embrace the darkness

nativ-darkTo say that Jesus was a light born in the darkness is not a statement about this time of year – dark though it is.  Neither is it a suggestion that all was perfect from that moment on.  It is instead a reflection of the reality of the socio-political and religious situation in which Mary and Joseph found themselves at the time of Jesus’ birth and that there was hope for the future.  Miraculous it was that Jesus survived his first year, unlike so many children around him in those days and indeed in our age in the countries of the middle east.  “It could be argued” is a convenient beginning that I once had a habit of using from time to time.  A similar beginning could be ‘What is truth?’  as asked by Pilate.  Or a line from a film: ‘that might be your truth, but it is not necessarily ours’.  It could be argued, therefore, that it is more accurate to lay the foundation of the phrase ‘post-truth’ at the door of various media empires than Pilate, but there is more than a whiff of the definition of post-truth in the story of the trial of Jesus.  If you have not come across post-truth before then you are not alone.  I only came across this phrase last Monday in a briefing about refugees and was surprised to learn later that it was the 2016 word of the year.  Defined as: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.  In other words: ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it is easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.  Not an astounding conclusion, but now there is a word for it.  Even the agency, Embrace, on the ground in the middle east, engaged in helping the most desperate of people fleeing for their lives were guilty of taking specific data to make their case.  All that data is here by the way – but I had to search for it!  At least they admitted exactly what the figures were showing.  Perhaps we ought in every situation, to say nothing at all unless we are individually, personally involved and then only speak what is probably going to be called in 2017 the ‘old fashioned kind of truth’.  You heard it here first.  But then we would not be speaking truth to power, holding those to account who do not give the whole picture.  I suspect that is the kind of truth that rarely gets spoken.  And so to the question that raises its head to me from today’s carefully selected (to make a point on the fourth Sunday of Advent) readings is: What do we actually know about the birth of Jesus?  And perhaps the more important question, does it matter?  Let me come at that from a slightly different angle.  It might be strange to advertise a book that is ‘not yet’.  However, “A Dark Nativity” as yet unpublished reclaims the nativity narrative back from the safe and cosy images of shepherds and stars and swaddling clothes and re-sets it in one woman’s experiences of the horrors of oppression and violence in today’s middle-east and Sudan.  As in the original scriptures, it is about fear and fragility, about violence and cruelty, but it is also about a triumphant hope and a light and love that emerge even from that darkness. Despite its shock value, it is a story of redemption.  If you are intrigued then you can read more about it and even see a little preview – details are on the weekly sheets about Unbound publishers.  The end of the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel ends as it began with begat for Joseph claims Jesus as his own, naming him!  Included in that list of Joseph’s line which begins the gospel are some rather dodgy characters.  Jesus is claimed by Joseph into, yes, a line that arguably leads back to King David, via some interesting twists and turns, but also a genealogy which is far from pure or perfect.  For us this is its saving grace and where the hope and the light might begin to emerge for us.  Joseph’s first act is to break the law in order to take Mary as his wife.  Here is a birth which is being aligned with that which is broken, has in its origin a great deal of darkness, fear, fragility, violence and cruelty.  Perhaps there is some of the old fashioned kind of truth here.  The kind of truth that lays all the pieces out whether they fit properly or not, darkness, brokenness, warts and all.  For me that is important at this time of year, perhaps even more important in our current global climate of fear, mistrust and oppression.  The truth is often shrouded in darkness for fear that it might be revealed.  If we begin with it all out in the open, there is nothing to hide from.  It is a place of weakness, that is certain, and it is into that place of weakness and humility, that God enters in Jesus.  In order to see the light, we must first embrace the darkness out of which it shines.