As Christians prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus it must be noted that Biblical scholars have argued whether he was really born on December 25th. A rationale is given that, in order to fit into pagan winter-time festivals early Christian leaders gravitated to the date as a way of evangelizing. It’s a way of re-signifying the meaning of something. Whatever the reason(s), I think there is a bigger motive, a much more human one, one that gives meaning to the very human question of why there is evil in the world. And metaphor often used is that of darkness and light.
It makes sense that the time of year when the days are shortest, humans would intentionally light up the place! And isn't that what we still do? We string lights around our homes, candle lights in our windows, and decorate trees with lots of lights. We participate in festivities, singing songs about good health and good cheer. We light up the night.
Darkness and light. Goodness and evil.
A Christian understanding of evil emerges out of the definition of sin given by Augustin in the 4th Century. Evil is a consequence of sin. Two things about sin. The word sin, in Greek, means “to miss the mark” as in archery. It means missing the bullseye. Our finitude means we will miss the bullseye a lot, even when we are trying to do something good. Some would call that “unintended consequences.”
Second, our finitude leads to insecurity. Because we know we will die someday we are always looking for ways to escape that fate. We seek immortality. We seek certitude. We are led to believe that if we have the power of death we can control it. But controlling it and overcoming it are two different things. Trying to control death leads to violence. Violence takes many forms. Evil, then, is violence, and is a consequence of our sin, our finitude.
Put in simpler terms I define evil as anything that violates the goodness of creation. Those violations are really a power grab. Violence is aggressive and relentless. Powerful.
It feels like a lot of darkness is happening right now. A sense of injustice. Of violation. Of hopelessness. In the world. In our own community. Which begs the question, "What can I do about it?!"
In different ways all religions call upon their faithful to be people of the light. Jesus went so far to say we are "the light of the world." It is a way of telling us we have power. The power of goodness and not evil.
Yet we have come to think of evil as the greater power. After all there’s a lot of darkness in the world. But think on this:
Using the metaphor of darkness and light, If you go into a dark room and flip the switch (or light a candle) what happens? The light goes on and the darkness is instantly gone. But staying with this metaphor, where does the darkness go? It goes to the very edge of the light. Waiting for the light to go out.
Goodness is stronger than evil. Light is more powerful than darkness.
So put up the lights, light the candles, join the festivities.
And do something good. For yourself. For someone else. For a friend. For a stranger. For someone in need. For the homeless. For those who are hungry. For your next door neighbor. For someone half way across the world. You have the greatest power in the universe. Greater than doubt, or fear, or violence.
It’s the light that overcomes the darkness.
It’s the power of love.