Christmas Eve, Year B.
O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The Old Testament
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as the joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.Isaiah 9:2-7
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.Luke 2:2-20
“A people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined”. We are three days past the darkest night of the year, but we are not yet done walking. The longest night is behind us, but we have not yet made it to the fullness of day. We have seen light, though we may have lost sight of it, it has never left us. The light that God spoke into creation has never faded, never dimmed, though we have often lost sight of it. Sometimes we were blinded by our own self-assuredness. Sometimes we were led astray and turned our back to the light. Sometimes we hung a thick fog of chaos and fear over ourselves and our neighbors and obscured the light. Sometimes we, weary, worn, and believing to be unworthy, thought the light too bright, retreating back into the darkness that holds us captive.
Yet the light shines upon us. It illuminates the hope we thought not possible, and reveals what we would prefer remain hidden in darkness. It calls us to freedom, to see God’s work in the world, leading always to the manger.
We often see this time of year as a conclusion. Depending on how the year had been for each of us, a time of warm nostalgia, a time of spite and relief that it is nearing the end, a time of hope for the future. No matter our feelings or prospects, this is a time that we try to take stock of the past year as a whole and draw some kind of conclusion. Often we try to make some kind of moral or reason for it all, as though we were characters in a children’s storybook. Though we dare not admit it, sometimes even to ourselves, the future stretching and winding before us is still veiled by darkness. For all the trials and tumults of what we leave behind, few things are more frightening than the uncertainty that lies ahead. In this liminal space before the new year we prefer to look back, even turning away from the light shining upon us.
“Repent! Turn around, return to the LORD” cry the prophets, “prepare the way of the LORD!” The prophets, though not the light, testify to the light. This is not a time to look back, but forward. The LORD is coming! That light that has shone from the beginning of creation has come, shining over Bethlehem like a star, and upon us who still walk in darkness. The world of sin and darkness we know is passing away, a great change is coming. Soon we will beat our swords into plows and our spears into pruning hooks, righteousness and justice will rule, and there will be no hunger, sickness, or need. We have seen a great light, and it will be our guide through the darkness.
We have seen a great light, but the great light has shone upon a people who live in a land of deep darkness. These words of one crying out in the wilderness, speak to a people though separated by miles and millennia, need the same testimony. When Isaiah first spoke them, it was to a king terrified surrounded by war and enemies. The king was so afraid of what the future held that when God offered him a sign to abate his fears, the king refused, afraid of what the light might reveal. In response, God offered him not one, but three signs, three children.
The first was to be named “Immanuel” “God is with us”, to remind the king that God will never leave His people. But the king did not see the light of hope that a new child brings, he and the people remained afraid. The second child was born as the son of Isaiah, named as a warning from God that the people’s fear would mean disaster for them. After the boy was born, God spoke to Isaiah, once again reminding the king and the people to have courage and trust in God, but the king and the people would not return to the light. Finally, God gave testimony to Isaiah to give to the king, the promise of another child, one who will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”. The king refused to see the light coming, lost instead in his fear. He dared not hope, though there was hope abound, choosing instead a darkness he thought he understood, and he and the people were left in a land of deep darkness.
As a people living in a land of deep darkness, the great light is shining upon us. It is our hope and the Truth. In the briefest of time, we are awaking to the light as it reveals the sin and iniquity we have become accustomed to. As the present darkness is passing away, we are seeing, some for the first time, how we sell the poor for a pair of sandals. How our “enlightened” society choses darkness, celebrating and supporting those who exploit the most efficiently, and casting the poor, the sick, the lonely, the “essential” into deeper suffering. The most vulnerable are forced to bear the most suffering to protect those who would sell them for thirty more pieces of silver.
Yet we have seen a great light. For this day in the city of David is born unto us a savior, the sign promised to Isaiah, the redeemer, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Jesus Christ the Lord. This is the great light that reveals what we would rather keep in darkness, who calls us to justice and righteousness for all people, and who leads us through the darkness. The glory of the Lord shines upon us, the heavenly host sings “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
How shall we walk through this darkness? The way is still not yet straight, though we see the light, there is still so much we must overcome. Let the light guide you, do not be afraid. Let the light of God shine through you, let the justice and righteousness of the lord radiate from you to all you meet. Be the light in the darkness! As the world is changing, we cannot let it turn back to darkness, show the light of God’s goodness and love through Christ our Lord. Do not be afraid, and shine the light on the darkest parts of our common life. Let nothing that stands in the way of justice and righteousness remain hidden in comfortable darkness.
Above all, testify to the light, for each light that is lit pushes back the darkness that wishes to ensnare us. Each of our lights, though little, are strung together with all the believers and prophets before us and all who will testify to the light. Each day it grows brighter and reaches further. Let the light shine, hang it upon your mantle, your doorway, your tree, and above all your heart. Testify that the light has come! Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills, and everywhere, that Jesus Christ is Born!