light fading?
And watch sheep?
What happened to those odd assorted souls who happened
by the scene
and awkwardly watched the sight of a motley crew
of socially sketchy folk
gathered around a mother and child?
Were they too touched by angel fire?
Did they too wander aimlessly, pondering these things that had come to pass?
The good news of great joy?
Or did they shrug and scurry on unchanged.
What happened to the cousins and aunts,
the family gathered upstairs in that warmer cleaner space?
Were they oblivious to the wonder underneath their feet?
Or did grace rise and touch the room in which they ate
And argued as families do?
What happened to merchants and kings
And magi from afar
As they wondered near or wondered from afar?
As they heard the experts opine
Did that star, those prophetic words mean something?
Did the signs and wonders invoke hope, or fear?
Did they stay trapped in their old beliefs and systems?
Did their stomachs clinch and the bile rise?
Or did they catch a glimmer of something new?
Surely the only stories are not those
Of mad kings plotting infant deaths
Of magi fleeing in the dark, another way
Surely stories of refugee flights in the darkness
and violent oppression are not all we have
Surely someone became kinder
Some one felt moved to generosity
Surely someone felt hope
And someone gazed into the now silent skies,
And remembered the angels singing
For all that happened
And all that did not happen
The world slouches on its way
Still Christmas comes and goes, and comes and goes again
Still the air is filled with the sound of singing
And lights twinkle as the stars
Still people gather
And make much of a baby’s birth
And still when all is said and done
The world returns to its ways
Still the powerful plot and the poor suffer
Still fear and hate lead to violence
No! This is not all that we have.
An empty celebration that when all is said and done
Leaves the world the same dark place
Yes, the world is indeed “a shockingly bad old place,
where wickedness flourishes unchecked,
And yet at Christmas the light came into the world
A light in the darkness
A light to show us the way
A light that at times may seem fragile and weak,
But never goes out
The light of hope, and peace, and joy
The light of love
which is kindled and flames in our hearts
so that sometimes we are kinder
and sometimes we love
Even as the light shines in a world murky with darkness
We gaze into the now silent skies,