This last week I have spent some time sitting in our local Westfields collecting money as part of my role as a Salvation Army officer. The Plaza has been busy, as this time of year always is. Mothers push multi-level strollers, teenagers laugh and shout or whisper confidences, toddlers cry and demand rides on merry-go-rounds, professional and business people hurry for lunch or coffee.

Just along from our stand is the big Santa castle where children line up with their parents to quietly tell Santa their secret wishes and to have their pictures taken. Flashes go off intermittently lighting up the surrounding shops.

To one side and towards the back of Santa’s area is a nativity scene behind glass, a formal setting of Mary and Joseph with a baby Jesus surrounded by farm animals, shepherds and three kings. It would be easy to think that “the true meaning of Christmas” is lost in the hype of present-buying, Santa-seeing and over-large decorations.

And then I heard a carol being sung, not some piped-in music but someone really singing. Whether it was a busker or a community group I don’t know for I couldn’t see the singers but the music was clear and it carried.

In his gospel John the Apostle wrote these words: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” In a physical sense darkness has no capacity to overcome light, rather the other way round. When light comes into a dark place, the darkness must go, it cannot stay. Even when night falls because of the rotation of the earth, light is never extinguished; it is just hidden until the day dawns again.

Many people despair of what is happening in the world, of the ways in which people treat each other, of the way in which our culture has slipped from its Christian roots. This is most evident at times like Christmas and Easter when the focus has shifted from the spiritual to the merely physical. For many our world is a much darker place than they would like.

But that Christmas carol, sung by someone “hidden” by Santa’s rather large establishment, reminded me that darkness never overcomes light; that only a small amount of light is needed to banish darkness.

And so I choose to believe the Apostle John when he wrote that darkness cannot overcome light – particularly in referring to Jesus and the message connected with his birth. Maybe it seems that commercialism and busyness are the order of the day for modern Christmases but I choose to believe that the light that came into the world in the person of Jesus over 2000 years ago is still pulsating brightly, impacting the lives of people to this day.

I choose to believe that no amount of darkness in terms of people’s attitudes or actions can ever extinguish the light that is Jesus, in my life or in the world at large.

Have a truly happy Christmas.