Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas Eve

A Christmas Eve Reflection based largely on the First Reading, Isaiah 9:2-7

Two years ago, I attended a choir concert given by St. Olaf College. They were on their tour in Nebraska, and I couldn’t pass up a chance at music of that caliber. About halfway through the concert, the director introduced a piece written by one of the students. The student was a fairly conservative Christian, but he had used text from one of his Ba’hai friends’ faith for the piece. The director commented that this was an ensemble that regularly put their differences aside to create something amazing.
As they sang the song, the director’s words rang true. These were college students from just about every field of study offered at St. Olaf, from all sorts of religious and political views, and here they were, filling a building with enveloping melodies and rich harmonies. Putting aside every conflict and difference for this one common cause—creating music of excellence.
We live in a messy world. Forces try to divide us and persuade us that our differences are cause for hate and fear rather than for enrichment and enlightenment. Our world is messy, but good wins. Light wins.
Our first lesson tonight states: “Those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” At the beginning of our service, we read from John 1, verse 5, declaring that, “Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” There has been much darkness this year. We are barely ten days out from the tragedy of Newtown, not five months from the tragedy in the Sikh temple near Milwaukee. We only have to turn on the news to be reminded of the hunger, disease, and conflict still present in the world.
Despite all that, we declare to ourselves, to the world and to the darkness that the light cannot be overcome. I ask you tonight to join me in that declaration—3 times I will say, “light shines in the darkness,” 3 times I ask you to please respond, “and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
Light shines in the darkness
And the darkness cannot overcome it.
Light shines in the darkness
And the darkness cannot overcome it.
Light shines in the darkness
And the darkness cannot overcome it.
We live in a messy and broken world. There is darkness in the world, but light shines there—and where light shines, darkness retreats. Our faith, our God tells us that. It says “You don’t win, darkness.” Christ has come. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, light itself, has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it.
Christmas Eve is a night we remember a story of the unexpected and unexplainable love and light God brings to our lives.
God comes to this messy and broken world and becomes human—but Jesus comes to us as a helpless baby, not a warrior. Jesus comes through this young woman, Mary, who is with her husband Joseph. Two peasants on a pilgrimage in a strange town, not wealthy established and secure households. Jesus comes to a stable, not a palace. Jesus’ birth is announced by angels to shepherds in a field, not to kings and queens and political powers.
That’s Christmas. The greatest gift we could know of, and that’s how it happens. Completely unexpected. The amazing brilliance of Emmanuel—God with us—comes to the world in this way.
Isaiah says it better than I could. "People who have walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Again, I go back to that evening in Nebraska. People had gathered—some for the whole season, some for a few of the days, some just for that night. Watching all the people from different places and opinions come together up front and all of the people from different professions and parts of town come together on the floor all for this one thing—this music—made me realize how similar we are and how much we can do when we stop worrying about what divides and start worrying about what unites. When we see that, the light of Christ is present.
The shepherds watching their flocks in the night, saw it. The St. Olaf Choir, with all their differences, saw it. We, too, see it. We see it whenever we glimpse the goodness of the world in the midst of everything else that goes on. In our friendships, in kindness shown to a stranger, we see it. When a hungry person is fed, a cold person given a blanket, when anyone finds what they need, we see it.
We see it. When we remember the one who came for our sake, in the most humble way, we act for that goodness, the light of Christ is there. We carry it with us. We say, you don’t win, darkness, because, where light is, darkness cannot be. Light is the victor in the end.
This is a candlelight service for a reason. We will declare again the victory of the light in a few moments by lighting our candles. As we lift up our candles tonight, take a moment to watch as the darkness recedes. As the lights multiply, the darkness recedes further and further—the light is brighter when we join together.
We are a group of differing political, professional, and maybe even theological interests. But when we set that aside, we can make something amazing happen. We can shine light into the darkness.
Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

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