“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

It is Advent again, the season of preparation for experiencing an authentic Christmas. The four-week season calls for waiting and not only that, waiting in darkness, real but not absolute darkness. It is illumined by the light of the Advent candles as they are lit week by week. Light increases each week. Darkness remains. Each candle is named – hope, peace, love, joy – more as prayer than accomplishment. Even on Christmas Eve when the Christ candle is lit, darkness surrounds us all.

My soul is darkened this year by too many issues to list. They share one thing in common. They all are driven by dark fears. A central but infrequently acknowledged dark fear that fuels the dark issues of our day lives in each of us. It is that we don’t deserve love. In a rush to deny it, we humans label others as underserving of love, respect, their share of the goods and services every human being deserves. This is crazy human logic used to make us feel less miserable by considering others less deserving of these things than we.

It is indeed a dark practice and it is directly challenged by what would appear to a fearful world as God’s crazy logic, the nativity story. The holy family is homeless, seen and loved only by the heavenly hosts, shepherds, lowest in the Palestinian class system, and three wise ones from the middle-east. The upstanding locals all but ignore them. Herod the king plots their murder. That is the how the Son of Love is born into the world in our Christian story. It is very much a tale of light in deep darkness.

There will be many ways the light of love will shine in our darkness this Christmas. The light shines in the nativity story, whether sung in great music of the season or acted out by children dressed in pajamas in front of an audience in love with the story and the children. Christmas will transform darkness when the love of generations past and present shines in memory as once again family and friends enact their Christmas traditions. The light will shine through the darkness of a deep winter night in a Christmas Eve service with candles and carols and, if we are fortunate this year, snow. But to draw closer to and know the light of love that is Christmas, we need to expand our understanding of the message of darkness and light in the nativity story.

My dear wife Nancy volunteers, along with many other good people, at Portland Adult Education to teach English to immigrant women and men. They come for help with their language skills to aid them in their formidable task of making a new life for themselves and their loved ones in a very foreign land. They ask, “Is there room at the inn?” Fear or indifference would send them away. Literacy volunteers believe in these displaced people, have eyes to really see them, and make room. What they see are God-beloved people from Central America, Africa, and the Middle East who come to us possessing remarkable courage, strength, faithfulness to God and family, and love of freedom. And they ask little of us beyond a chance to give their gifts.

That is the irony of this modern nativity tale; it is the immigrants who bring gifts to their new land. They bring rich cultures that would enable us, all from immigrant stock, to see ourselves and the world more clearly and be less afraid. They bring industry and spirituality to expand our economic base and our religious perspectives. They offer us a chance to make good on the promise of the American dream, which is not to make us as rich as possible. It is to be a land where worth and dignity for all people are believed in. It is a dream of welcoming the tired and the poor of other lands and giving them a chance to fulfill their dreams to the full extent possible given their abilities and our compassion.

Christmas is a story of how God’s love works in the world, light in the darkness that will not only stay lit but prevail.

Each year the nativity story is read, portrayed, orchestrated and sung. It can be wonder full. It will be even more authentically experienced and understood as we light our candles and take them to stables where the today’s immigrants and homeless retreat for shelter and marshal their resources for new starts.

It is there that we enter today’s nativity enactments and discover how God works His/Her loving ways in our world. The angels understand this, see it happening and sing “Gloria!”

Have a meaningful Advent and blessed Christmas.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be reached at [email protected]