The Dean's address, Friday 26 November 2021, From Darkness - to Light
A few moments ago, the window at the east end of the Cathedral was illuminated from outside. The effect is somewhat marred by the scaffolding, but it is powerful, nonetheless. Light floods the window, illuminating its colours and revealing its forms.
Those who know it know that among the forms revealed are those of the world’s Prisoners of Conscience. Their anguished faces are painstakingly represented in glass. Their faces surround the lonely figure of Christ, whose tortured frame hangs on the cross at the window’s centre.
Light pours in through images of suffering; it is the agony of the prisoners that allows in the light; it is the humiliation of Christ that allows us to see.
From Darkness - to Light.
At the beginning of the service all the lights were extinguished; at its end there will be a blaze of light from the high altar behind me. But then we will go out – out into the darkness of the night, out into the darkness of the world, out – if we are honest - into the darkness of our lives. From Darkness - to Light - and back to darkness. So: is the once-and-for-all transition that the service seems to offer us a mere illusion?
Darkness surrounds the birth of Christ and threatens to engulf it. The child has no place to lay his head but a borrowed manger; in a king’s paranoid fear of his coming the children of Galilee are slaughtered; the child and his parents are driven to become refugees in Egypt.
Darkness surrounds our lives and threatens to engulf them. The poverty of the stable is relived among the benefit-reliant; the massacre of innocents is relived in Kabul; the flight of the holy family into exile is relived in the English Channel.
Yet the faith of Advent is that there is no place where darkness is unrelieved. We know that to be so. Human eyesight is such that if the world were all darkness, we would not be able to see. Candle-flames pierce the shadows of the Cathedral tonight; we live in darkness and in light. The Advent faith is that light shines through the darkness, and that the darkness does not contain it, cannot contain it. For in the birth of Christ we see that nowhere and no one is beyond the loving reach of God.
And the faith of Advent is that there is no place where darkness is ultimately triumphant. Human eyesight is such that if the world were all light, we would not be able to see. The blaze of light in which the service ends assures us that the light will be all in all and that the light will not dazzle us. But it also assures us that we are not there. Not yet. For God’s love has not finished with us; God’s love has not finished with our darkness. Not yet. For in the death of Christ and in the resurrection of Christ we see that to live at all is to live in an eternity which we can barely begin to imagine.
From Darkness - to Light - and back to darkness: but in the faith that in the darkness is Emmanuel: God with us.