Christmas is the season of love, peace, hope, and joy. It is the time of year when the axis of the earth shifts back towards the light.

Christmas boldly announces that

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

But, unavoidably darkness remains. John the Gospel writer does not promise that the light will banish “the darkness.” He does not announce the final defeat of darkness. He offers no soothing bromide in the hope of easily placating the pain that is a predictable part of the human condition.

John the Gospel writer proclaims only that “The light shines in the darkness.” He promises only that “the darkness did not overcome” the light. Darkness is never fully eliminated and at times it appears to obscure the light completely.

Boxing Day morning we heard the horrifying news that, on Christmas day in the small usually quiet, seemingly safe, and secure community where our church is located, two small children died at the hands of their father before he tried unsuccessfully to end his own life.

It is hard to imagine how anyone navigates such horror. What possible coping strategies can there be in the face of such violence? To even suggest that there is any way to “cope” is to diminish the unimaginable pain one man’s actions have inflicted upon so many lives this Christmas. Any words of comfort are trite and cheap in the face of such tragedy.

All anyone can do is hold the pain. We must not turn away. We must resist the temptation to escape into some illusion that the world can ever be completely safe. The greatness of loss is always in proportion to the magnitude of love. We must not seek to diminish the pain by reducing the love.

We cannot understand such a terrible circumstance. Nothing can undo the terror or diminish the desperation. We face this darkness; there is nowhere to hide. There are no secure communities. No families are entirely safe from the brokenness that can inflict itself upon unsuspecting and innocent victims.

We pray for those most directly afflicted. We long for a day when they may find again a small measure of light. But there is no way past the loss those who cherished these children will carry for the rest of their lives.

For those of us who are less directly affected, we can only search our own hearts and allow the news of such an event in our community to challenge us to examine our lives and seek to live more fully the things we value most deeply.

In the face of such darkness, how may we love better?

Will we allow such sadness to break open our hearts more fully to the beauty and the terror that are the two poles of life? Will we live more gently in this broken world? Will this darkness cause us to hold more closely those we love and seek to live more authentically the truth and peace we believe are the deepest realities of life? Will we choose to share what light we experience and do what we can to insure that light shines more brightly in the midst of darkness?

This Christmas for one young family and those whose hearts break in the face of this tragedy, there simply is no comfort. There is no way to see the light. At this moment, the darkness does seem stronger and more real. There can only be, and should only be, the grief that afflicts the world with sorrow and pain in the face of such unaccountable loss and suffering.

John the Gospel writer makes it clear that there is always “light” and “darkness”. We do not get the one without the other. This is the human journey; there is no other. We live here on this unsettling edge. We balance between the beauty we glimpse at this time of year and the searing scar of suffering that runs through all of life.

There are so many times when it seems that the darkness has overcome the light. But, faith holds the conviction, albeit at times with a shaky grasp, that light does “shine in the darkness.” “The darkness” will never ultimately defeat the light that faith trusts is born in each human heart.

Lord have mercy. Grant grace to all whose lives come in contact with this family over the next days and weeks. May they possess strength and deep wisdom. In time may the broken lives of those who grieve find some measure of healing. In the deep mystery of life’s resilience may there come moments of comfort that bring a glimmer of hope in the face of inevitable despair. Amen.