BISHOP ANDREW’S CHRISTMAS LETTER
In writing to you all this Christmas, I wanted to draw our New England wide attention to an interesting Christmas Holiday phenomenon. Speaking for hardware stores across the US, a store manager at a local Handyman Ace recently reported, “We’ve really had a lot of customers coming in looking for exterior Christmas lights and extension cords and things like that. These have been extremely popular items this year.” Bill Adams, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services, corroborates this current national trend for bringing increased sparkle to the neighborhood, “What we … know is that spending [at] building material stores [and] hardware stores … has been growing at double-digit paces.” Another hardware store manager commented, “[folk are] putting a lot of emphasis into something positive because there’s been so much negativity going on…in our communities [and] in the world in general. So … they come in and a lot of Christmas lights, a lot of exterior decorations … just fly off the shelf really fast …” A customer (who had called by the store for additional tree lights to illuminate a fifteen-foot star suspended on the roof of his house) added, “Just because of all the craziness, we needed some kind of extra happiness around here. Normally I wait until the third week of November, but I had the first section of lights turned on by Nov. 8 this year. My neighbors were happy to see them light up the skies!”
So, what is going on here? It has been an interminably long and dark season, but the fifteen-foot illuminated stars and the LED luminescent fusion that is taking place in our neighborhoods would all testify to the truth that we are sick and tired of living amid darkness and we are very, very eager to break into the light! For the Apostle John, darkness is not merely the absence of light but a power in and of itself. Of such a darkness, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.”
It is said that the most precious light is the light that finds us in our worst darkness. Waiting in the darkness, this would have to be a light that comes to us from the outside. Such a light would have to condescend to come to us in the midst of turmoil, chaos, sickness, grief and disorder. This light could not be static (like a Christmas tree or a fifteen-foot LED star), but it must have power, purpose and motion. It would have to grow and expand. Such a light must have the capacity to strategize and mobilize, even and especially in the darkness. It is not enough that it should come as a moral code in an ancient text to be read by torchlight, but it must come as the light of life. And such a light, if it was to truly get to the heart of our inner darkness, would have to be deeply, deeply personal.
The apostle John’s revelation is that the light of life is the person of Jesus. He tells us, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). And His light will always be triumphant over darkness. How can we be sure? John writes, “Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). The point here is that this energetic, purposeful, increasing life that shines in the darkness, is the life of the One through whom all things were made. And as the Creator, if you can make something out of nothing, you can always turn that something into nothing. Therefore, the Creator will always have the upper hand in His world. His light will always triumph.
We often hear of the battle to bring the Gospel to New England, but what if the fifteen-foot LED star points to a deep and often secret longing in each one of us: a secret that not even a year like 2020 can suppress; a secret that aches so much, the world tries to tame it by calling it nostalgia, romanticism or reminiscence? Is it possible that hardware stores across the nation are evidencing a kind of common home-sickness? Is it possible that this cry of the heart for light is because we are made in His image? And being made in his image, does His unconquerable light, somehow, still burn within us? Maybe for some of us it is the smallest flicker, the tiniest trace of a glow – and yet, there it is, obdurately refusing to be quenched.
One night, in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, the kingdom of light burst upon the kingdom of darkness at a dramatic point of intersection. Jesus’ birth is really a story of invasion – His Kingdom of light breaking into and ultimately overcoming the kingdom of darkness. And when His Kingdom of light breaks in, the most wonderful things happen. Hope breaks into the kingdom of despair. Love overturns hatred. Healing overcomes sickness. Unity displaces division. The miraculous breaks into the mundane. Hope rises upon the hopeless.
I would encourage each of us this year to witness this greater display of lights, festooned across New England, as a sign of something stirring. That the neon glow at the end of your neighborhood reflects at heart, a kind of homesickness for God, a reaching toward a greater love that the world knows is somehow out there but has yet to experience in full. It may be the smallest trace of faith, the tiniest light, but it is enough to cause us to rise up against the darkness and say, “I just know there has to be more than this!” So, enjoy the light show and smile. Know that God is deeply and unconquerably at work in the darkness. His light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
There is no denying, it has been a difficult year. But we know that faith is built in the dark, in the valleys, and during the back-breaking battles of life. And yet, in the darkness, in the valleys and in the battle – by the tender mercy of our God, His light dawns.
It has been the most incredible blessing and privilege to serve you in what has been an unprecedented year of challenge and Kingdom breakthrough. I pray that the light of Jesus would break afresh within your heart this Christmas and stir in you His living hope for the New Year.
With every blessing for a peaceful, healthy, joyful and blessed Christmas,
In His great love,