Driving through my neighborhood late last night on my way home from the church office, I took the long way home through my neighborhood and slowly drove by all of the brightly lit homes. It was a nice drive, looking at the different ways people have lit up their homes. There were a few that were about as manic as you can get, with every multicolored light blinking at seizure inducing speed, one had every Christmas character you could think of: Grinch, Charlie Brown, life-size Elf on the Shelf (creepy if you ask me), Snoopy, Rudolph and more… About every third house or so had a simple nativity, those ones that are popular right now, simple woodcutting, painted white, some with the holy family, others with the shepherds and wise men, all gathered round the manger. Driving through my neighborhood with all of those lights, at spots you could almost forget it was nighttime they were so brightly lit.
There is something very deep and instinctual, at a very core of our being level, about shining a light in the darkness, especially in the cold, dark months when the sun is a stranger and the darkness seems to last forever. It is our way of keeping the dark at bay, but when we look at the darkness of our world, our plastic LED lights, even the brightest ones, seem like a very feeble fight against the dark.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — In the deadliest slaughter of innocents in Pakistan in years, Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school Tuesday and killed 141 people — almost all of them students — before government troops ended the siege. The government declared three days of mourning for what appeared to be Pakistan’s deadliest since a 2007 suicide bombing in the port city of Karachi killed 150 people.  The darkness of our world is deep and not one life is ever left untouched.
Now, here is where we need to pay attention. During one of my undergrad philosophy courses my professor was adamant about disproving that God existed. He spent a vast portion of our class; which by the way, most of that class should not have had much to do with this topic, with his axe to grind against God. During one of the conversations he went on and on about how the only morality of the human species was to reproduce, for each individual to do what was best for the survival of their own gene pool, nothing more. One of the young ladies in the class asked a question, what about people like Mother Theresa or Ghandi she asked, how does that work in that equation? My professor, surprisingly admitted, that that was the only area that he struggled with, when people did good for other people with no signs of benefit to their own survival or that of their gene pool, it simply did not make sense if there was no God. Those that lived and promoted that kind of lifestyle, a lifestyle of self-giving and sacrificial love that not only did not promote personal genetic survival but endangered it, his answer, biologically speaking, “they have a screw loose.”
So, the world that my professor was promoting, one without God, where the only purpose of the human species is survival and reproduction, that seems to be the world all around us, and in so many ways it is. That kind of world is a world where the slaughter of the innocents in Pakistan makes brutal sense. Who will survive will be the ones who are the most brutal, especially killing children, because that limits the gene pool of the competition. We see this in nature time and again, were predators kill the young and it happens in the human world as well.
But that is only one horrific example of the darkness that covers our existence, we know all too well, in the world and in our own personal lives, the darkness we have faced. Some have called it the problem of evil and insisted that God did not exist because of it. But if we think about it, evil seems natural, in fact if you follow my professor’s logic (and that of the New Atheists out there today) then there is no such thing as evil, instead it is merely biology and survival, nothing more or less. Those who choose a different life, who choose to defy the darkness and live a life higher than mere survival, they are considered the oddballs who have a screw loose.
In that kind of world, goodness need not exist. Everything could simply be about survival, reproduction, fitness and the like. But there is a problem with that worldview and it’s not the problem of evil, it’s the problem of goodness. Goodness exists in our world, light exists in the darkness, but it shouldn’t, if there is no God. Think of the goodness you have in your life: the beauty of your family that has nothing to do with their genes or reproduction abilities, the love of a good friend, the honorable sacrifice of a soldier, the gift given to you when you know they don’t have it to give, that very deep urging inside you that tells you in no uncertain terms to help your fellow man. We could spend all night listing the goodness in our world that shouldn’t be here but it is, and maybe one night we should, it would be good for us.
But in a world with this much goodness where does it come from, because it doesn’t come originally from us, from our most basic urges of survival? Just Christians alone, (not including all of the other belief systems that hold that goodness is a viable and desirable way of life) in their very core belief hold to this idea that it is better to love your neighbor as yourself and what greater love is shown than to lay down your life for your neighbor, that is over 2.5 billion people, over a third of the world’s population that have a screw loose? That seems hard to believe.
Instead, what else is goodness but a pointer to God? God who is good and love from eternity, active and alive in the world He created so long ago, defying the darkness by his goodness that infiltrates into every area of existence. Goodness exists where it shouldn’t, pointing us to God.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1: 5, 9-12
At it’s very core this is the Christmas story, the light shining in the darkness, the child born in the manger, the son of God born of Mary. God’s light in the darkness of our world, giving to us more than we could ever have on our own, in God’s light we don’t survive we are made alive! When God defies the darkness with His light the darkness cannot overcome it. God has the victory: from the infiltration of the darkness in the manger, the sacrifice in the darkness on the cross and the victory cry against the darkness on Easter morn, all of God’s light in the world that gives goodness where there should be none.
Is it any wonder that the world looks at this wonderful light in the darkness, looks at goodness and says; there must be a screw loose somewhere? The darkness cannot understand the light of God’s goodness because it is so different so foreign to the world’s way of thinking. This is not survival, this is not slaughtering the innocents, this doesn’t make sense. That’s right it doesn’t. But this is how God is redeeming the world, through the goodness that doesn’t make sense but in it is our salvation.
In our Christian faith, when we celebrate Christmas as Christians who celebrate the light of Christ, it is an act of defiance. Christmas is defiance. It is defiance against the darkness. Defiance against mere survival. Defiance against a world gone mad. But not only is it defiance but it is participating in the light’s victory over the darkness: from the manger to the empty tomb, the victory is already won and we celebrate the light and stick our tongues out at the dark.
Defy the darkness with the light of Christmas, the light that shouldn’t exist but it does because God exists and is redeeming His world from sin. Amen.