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Christmas, Sin City and John’s Gospel

Our Christmas Eve evening service focused particularly upon the opening of John’s Gospel with the Word coming into the world – “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9). With glowsticks instead of candles (the wax on the carpet from previous years being avoided), the dimmed church highlighted that the smallest light can make a real difference in a darkened place. And that the darkness did not apprehend (by understanding or restraining) the light of God in Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s all well and good, and something worth meditating on, but in the southern hemisphere when the we’ve just had the summer solstice a few days before, where it’s beginning to head into summer proper, and the night comes late in the evening, physical darkness is sometimes hard to come by, obscuring the very real emotional and spiritual darkness that is present in parts of our everyday world.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been watching the cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller’s “Sin City” (2005). It’s a film noir series of vignettes in a world bereft of hope and love, starring an ensemble cast of well-known actors, and can be watched in one sitting or story by story. The vignettes intersect with each other, with characters crossing paths in their own stories, and with a single story in two parts, “That Yellow Bastard,” bracketing the film like a kind of inclusio.

The film is brutal both in its violence and its portrayal of a world without hope. The cinematography aids this with everything in being monochromatic, with the occasional splash of colour, such as the red of lipstick or blood to emphasise the inherent sexuality or violence in a scene (and similar to two other film projects of Miller’s “The Spirit” and “300“). All of this rams home the world as dark and violent place, with a few anonymous good people and where any act of love or kindness is ephemeral; stamped out by the darkness.

Perhaps then, this is a portrayal of the world that John’s Gospel describes the light of God entering into – one which captures the inability of humanity to save itself from itself, and where human efforts at love and hope, as political theologian Duncan Forrester notes “tends to disintegrate in the face of radical evil.” As such, it is a world which cannot imagine, let alone apprehend, the light and life of God, full of grace and truth, because it has no place such a thing.

And this is the mystery of Christmas, which is borne out at Easter and beyond – violence, despair and hopelessness – are recognised as inescapably part of a human condition. Not the only part, it must be said, but the particular part that needs the ultimate source of hope and truth as found in, borrowing Eugene Peterson’s words, “God becoming flesh and blood and moving into our neighbourhood” and in doing so adding much needed brightness and colour to the monochromatic landscape.

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