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I recently learned that mice are quite fond of sunflower seeds.

Yes, I learned the hard way; we had both sunflower seeds and mice in our pantry.

I know because we had some in our pantry. For the past several weeks we’ve been trying to get rid of those mice. If they were church mice, some would say we should baptize and confirm them and we’d never see them again, but house mice seem to be a bit more persistent.

We ended up having to empty our pantry. We put everything that looked safe and still airtight in a big plastic tub and threw out everything else, including that bag of sunflower seeds in which those mice had chewed a respectable hole about the size of a quarter. Then, yes, we disinfected the whole pantry.

If you’ve ever had an infestation of mice or bugs, you know how it goes. Anything that looks like it could potentially be contaminated gets thrown out. The smallest sign that you’ve got mice makes you question everything in the pantry.

It’s a good think we think like this, because it’s bound to protect us from things that might harm us–disease, for example. But I wonder if this kind of thinking does not extend beyond mice and bugs.

I wonder if this type of thinking is also behind how we perceive the world. For example, one unethical leader, one serious and violent conflict, one instance of racism or homophobia or ageism or sexism or ableism can cause us to perceive the whole world as being contaminated by evil. When you consider that these are not isolated events, that we have not one example of each of these, but numerous examples, it’s easy to believe this world is doomed.The world is contaminated by evil, and that can be a pretty depressing thought that has the potential to bring us down.

But what do we do about it? Do we just crumple up the world and toss it in the trash with the rest of the contaminated pantry contents, giving up hope completely? I imagine some people would choose this option, if given the chance.

But not us.

Because to us–to us who follow Jesus–there’s never so much evil that there isn’t any good. Do you know why? Because the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Granted, we don’t tend to understand goodness in the same way. Yes, a single mouse can infect a whole bag of sunflower seeds, but a single sunflower seed does not make a mouse colony more appealing. Not even the most yummy, homebaked, ooey-gooey fresh-out-the-oven chocolate chip cookie will will make me want to domesticate that mouse colony in my pantry. As much as it pains me, I’m still going to throw out the cookie.

And yet, the light really does shine in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. How do we know? Because Jesus walked this earth, and in doing so transformed people and places and situations otherwise deemed “contaminated” into those infused with the divine. In other words, holy. No longer did, or does, the world need to give up on itself.

This seemingly contaminated world is the world God has been dealing with since the beginning of time–a world contaminated by evil and infected by disgust. It’s not God who causes this; it’s simply the nature of being human and of living in the freedom with which God created us. But it’s also the world in which God chose to come and live–the world in which Jesus was born.

The Prologue of John, that familiar “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is one of my favorite Bible passages. It’s John’s version of the Christmas story.There’s no baby or manger; no shepherds or angels. Just radiating light. And when I read this passage, the image that comes to mind is always one of this gradually intensifying light–the kind of light we witness at a Christmas Eve candlelight service–the kind that begins with one single candle and grows until the room is full with a fervent glow.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

In the birth of Jesus and his presence in the world, God was responding to a world contaminated by evil and fear and hatred. And without a doubt it was a lot of work for God to counter our human nature and its tendency to focus on that contamination. In fact, God had to work so hard that Jesus ended up on a cross. But, for Jesus, it was a cause worth dying for. For in that work, God provided a different kind of contamination–the contamination of the incarnation, the contamination of light, and hope, and goodness. Because if Jesus is present in an old dirty manger filled with who-knows-what from all those filthy animals around him (including a hand full of mice!), and if Jesus is present in the darkest, most evil place of death on a cross, then is there any place where Jesus is not?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

The light that came into the world and that spreads like a wildfire gives our world different, more hopeful story. As Desmond Tutu once said, “Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours through him who loved us.”

One of the reasons we celebrate Christmas in July is to provide an occasion to collect items that will support the work of Merry Oaks International Academy, the elementary school Holy Trinity has been supporting for several years now. It’s an amazing school and anyone who has walked the halls over there knows this. We know this.

But for an outsider, there’s a lot about that school that would leave one believing it was simply contaminated. For one thing, it has a high poverty rate–almost 100%. Twenty-four percent of the students are undocumented. Poverty infects communities, some would say. It contaminates them. We ought to crumpling up places like this and tossing them in the trash. But if you’ve been over there, you know that there is a richness in its diversity. You know that those halls are holy. You know that Jesus is there.

And maybe you brought a pack of pencils today, or a school uniform, or some underwear. A seemingly small item in the grand scheme of things. But while you can imagine that the school is appreciative, I want you to know this: these items are more than what’s on the surface. They are light. They are Jesus’ light. They will not stay hidden under this small Christmas tree, but will be taken over to Merry Oaks where they will be given to students, where they will be used and enjoyed, where they will make learning a little easier. They are a huge YES to the hope that Jesus’ birth brings.Why do we gather these things for them? Because we know that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not, can not, will not, overcome it.

I hope none of you have to ever deal with mice in your pantry. But if you do, know this: As hard as it is to get rid of them, as impossible as it seems to make sure you’ve plugged every whole in your house, it is infinitely more impossible to get rid of God’s light and Jesus’ presence in this world.Yes, this world is contaminated by evil, but it is even more so contaminated by the light and love of Jesus. It’s our job to make sure the world doesn’t forget it. Amen.