Giles Fraser is a priest in the Church of England, who serves as the Vicar of St Mary’s, Newington, near the Elephant and Castle, London.

Fraser writes a regular column in “The Guardian”. He is a thoughtful and often provocative commenter on faith and Christianity.

Not surprisingly, this week The Vicar of St Mary’s, Newington has found his thoughts turning towards Christmas. In his column Giles proclaims in bold terms the dramatic conclusion to which he finds himself driven when reflecting on the central story of this season:

the astonishing assertion of the Christmas story is that the God who comes as a pathetic child is all the more God-like for the total evacuation of power. It’s a birth story at one with what would become the central message of His teaching: the first will be last and the last first…. At Christmas, God becomes a child. Power is divested. Might and right no longer nestle comfortably together.

Most of us want an all-powerful god who will smite our enemies, tidy up life and keep the trains running on time. This is not the God of Christmas. The God born in a stable in Bethlehem enters into the untidiness of the world and, for the most part, does not fix the mess of human existence.

Christmas demands that we consider the possibility that, the muddle of existence is not in fact a mistake. We who put our faith in a God who became incarnate in a helpless infant caught up in the pain and suffering of his day, are called to realize that it is not in spite of the mess that God is found. It is in the very midst of the mess that God comes to meet us.

As a wise spiritual practitioner recently wrote in an email on which I was copied:

For whatever reason, this dense realm that we live in appears to require the friction of opposites in order for light to manifest. Like the pearl that requires sand for it’s creation and refinement, so we too, are called to hold these polarities, to not bend or break in the midst of the tension. And perhaps it is in holding this tension that something new is born. ….As difficult as it may seem, there appears to be a sense of aliveness that comes in the holding of this tension.
Perhaps it is in our ability to hold the tensions of opposites that we are given the opportunity to perceive truth more fully. If we shy away or fall back into comfort and security, we are choosing to be blind to life as it presents itself. Interesting that blindness is such a reoccurring theme in the New Testament.

Christmas will not allow us to collapse the tension between the material realm and the presence of Beauty, Light and Truth in the midst of the messy reality of life. As John the Gospel writer announced,

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5).

It is “in” the darkness, not in spite of the darkness, nor apart from the darkness, that the light shines.

Darkness is always present but powerless to obliterate the light.

If I want to live honestly in the world, I must accept that the darkness, as much as the light, is a gift of the One who created both night and day. Darkness is the means by which the light becomes visible. The light for which I long is not possible without darkness that I fear.

I can embrace the darkness, acknowledge the pain, and live with the brokenness of life without being overwhelmed, because I trust the light that cannot be overcome. I affirm the Love that, Paul declares, “never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:8)