When All Other Lights Have Failed: The Christmas Message and The Lord of the Rings
There was a huge hubbub of anticipation in Palestine before Jesus was born. All sorts of people rising up and gathering some followers and saying that they were the messiah and then getting killed and never being heard of again. There was a huge excitement as the Shepherds heard the angels. There was a huge amount of fear as Herod met with the Three Wise Men.
I was told recently of Christmas-itis – it’s a terrible affliction that strikes children almost as soon as Advent has started and it can last for up to a month. They get so over excited at what is about to happen that they can become quite exasperating, hard to control, hard to teach at school, they can get anything from butterflies to tummy aches and all their adrenalin seems to burn with great excitement.
There is a spin off malady that affects grown ups. It leads less to tummy aches and more to headaches in the fearful amount of preparation that we must make!
Nevertheless, there is a motivating buzz when you’re preparing for Christmas.
But throughout the rest of the year, there are times when there is little motivation, when there’s only trouble and strife and sadness. And it seems like a long time since you had any real hope.
Some of the Christmas cards I get contain a very short summary of the year. They are usually upbeat but many of them hide months of tiredness and dull labour and great disappointments.
Some people I know have had such a tough year that they have not written their normal letter but have simply signed their name. It has been a long time since they have seen any hope. Depending on the mood you’re in and what you’ve endured this year, you might well tell me a similar story.
When was the last time you had any real hope, saw any really good news?
The Prophets spoke long and hard, some of them in great detail about Jesus. Some prophecies have been fulfilled and some of them have only started to be fulfilled. We know that the Prophets wanted to write down these words of hope even though they were very distant. Not as a pie-in-the-sky sort of pointless hope, but as a word of encouragement that even in the valley of the shadow of death, even in the most terrible moments of suffering, God would still be with them.
When the Shepherds heard the good news they were full of joy. But even for them nothing of any real interest was going to happen for over 25 years. It is unlikely that their lives on earth were changed at all by the birth of Jesus. They never saw the benefits of Jesus healing people, forgiving people, loving all people, dying for all people and rising to give to them a new power that has changed the lives of all who have received Jesus forever – the Holy Spirit.
But they were still full of joy and this good news was able to effect their faith and their hope to keep going even against the odds.
My wife’s Christmas present to me this year has been the extended DVD of the film Two Towers, the 2nd part of the film version of JRR Tolkien’s book: The Lord of the Rings. I admit that I opened it early… evidently I had a little bit of Christmas-itis myself!
There’s a scene in it where the faithful friend and gardener Samwise Gamgee gives a little motivating speech. It is Sam and Frodo’s job to save the world, but it is getting harder and harder to achieve anything and to succeed. And Frodo has gotten to the point of saying: I just can’t go on anymore.
Sam says something like this: “By rights we shouldn’t be here. It’s like the stories, Mr .Frodo, the ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were, and you didn’t want to know the ending, because how could the ending be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”
Think about the carols that we have sung: “Yet with woes of sin and strife, The world has suffered long, Beneath the angel-strain have rolled Two thousand years of wrong…”
It seems very hard to preach a story of good news and hope when we are surrounded by a “weary world”, with “it’s sad and lowly plains”. And it is very hard for others to hear a song of good news, of comfort and joy, in the midst of their darkness.
Sam’s speech goes on: “But in the end it’s just a passing shadow; even the darkness must pass and Day will come and when the sun shines, it will shine out all the clearer. These are the stories that stay with you even if you’re too small to understand. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t…they kept going because they were holding on to something.”
And Frodo says in his tired and weary way: “What are we holding on to?”
And there’s a big pause. The camera looks at Gollum watching with expectant hope and at Frodo’s exhaustion and Sam’s stubborn persistence.
There’s a clever button somewhere you can push which means that I can play the film and over the top of the film listen to a discussion between the film producer and the scriptwriters.
When they got to this point in the story they realised that they had written themselves into a corner. They sat back looked at each other and asked: What are they holding on to?
It is not a question that’s easy to answer.
“What are we holding on to?”
The Prophets were holding onto God in the belief that God was in control and that God would do the right thing and that the world will not always be as bad as it is. It is a hope that kept them going.
The Shepherds held onto the song of the Angels. What an amazing experience that must have been. To discover that they were not alone in the universe, that God was looking out for them, that God loved them. That God loved them so much that he had sent his son, albeit as a little baby into this world to save us from our sins, to save us from Satan’s power.
Mary and Joseph held onto the power of God, knowing that God does keep his promises even if some of them were over 700 years old. That’s a long time to wait for a promise to come true.
The Wise Men held on to the love of God that reached beyond the boundaries of a religion ruled by human authority and invited these foreigners, these outsiders to be insiders of what God was revealing and doing.
It maybe that you need to hold onto the promise of God – that He will be with you even through the valley of the shadow of death.
It maybe that you need to hold onto the revelation of God – that He has shown himself to the world and invited us not just to follow Him but first to receive Him.
It maybe that you need to hold on to the Love of God. To know again, deep down, that God really does love you. It sounds twee when you say it: “God loves you” but it is true in a way that will completely change your life if only you will hear it with your heart and mind and not just your ears.
This is good news. And despite the fact that through our journey in life we will find plenty of reasons to want to turn back, to give in, if you can hold on then your story will end quite differently.
In the film after Frodo has said “What are we holding on to?” Sam replies “That there’s some good in this world and its worth fighting for.”
That’s not such a bad reply, even for us, but we can do better than that. We can hold onto a God who loves us and longs to empower us to create a better world, to fight the powers in the world that seek its ruin. We have a lot more to hold onto.
As we sing this next carol sing it loud enough for your heart to believe it as well as your lungs.
Because here is what we hold onto in our darkness, when life becomes so difficult that it is only the light of Jesus that will shine when all other lights have failed. Sing it as a prayer and hold onto it as a promise:
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings,
Mild, He lays His glory by;
Born that men no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
‘Glory to the new-born King.’
By Rev. James Hollingsworth