The Light Shines in the Darkness

I’m finding it difficult to be hopeful this Christmas. The slow, steady, daily attacks on what I hold dear and what I cherish about my country are eroding my spirit, even the week before Christmas.

My government is….
– loosening regulations designed to protect my grandchildren from the effects of environmental degradation,
– lifting restrictions on mining and drilling that will endanger wildlife and reduce the precious areas of stunning national beauty every president before this one, all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt, regarded as national treasures to be protected and preserved,
-alienating long-time traditional allies, asserting “America First” at the expense of the welfare of all people and all nations,
– turning away from empirical science about climate change and human responsibility for global warming which the vast majority of scientists, and even the Pentagon, regard as real threats to life on our planet,
-attacking any information it doesn’t like as “fake news”, which means an attack on truth itself.

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books Marilynne Robinson said, “A society is moving toward dangerous ground when loyalty to truth is seen as disloyalty to some supposedly higher interest. How many times has history taught us?”

I worry about that most of all, that ideology replaces empirical data, that truth is flexible and may be bent and twisted to serve political goals.

And so I am not as buoyant as I usually am the week before Christmas. I’m still loving the music, the warmth of a season that emphasizes giving and brings out the virtue of generosity, the tree decorated with well-worn and much-loved ornaments, the aroma of fresh pine. But it is all a little dimmed by what is happening around us and to us. So I am driven back and thinking about the basic story.

The birth in Bethlehem, romanticized in myth and ritual, not to mention the absolutely wonderful Christmas Eve Children’s pageant, was actually a pretty difficult and dangerous ordeal. What was happening around Mary and Joseph was anything but warm and romantic. They were essentially homeless the night Mary gave birth. They were soon to be refugees, immigrants fleeing a murderous threat to their child’s life. I love the shepherds and the angel choruses as much as anyone but the reality of the first Christmas was not cozy and warm.

And yet that birth has inspired the most amazing thing – an outpouring of human love and generosity. Again, Marilynne Robinson: “The cliches about Christmas are so utterly weary and worn that it is difficult to mention them even to attempt to be rid of them…The reality of the phenomenon is this – people mob stores looking for gifts to give other people…It is really inflamed generosity. All those people are thinking about what someone else might want, need, look good in, be amused by….Christmas reminds everyone that there is joy in it.” (The Givenness of Things, p. 281)

So Christmas comes again in the midst of this unique moment to remind us that there is true joy in giving, that hope actually is born in the midst of despair, that love ultimately overcomes hate, that generosity is better than greed, that peace will one day supplant war, and that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome the light. And never will.

Merry Christmas!


  1. I think almost everyone is feeling something like this at the moment. But my favorite woman poet, Emily Dickinson wrote “I dwell in possibility” – words I love. If God has entered into life in Christ then even the darkness places can turn into light and hope is always more realistic than despair. Thanks for helping us to keep hope alive.

  2. Sandy Mathias says:

    Thank you for helping me handle similar feelings. You help heal us. Merry Christmas!!!

  3. Barbara Fountain says:

    We must continue to have faith in the grace of our God. bfounta

  4. Thank you, John. As the great preacher you are, you have a way of speaking for us in ways we could not have thought of. Much love to you and yours in this holy season. Blair Monie

  5. Thank you so much for your wise words and your — I shall dare to say it — truth. Love and peace be with you and yours..

  6. Evan Farrar says:

    Powerful blog shining light in these uncertain and troubling times for our country and democracy. I’m sharing this widely. Christmas blessings to you and your family John

  7. John, thank you for your thoughts. I agree with you, except I fear that before the hope that the Christmas story holds out for us, America may need to experience its own Babylonian exile. The course of the country so resembles the course that Judah was following against which the prophets so warned. God was faithful. Judah was given a second chance, but it came after the sober cleansing of the exile. If that exile comes, we will all share in the pain and devastation regardless of our political allegiances.

  8. John, you expressed the feeling of so many of us. Watching the country and what we worked our loves for wasting away or going up in flames. We are living under the temporary rule of an arsonist administration that confuses bonfires with the light that will not be overcome. Thank you, as always, for speaking out loud what we feel and see, and for reminding us of the grounds of hope.

  9. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    Hold to the Good once again speaks clearly what so many of us are feeling as Christmas nears. Thank you, John.

  10. Betty Lou Stull says:

    Wise words that help explain my own “erosion of spirit” during what is usual a joyful time. I fear for our country and have to reach deep for the hope inherent in this season.

  11. Carole Ogden says:

    John, with sentiments much the same as yours and with fear in my heart for what new inhuman revamping of our laws will be proposed, I spend each day in prayer that God will allow me to live long enough to see the end of this. Surely with the right people in office most, if not all, of these atrocities can be reversed. With prayers for God’s blessing on our country and our families — Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  12. Floyd Churn says:

    This is a Christmas season for much lamentation…but for remembering that the light will not be extinguished. Thanks, John Buchanan.

  13. Funny. My husband just wrote a piece that is very similar. I think we are all having trouble “holding” to hope.

  14. Sarah Odishoo says:

    Thank you, John, for reminding us of this world of
    Opposites all humanity lives in, and the way humans
    Respond in inhuman ways. But now as I’ve reached
    A new age, I guess, I realize that these crossroads are
    For us, specifically, to choose rightly to see
    What We always have had: in the most stark oppositions,
    Choice! We can choose
    To act or not to act on our deepest values, not to blame
    But to See deeply & clearly the heartfelt directives to love
    Our neighbors and see God’s Love in all history as a Way to
    Believe in a world that Can Be created by mankind’s
    Reliance on God’s Word as the Way. The times tell us
    Clearly we have not been responsible to His Love of
    Mankind but rather to our own self interests. We can
    Choose to act for Others with love as Christ did…or
    not, God’ gift to all humans …to choose rightly for
    God but mostly for ourselves and All Life on earth.
    Thank you, John, for all of your choices…

  15. timjweaver says:

    It’s so good to hear from you, Dr. Buchanan. I feel completely weighed down by this bleak midwinter in our history. And I feel a heavy sense of dread that maybe we’re on a path that will ultimately lead back to the Dark Ages. But your words have encouraged me that spring, and perhaps even “glorious summer”, will eventually return. I pray that it will be sooner than we think! All the best to you and your family.

  16. Reblogged this on From Sandy Knob and commented:
    By way of

    By way of Gordon Stewart’s Views from the

  17. Ann Frontain says:

    I pray through God that our Country will be restored to soundness of Spirit

  18. William Bedford says:

    Thank you Pastor John for this beautifully written message. It is so hard to be optimistic for all of these reasons but Jesus was born in the midst of disarray & we can only hope he does not give up on us. We need this birth. Carol & Bill Bedford

    Carol’s iPhone


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