Light and life belong together. Each child that is born, every new life that comes into the world, is another priceless gift, another cherished soul, another point of light. And when our loved ones die, it’s easy to think that their light has been extinguished, gone forever. As I have said at this service before, my father died on Christmas Eve a few years ago, and this makes Christmas poignant for me. But this year is different for our family, because in February we shall become grandparents for the first time. So this Christmas we have our own birth to look forward to.
Birth and death, tears and laughter, tragedy and comedy belong together in this life: ‘man was made for joy and woe, and when this we rightly know, through the world we safely go’ said William Blake. Christmas has a unique way of gathering up and embracing both our sadness and our joy. Our memories matter as part of this. Perhaps the most important thing we do for those who are given to us is to hold them in our minds and hearts. One way of knowing that you love someone in a lasting way is that you hold them within you all the time. You are present to them and they to you in the imagination, mind and heart, even if physically separated either for a while for the rest of this life.
Especially at Christmas time, we have memories of happy times, good experiences, the give and take of intimacy and affection. Sometimes those memories are coloured by sadness, regret, guilt or pain: But to come here tonight, to light up a life and to remember and pray is to remind ourselves ‘holding’ our loved ones in our minds and hearts doesn’t end with death. It goes on for as long as we ourselves are alive. It’s something we do for those who have died, just as one day, other people will do it for us.
Jesus says: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. Those whom we love light up our lives, shed illumination upon us so that we know ourselves in a new way. But our lives are lit up by a greater light still. It’s the light of Jesus himself that we hold up to one another, the light of Jesus that bathes all our living and dying in hope. This Jesus lost those he loved, as we do; he wept as we do; he faced death himself, as we do; he rose from the dead, as we shall.
At Christmas time we tell of how God came into our world in Jesus. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ And that light is the light of love, God’s love is even stronger than ours, it endures for ever, it holds each of us in its arms. We only exist at all through God’s thinking and willing and loving us into life. He loves us in our birth and our living, in our childhood, youth and ageing, in our sickness and our pain, in our joy and in our sorrow, in our dying, and in eternity. We love, because he first loved us, and loves us to the end.
So we kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take all fear away, for perfect love casts out fear. In the Word incarnate, the resurrection and the life, we find hope once more – for those we have loved, for ourselves, for the time when we shall be reunited with joy, and for our world and its peoples in their longing for God’s coming dawn of justice, truth and peace.
9 December 2012 at St Cuthbert’s Hospice Service Light up a Life