Some of you might know the story of Newgrange in Ireland. Newgrange is a Stone Age construction in County Meath. It is a large mound, that has a single entrance leading to a long corridor that opens up into a central chamber. Here in the central chamber one finds an ancient burial site. It is believed to have been built around 3200BC, and so it is older than the pyramids in Egypt, and older even than Stonehenge in England. But what makes it so remarkable is its actual construction.
For a long time, people knew it as a well-constructed, ancient burial site. However in the last century, a remarkable fact about its construction emerged. It was discovered that on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the darkest, around about now in the northern hemisphere, the site was perfectly engineered so that a ray of light would enter a window above the entrance, lighting not only the corridor but all the way down into the central chamber, illuminating the burial site.
This is obviously no accident: that at the darkest day of the year, when there is the least light, in a place to remember the dead, the darkness is defeated by light. Human beings more than 5000 years ago decided that death should be understood in this way. They chose to see hope. They chose to view the mystery of life as not something that is overcome and overwhelmed by night, but as something that holds within itself the promise of more, of brighter days ahead.
Christmas in a way is the fulfilment of the promise symbolised at Newgrange, a promise understood in such a profound way by people who lived well before Christ, well before the figures in the Bible; but also a promise that we, when we take a moment, wonder at too. The promise that is new life. The promise that is the pattern of creation. The promise that is the life of reason, reason whose truths are small windows into eternity, windows that gesture at the potential revelation of the light that is the life of these windows. The reason for reason.
In fact, if we look at the icon of the Nativity, the Holy image in the Eastern Church of the birth of our Lord, we see something very similar represented. In that icon, our Lord is born in a cave, a cave at the bottom of a mountain. Now it is quite feasible that the manger where Jesus was born was in fact in a cave, but that is not the point of the icon. The cave at the bottom of the mountain represents the lowest part of creation. Basically, it is saying that God in becoming human has gone right to the bottom of the world. God in becoming human has taken on all the weakness, all the vulnerability, all the darkness of creation. God has become human in such a way that no part of creation is left out of the story of Christmas. In becoming human, Jesus has taken on everything that is part and parcel of life.
And we know this is true because it is what we see on the Cross. God has gone right to the bottom, to the lowest level, to the place where people feel forgotten, where they feel rejected, to the place we put ourselves when we are ashamed or scared.
Each of us knows the darkness all too well. Each of us have suffered and have caused suffering. Each of us have wondered whether optimism and pessimism are just moods dependent on weather or appetite or some other ephemeral circumstance. Each of us have at one moment or another wondered whether it all makes sense, or whether in the end it just comes down to the chaos of who is more powerful. Whether the flame of truth in the end fizzles out like a sparkler. Are the cynics right? Is faith really just the opiate of the masses?
And so that single ray of light that gathers up the dead at Newgrange is revealed to be a child. God has revealed that the promise of new life, the promise repeated uniquely in each human being, that promise truly is stronger than death. The instincts of those people many millennia ago that somehow light would win out have been proven right in the resurrection.
Tonight/today we can say no to darkness and Amen to life. Tonight/today we celebrate. Our Lord has come. He is with us. He knows us intimately and his first thought, even knowing all the hardship, all the temptation, and all the failure, his first thought is to say: Peace be with you.
And so let us open our hearts. Let us let him in. Let us trust the light, trust the promise, trust the one who tells us, I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the resurrection.
Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, God who has become human that we might become divine.