It is dark matter that holds this world together, so we’re told. A long time ago I studied physics at university, and what I loved most was the mystery. I love the vastness, the mystery, the unknowing of this fact – the comfort of the dark that binds us to one another. Even so, in this season of longing, I, with others long for a small light in the dark of the world’s turning.

Not the flash of explosion that shakes folk from their beds or terrifies, or brings recurring nightmares. Not the glare of light turned into the face to make one shield one’s eyes and tremble at the questioning to come; Not a beam sent searching the black sky for enemies, to find and destroy.

No, a small light, that seems quite unremarkable, you might think, until you see joy around it, like angels dancing.

The good people of Bethlehem, and the bad, sleep on undisturbed, and wake the next day believing nothing has changed. Only one family in one small house has had a sleepless night. For they could not let a girl have her baby on the street or in the cold of a ditch. They embraced her and her young man with the warmth of Bethlehem hospitality; gave her room for the birth, sent for the neighbours to help. There was hardly room for them all in the stumbling dark of the night. There were women from the houses next door, the women of the family, the grandmother who had seen it all before so many times, the mother who had four of her own, and the eldest of her daughters, fetching and carrying, and standing on tiptoe trying to see, frightened for this Mary whom they had never seen before, who was so young, so far from home and the women she knew – no mother to attend her – so bewildered by it all, as if she was taken by surprise. ..

Yet in the dark of the world’s turning the light does shine, and the narrow streets of Bethlehem are filled with sheep and goats led by shepherds come to warm their hands around the fire of God. They too have had a sleepless night, kept awake by songs of hope, relentless jazz rhythms that interrupt their working pattern and insist they leave familiar hills and go, run to Bethlehem to see for themselves. So they have bent their heads into the house as well, followed by their animals to join the ox and ass, while women of the family have brought them food and drink, and they have greeted a young man they have never seen before, who says his name is Joseph and cannot keep the smile off his face. They stand eating and drinking, looking into the manger, seeing for themselves what angelic messengers said them must see, knowing they will never be the same again.

And in the dark turning of our world, that same small light shines to make us glad and know we will not be the same again. Do not mistake, that child was not born to drag us screaming into merriment. We are told by so many at this dark time of year we must be happy, as if cheerfulness is compulsory, until the bright festivities are over and the usual routines are resumed. Yet that is hard, crushing hard to bear, if death and grief have come too close; if the consultant has confirmed too many of our fears; if love has gone cold; if we are bullied or abused; if drugs or booze have had their bitter way, if debt has risen to the roof; if this Christmas, like the rest, we are alone.

But did you know … One of the shepherds had just lost his wife, and the mother of the house where the child was born had buried three of her own stillborn, the last just days before? They needed more than most to see that child lying so small, contained in beautiful darkness, so alive in the hay, to find the miracle of it all, to know they touched the very Truth of God, more than a word…

They had wondered whether anything mattered any more, but then felt God’s gentle, strong embrace, wrapped round to keep them from the cold. ..

And as they gazed upon the baby lying in the hay, and came face to face with God, more than a word.. the old idols came crashing down. The God who had come to birth in Bethlehem had no power at all, except the power of love.

This is the story that shows us what matters.

It is dark matter that holds this world together, so we’re told. Infinite possibilities, often invisible. Webs of words and feelings and thoughts surrounding our galaxy of days.

And at the heart of the matter, in the dark of the world’s turning, a small light is revealed, held in the darkness.

As ordinary as a loving gaze, a tender embrace, more wise than spoken word, simple as the earth in whom we live and move.

That is what matters.

(based on Trevor Dennis in ‘The Christmas Stories’ © 2007 SPCK; inspiration from ‘Galaxy of Days’ poem by Daphne Gloag in A Compression of Distances © 2009 Cinnamon Press and Kathleen Raine’s poem ‘Winter Paradise’)

part of glass sculpture in Växjö cathedral, Sweden.

part of glass sculpture in Växjö cathedral, Sweden.