Into the Darkest Hour
By Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
war & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was a time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

“The Prince of bliss came into the darkest hour.” That is the heart of Christmas right there. As much as we race around with all of our preparations, as much as we enjoy the caroling, the parties, the gathering of families, the heart of it all always comes down to these few quiet moments on Christmas Eve. Once again, we gather to hear the ancient scriptures, to sing the beloved hymns, and to affirm that no matter how dark the world may get, no matter how hard or painful or confusing our lives may be, the essential truth of Christmas will always have the final word. “The Prince of bliss came into our darkest hour.”

The story we tell tonight is ancient; an old, old story. We’ve all heard it so many times. Yet despite its being old, we have such a great need, year after year, not just to hear it again, but to hear it anew. For many of us this service is the heart of the whole season. We come to it with great expectations. If we haven’t managed to get ourselves into the spirit of Christmas by now, surely we will be moved by this sacred time together, surely we will be touched by the presence of the Spirit, who will bring to life for us, once again, the magic of angels, shepherds and wise men. Surely, our hearts will be strangely warmed by a message that continues to be all but incomprehensible no matter how often we hear it. A weak, fragile, vulnerable infant child comes to us as the savior of the world. He will grow up to set himself against all the forces of evil and darkness, and be put to death by them, and yet somehow, still emerge victorious. C.S. Lewis was right. This story can only be one of two things. Either it is the most absurd madness, or it is the divine truth. There simply is no middle ground.

“The Prince of bliss came into our darkest hour.” It’s a paradox isn’t it. When we’re in the middle of the darkness, bliss may be what we hope for, what we pray for, but it is often the last thing we expect. When darkness becomes truly dark, whether from grief, illness, or disaster of some kind, what often grows up in that darkness is the fear that the light never will shine again. There is a lot of suffering from that fear alive these days. For a whole long list of reasons that you know as well as I do, this Christmas the world seems wrapped in a darkness that our fears tell us may never end.

But that very darkness has something to offer us that we often don’t appreciate. The story of the Christ child cannot become real to us until, deep in our souls, we know the need that cried out for him in the first place. The light shining in the darkness cannot become the truth of our own lives until we know how dark the world can truly be. Only when our own resources are exhausted, only when we can no longer pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, only when our self-assurance at last gives way to prayers for mercy––only then do our eyes finally open to behold that light which the darkness cannot overcome. Only then, do our hearts become ready to seek out and kneel before the stable in which the Christ child has been born.

As Madeleine L’Engle knew, Jesus’ presence among us does not end the tumult of war. He does not end the lust for power, taking advantage, greed or blight. Yet in the midst of it all, his light is unfailing, his bliss is always available to those who will believe. Jesus came into a world that makes far too little space for his gifts of love and peace, yet though there may be no room for him at the inn, there will always be room for him in every open heart. As the day of Christmas dawns, I pray you may know these times of darkness for the opportunity they are; to come to a deeper understanding, trust and love for the God who comes gently into the world, bringing the light that the darkness cannot overcome.

May you all have a most blessed Christmas.

Amen.

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