There is a deep-seated joy that comes from responding to what Christianity calls the light. There is a deep-seated joy that comes from responding to love.
I have the good fortune of being a cradle Anglican. Going to Church was part of my DNA as a child and I found the tradition very meaningful; it brought life to me. The more I prayed, the more I meditated, the easier it became: the neural pathways in that part of my brain were strengthened. Whereas some of my contemporaries drifted away from the tradition, for me personally, the light called me into a deeper relationship. But it’s important to articulate what this means: I think there is an outside perception that being in a relationship with the light, with Christ, somehow makes you perfect, or makes you think that you are perfect – but actually that’s not the case – what happens is that a deeper relationship with the light means that joy becomes part of who you are; forgiveness becomes part of who you are (that one especially needs practice); love becomes part of who you are. The more we practise these things, the easier they become: the neural pathways in our brains are quite literally strengthened, as we practise joy, forgiveness and love.
In St John’s Gospel there is no nativity story (John 1: 1–18). John replaces the nativity traditions of Matthew and Luke with his Prologue of the Light coming into the world. Jesus is the person who brings the light to people living in darkness.
At this point in our history, the light seems more important than ever in the world. When Bishop Augustus Short arrived in Adelaide 175 years ago, fresh from his consecration as a bishop on St Peter’s Day in the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, more commonly known a Westminster Abbey, he quickly took control of the fledging efforts to start a school in the parish hall of Holy Trinity Church, North Terrace, almost immediately deciding that it should be a school dedicated to St Peter. Perhaps more importantly than simply choosing the name, though, he was keen that the school be dedicated to rigorous academic learning and the teaching of the faith. As an Anglican, both of those things were part of who he was: he wanted to bring students to the light. It’s the very reason that the University of Adelaide has a version of that moto too.
The world needs the light desperately. Embracing the light means engaging in rigorous academic debate, something we do really well at Saints, and embracing the light means being absolutely inclusive. Being inclusive is not an optional extra for Christians – it is central to the Gospel. We welcome everyone. In the 19th century being inclusive meant allowing students from other Christian denominations, non-Anglicans, to attend St Peter’s College. In the 21st century, it means that I can say to the agnostics and the atheists, as well as the Christians, in my Year 11 Religion Studies class, “Belief in the science of evolution and belief in God the creator are not mutually exclusive. Let’s debate this!”
For me, the light has always been there. It means a hope that life has a meaning and a purpose, that joy, forgiveness, and love are a crucial part of life. Indeed, that they are the main game. It means that responding with grace to other people is not just something you do to be polite, but in fact is what life is about.
The birth of the Christ-child into a poor family on the fringes of a vast and often ruthless Empire is a symbol of hope: hope that the powerful, the cruel, the hard and unforgiving will not have the last word on what is important or what is lasting. It’s hope that when we seek revenge or speak ill of others, that’s not the last word that we will speak either. The birth of the Christ-child is an invitation to enter more deeply into the light, to allow the light to change our neural pathways, to change the way we think, the way we respond to others, the way we love and forgive; and as we do this, the older we become, the more that light will shine out in everything we say and do
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall