Behold, the people of Light
As a family, we had the opportunity to attend the Dublin Zoo Christmas Season ' 'Wild Lights' show. We had no idea what to expect. This 'not knowing' is probably the best attitude to have going into something like this as there are no expectations really. You're simply open to experience whatever is offered.
It blew us away.
I've never seen Dublin Zoo during the day, but those festive lights lit up the whole place. It seemed endless – there was corner after corner, display after display. It covered every conceivable animal. There was even a display honouring animals now extinct: the woolly mammoth, the dodo, the sabre-toothed tiger and unfortunately, counted among them, the rhino. (I suggested to Mary that it's inclusion didn't bode well. She reminded me that one particular sub-species of rhino is now extinct.)
There were countless references to Fairy Tales - cows were jumping over moons; a wondrous tea party scene unfolded, there owls and pussycats and five pound notes... There was a vast array of images depicting ancient Irish legend.
As an adult, a note of honesty – when it started, I was overcome by the 'Wow!' factor thinking to myself, this is endless! Sometime later I was thinking to myself, Is this ever going to end? Which is not the same sentiment. (Parents do this when they are carrying a weighty child in their arms.)
There were flying monkeys hanging from trees and a bigger than life-size princess enclosed in a bubble of sorts. Seeing a princess wrapped in a bubble seemed to offer some timely social commentary in an otherwise entirely fantastical affair.
The 'Wild Lights' extravaganza is clearly an event on the calendar as the place was buzzing with people young and old. All of us maximizing the experience with teas, and coffees, and hot chocolates, and €3 candy-floss, which is a steep ask for aerated sugar. But at the moment, you let these things go!
Nearly all of it captivated Erin's attention and imagination. It is a fine line – she loved touching the back of the Tyrannosaurus Rex but almost started crying upon the suggestion that she put her hand in its mouth. There were T. Rex's galore! To the degree that I wondered if they didn't mess up the order. One Brontosaurus? No Triceratops? No Stegosaurus? Mary did inform me that I was confusing my T. Rex with my Coelophysis. 'Oh,' I said.
We were all learning something. Pterodactyls flew ominously overhead. After this, we entered a giant snake whose coils enveloped the path we walked across, and whose large head moved back and forth at the far end of the tunnel — a curious and beautiful world for child and adult alike.
There is something about a 'lit up world'. You can see, in the darkness of a thankfully rainless night, the appeal of light as an image. In a desert, space mostly free of urban progress, a single fire will blaze forth into the darkness. It is startling the effect of even a humble, lit match on such a landscape.
'Behold, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light!' writes Isaiah (9: 2) Darkness descends. These days darkness seems to be always in 'descent mode'! There is so much to worry about, so many things going wrong. (I need not name them.) That darkness affords light to shine forth.
What happens in a world bereft of hope, or in political turmoil, or uncertain about its future? Well, into that world, a child is born. Jesus was absolutely born into that kind of world. God has been born into that world in every troubled season ever since. God will continue to be born into that world. And when the darkness falls, the light shines brighter. This dark world is the place of every believer, of every faithful community, and of every place of person that calls Jesus their 'home'.
This Christmas, I pray for a church that will dazzle onlookers in the middle of the darkness.