Bishop's Letter: The light shines in the darkness

First published 28th November 2015

In his message for this season, Bishop Lee reflects on hope and overcoming hatred.

I am writing this a week after the killings which have traumatised Paris and sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world. For the past seven days these events and their repercussions have dominated the news. Borders may have been tightened and security heightened but terrorists can take this as a sign of their strength.

2015 has become a year marked by chaos and seeming impotence in places unused to such frailty. To date the nations of Europe have proved unable to solve the migrant crisis, which has now been amplified by the threat of terrorists posing as refugees. The tasks facing political leaders have spiralled in complexity and, understandably, the strains are showing. The year draws to a close with many questions unanswered and problems mounting.

Over my years as an ordained minister, I have been aware of an experienced disjunction between the Church's calendar and the everyday calendar in Advent. But not this year. The traditional Christian themes of Advent, including heaven, hell, death and judgement, do not feel at all remote or cutting across the cultural mood music. This year the Advent themes resonate clearly with so many existential realities. As the start of the New Year in the Christian calendar, Advent heralds a new beginning and gives grounds for a different source of hope in what feels a dangerous and uncertain future.

Travelling in London in the aftermath of the Paris shootings I looked up from the escalator at Tooting Bec underground to see a noticeboard with a Thought for the Day inscribed in felt pen: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. I have no idea how many ascending the escalator that day would have recognised the source of those words, but I am quietly confident they would have lifted the spirits of most. Some may have found them echoing around their psyche through the day, surfacing into conscious thought every now and again, offering hope but also a challenge.

Living in the northern hemisphere, the image of light in the darkness works so well for Advent, complementing the illuminations on our streets. Those words, as you probably know, come from the Gospel of St John, chapter one, verse five. The word translated overcome is sometimes rendered as understood giving further opportunity for echoing around in our psyche. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not mastered it captures both senses neither comprehending nor overcoming.

In the painful and raw accounts of the bereaved Parisians, the one which touched me most deeply was that of a husband with a young child whose wife was killed in the Bataclan theatre. In an open letter Antoine Leiris wrote to the terrorists: If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in his image, each bullet in my wifes body would have been a wound in his heart. Therefore I will not give you the gift of hating you.

Monsieur Leiriss words do not only reveal the God we meet incarnate made flesh - in Christ Jesus; they open us to our own true nature. In refusing to hate and speaking of God in this way, Monsieur Leiris has offered a bridge of reconciliation upon which Muslims and Christians may stand together. His example is a powerful and contemporary witness to the truth proclaimed on that noticeboard at Tooting Bec. This Advent may such an example point people to the one who is said, I am the Light of the World.


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