Once when I was in my 20s I got lost cross country skiing alone in the Wyoming back country. When night fell and I could no longer see, I burrowed down into the snow, and wrapped myself up in a poncho, to sleep. It was inky dark — no moon — and the stars were bright. I was very frightened. I worried that I would freeze there in the night in the snow and would not even know I was dying. But what else could I do?
The next morning I awoke at dawn. I wiggled my fingers and toes, and relief surged through me as I realized I could still feel everything. Then I just lay in my cocoon and watched as orange light cracked the horizon to the east, and the sky paled. After a while the sun crowned in the blackness between the mountain peaks. A golden light crept across the slope on which I lay, sparking snow crystals into rainbow colors. And I could see. I got up then, fumbled some trail mix from my frozen pack and ate it, wiped the snow from the bottoms of my skis and put them on. It took several long hours, but it was simple after that to find my way home.
The moment when the sun first appeared on that icebox morning in the deep heart of winter has ever since been the image that I hold in my heart when I read the prologue to the Gospel according to John. That light was illumination, beauty and warmth. It was hope after cold and darkness and the fear of death. It was a new beginning.
We’ve placed the birthday of Jesus at midwinter so we can feel viscerally what it means when God squeezes into a human infant and is born into space and time. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world,” says John. He is speaking of the light of new consciousness, Christ consciousness, a transformative understanding. When we recognize that light it is exactly like morning after a night that we thought would never end.
The beauty of the light that is life is like rainbow snow crystals, and it sets our hearts soaring with joy. “Glory,” says John, and “grace upon grace.” The Word made flesh is not something we can name or explain. Rather it is a relationship that grows throughout our entire lives. It is beauty and hope, and it gives us the warmth and the illumination in which we find our way home.
Once again Christ is born into our world and into our hearts. One more time we reach to feel the understanding that makes our hearts shout for joy. ”No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known,” says John. Amen. Alleluia.