For me and my fellow Christians, Christmas is the celebration of the Light of Christ being incarnate on Earth in the person of Jesus, a long time ago in a place far, far away.
During late September and early October, Wendy completed a series of oil paintings of pre-dawn and sunrise at Willow River State Park, near our home in Wisconsin, and on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Each morning we would begin in the extreme dark without the light infiltrating from city or town; I made coffee to bring along. While Wendy painted, I engaged in my qigong and tai chi practice, became more intimate with the changing flora around us, and read or wrote in my journal. Gradually, light illuminated the Eastern sky and the sun’s unhurried appearance on the horizon was a daily encounter with the numinous. On some days I felt palpably drawn into the sunrise.
It was a feeling perhaps expressed in a Christmas Eve Sermon by Fra Giovanni Giocondo in 1513, when he preached, “There is radiance and glory in darkness. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.”
In the Christmas gospel reading from John, one line usually gets passed over, without much thought, or emphasis in sermons. That line is: “In the Word was life, and that life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness.” John tells us it is the light of people. Not just of Jesus, but of all people.
Nicholas Motovilov, a 19th century businessman who was imprisoned after the Russian revolution, wrote the following account of his encounter with Russian Orthodox Saint, Father Seraphim of Sarov.
‘Father, I want to understand how we can we can come to be in the Spirit of God and how we can recognize God’s presence in us," I said. Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: "We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don't you look at me?" I replied: "I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain." Father Seraphim said: "Don't be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”
The light is the light of people ~ of you and me.
Thomas Merton wrote of this revelation in his life: "I have the immense joy of being human, a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
I do not wish to detract from the uniqueness of Jesus, but we are all born in the Divine image, and at the very heart of every human being and every creature is the Light that was in the beginning. What the incarnation means is that there is no winter so dark that it can extinguish the Divine Light within and all around us.
Dark blue is increasingly being used in churches as the liturgical color of Advent. It is the color of the earth and sky just before the sun rises. The deep blue of Advent triggers some primordial image as we wait for the promised light of Christ to awaken within, changing night into day, darkness into light, filling our lives and our world. It is an interesting synchronicity that in the wu xing, the Taoist Five Phases Theory, dark blue is also the color associated with winter.
So what do we do? Lao Tzu said, “The sage goes about doing nothing.” C. G. Jung understood this when he wrote, “When one stays in darkness long enough, one begins to see.” - Alchemical Studies.
Meditation is an important winter practice of sitting and doing nothing. Meditation can help us tune into the light glowing even in the midst of the dark winter. Imagining being bathed in dark blue light as we meditate can be powerful during winter.
Most of you probably have a Christmas tree, decorated with lights. Take some time this Christmas season, at night, when all is dark and quiet, to sit in front of your Christmas tree with only the tree lights on. Sip a cup of hot mulled wine or hot tea and meditate on the tree. Maybe the Christmas tree will remind you that “In the Word was life, and the life was the light of people.” That the incarnation is not just about Jesus, but about you and me. Incarnation ‘R’ Us.