When you think about it, darkness is a gift.
In the beginning, God said, Let there be light! And light sprang forth.
Some of us believe that the creation account in Genesis isn't an account of creation at all, but, rather, an account of God liberating an already captive creation; of God releasing life and giving everything purpose.
God, who gave purpose to the day, also gave purpose to the night. Time for us to rest. Space, for nocturnal creatures to venture out into the world. And within the darkness, lights: the moon and the stars. Lights to mark seasons, as well as days. Lights by which people might navigate, long before sat nav.
The days have become shorter and the nights longer; and in this creeping way we have drawn closer and closer to Christmas; the magic, and our childlike awareness of the magic, growing throughout: until we come to this night. The midnight service, beginning on Christmas Eve and reaching its completion on Christmas Day. For me, as, I suspect, for many of you, the most magical night of the year.
Yes, the darkness is a gift, a good gift given by a good God.
And yet, as with every good gift that God gives, we have shown ourselves to have an incredible capacity to misuse the gift.
Under the cover of darkness - given equally to all - envious schemers plot to take for themselves what someone else currently holds.
Under the cover of darkness - given to those who seek meaning - a web of lies is spun to ensnare the innocent.
Under the cover of darkness - given freely - thieves break in and steal, and householders protect their possessions with increasingly elaborate security.
Under the cover of darkness - given to romantics - lovers betray lovers.
Under the cover of darkness - given to affirm and renew life - lives are cut short with violence.
Under cover of darkness - given to God's children - the elderly are ignored by those charged with their care.
Under cover of darkness - given to the weary - underpaid shift workers are forced to work for factory owners at ease in their beds.
Under the cover of darkness - given to those who wander - men and women curse God with bravado.
Under the cover of darkness - given to those who wonder - we worship the gods of pornography, of substance misuse, of eternal youth.
And under the cover of darkness - given equally to all - the God who refuses to leave us to our own devices, speaks to our hearts.
Speaks a word of peace, a word of joy, a word of reconciliation.
Speaks out to set his creation free once more, from all that has ensnared us.
Speaks, in the cry of a helpless baby.
A light, shining in the darkness. Not to end the darkness, but to do what light shining in the darkness has always done: to restore rightful purpose to the darkness.
To bless us with deep contentment.
To bless us with the perspective of the heavens.
To bless us with solidarity with the stranger.
To bless us with faithful constancy.
To bless us with camaraderie around the fire.
To bless us with dreams that will outlive us, and fuel the vision of the generation coming after.
To bless us with rest.
To bless us with a sense of direction.
To bless us with a sense of wonder.
To bless us with 'shalom,' with life-affirming relationship with God and neighbour.
And so tonight God invites us, once again, to come home.