Twice in my life I have been present at the hatching of baby sea turtles. The mother turtles come out of the sea and up the shore to lay their eggs, and then leave. When the little creatures hatch they have to find their own way to the sea. The baby turtles are guided to the water by the light of the moon shining on it. But those hatched too close to human buildings become confused by our lights and can head in entirely the wrong direction. It doesn’t help to pick them up because it is in the struggle to find the ocean that they learn whatever they need to know to be able to find the same beach when as adults they return to lay their own eggs. The only way to help is to use a flashlight to draw them towards the water.
Their life depends upon the light. Our spiritual life depends on the Christ light. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
In the light we see and are seen for who we truly are. Without the light the baby turtles will not find their way into the ocean, the only environment where they can grow and flourish. Without the Christ-light we could not find our way to the abundant life which is available for us.
Many of us are afraid that a life devoted to spirit is a restricted life. When we think of following Christ, we think of obeying rules, of being good. In fact the life of the spirit is the opposite of restriction; it is the life which opens us up, which challenges us and enables us to be the people we were created to be. The life of the spirit is the environment in which we can truly flourish, in which we can access the abundant and overflowing life that is our heritage. A turtle is restricted to living in the ocean, but in the ocean swims thousands and thousands of miles; a turtle hatched on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica may swim as far as Norway and then down to South Africa before returning to the same beach to lay her eggs. This is not restriction but life as a turtle is meant to live it. Life in the spirit is not restriction for us but life as we are meant to live it.
In Jesus, God allowed Godself to be restricted. God chose to take a human body and live a human life. By so doing God fully entered into creation and blessed it in a new way and by so doing, God transformed what it means to be human. No longer are we limited to a mortal life of restriction but we are invited to the unrestricted life of the Spirit which brings a depth and joy to life that is not available elsewhere. Perhaps this makes it more difficult because now we know the potential that is in our heritage as sons and daughters of God and yet so often we fail to realize our potential. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
But just seeing it isn’t enough. The baby turtles have to not only see the light of the moon shining on the ocean but have to follow it. The people who walked in darkness can choose to continue. There’s something to be said for darkness. When it’s dark no-one can see what you look like, or what you’re doing. The darkness can be a very safe place. But it is a restricted place because you can’t do much. Those who are blind learn to live without seeing the light and can live very independently, but a society where everyone is blind is almost impossible to conceive. We need light to live, to grow and to be creative. It’s not surprising that in the story of creation, light is one of the first things God creates.
The Christ light shines on the path and shows us the way forward. Not towards an egocentric self-actualization, but towards becoming the people we were made to be. The glory of God, says the early father, Irenaeus, is the human being fully alive. This is the great message of Christmas; that God has come to be one of us, and to live with us, Emmanuel, so that we can be fully alive, so that we can flourish and live in the knowledge and the hope of abundant life in the Spirit.
Life in the spirit is a constant process of dying and being reborn. As we grow the things that we held as certain truth and cherished insight last year fall away and are replaced by a new way of seeing, a new birth, a new insight, a new light on the subject. So every Christmas is another opportunity to choose to follow the light. It is another opportunity to become aware of that which is growing within us, of the Christ-child that needs nurturing in our lives, of the Christ-light that beckons us forward into the ocean of God’s love.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. We who walked in darkness have seen a great light. We don’t know where it will lead us. The baby turtles have no idea where they are going as they head down the beach towards the light. We can trust that the Christ-light will lead us towards abundant life, because that is the nature of the compassionate Creator, but will we go?
We who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Let us tonight have the courage to say yes, yes and again YES to the Christ-light and run forward to greet the Child of Bethlehem, God incarnate, God with us, Emmanuel.