God from God, Light from Light

Christmas Day, Year A.

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Collect for Christmas

It was another cold night in the desert. The old man pulled his camel-hair coat closer to his body as the dry, desolate wind swept over him. With a shiver he looked onto the valley below and could see the twinkling of the fires in the city. The sun had set long ago, he was so tired, he looked longingly at the homes. His bones ached, as they always did when the cold came. He grumbled at the weakness of his limbs and how his task had worn him. Climbing the hill while managing all the animals was a young man’s work — but he had to do it himself. Cutting and dressing them had been no easy task either, another task he had done with ease in his younger years, but his hands had grown soft since his herd had grown. From the bottom of the hill, he could hear the rest of his herd, that chorus of grunts, calls, and yawns that never ceased their song. Though it was the sound of his riches, and the comforts that any man would desire, his heart was heavy. His hope was failing. For what worth would they be if he had none to leave it to? What is the point without a legacy? He sighed. His breath like smoke rose to the heavens. It drew his eyes upward and he looked at the endless expanse of space, and in that deep blackness, a thousand upon thousand twinkling lights. “I believe, help my unbelief” he thought as his eyes grew heavy. He could no longer fight it; a deep darkness fell upon him. In the darkness a voice came to him, “So shall the number of your descendants be.”  Before his eyes he saw his children, oppressed, beaten, trapped in a foreign land. His heart grieved and tears came to his eyes. But as swiftly as the first came before him, the vision changed to a great nation escaping oppression and crossing into a land. It was a good land, filled with milk and honey. Though they had suffered greatly, his children finally had something he had never truly known in his endless desert wanderings. His heart was glad. He turned to the animals that he had cut and he saw a light pass between the pieces. He was filled with awe, for the mighty party had made the passage. He was humbled and the darkness of despair had left him. He was at peace, the Promise had been made. The dawn began to break in the distance. [Genesis 15]

It was blisteringly hot at the top of the mountain, the rays of the sun shone so brightly that the old man could hardly keep his eyes open. He squinted, carefully checking the lines of his work. An endless cadence of tapping was the song of his chisel against the stones. He could hear the murmurings and grumblings of the multitude below, though he could not see them. There was a dense cloud midway up the mountain that blocked his sight of them. Even though he finally had a moment to himself, hearing the shuffling below made his blood pressure rise. He had not wished to lead these people. Daily they tried his patience and filled him with self-doubt. They were a troublesome and ungrateful lot. But they were his. Through all their complaints, doubts, and foolishness he still loved them. Despite his daily tasks of governance, he knew them to be a people of tremendous faith and generosity. They were by no means wicked, but they were lost. These years in the desert had left an impression upon them. Some had only known the vast emptiness of the desert. Most had only heard the story of the flight. They had been lost for their whole life. He stopped his work for a moment to check it, to his own surprise it was finally finished. ‘…obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ he repeated it over and over again. He had always had trouble speaking, even after all these years, but these were the words that he had been told to say to the people when he presented the gift. He practiced once more as he descended from the mountain. He wanted to get it right, for he was delivering a Promise. [Exodus 19]

The king knew no peace. Despite his best efforts, he could not shake the nagging anxiety that clung to his heart. His heart longed for peace as he walked through the palace. He went to the window and looked at his city. The city of peace. It was all done. The civil war had finally ended, the coronation was carried out with no incident. Those years of hiding in fields and caves with death at his heels were behind him now. By all rights he should enjoy the peace he had fought so hard to secure. But he was troubled. He missed his friend. No one else knew how to bring comfort to his heart like his friend had. But he had passed on long ago. In a far-away room he could hear the cry of his newest son. His mind drifted to his sons. They were still children, but with what viciousness they fought with one another! He loved them and prayed that they would love each other when they were men. Yet he had no peace, in the back of his mind he knew the fate of the sons of kings. He said another prayer ‘[you] have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.’ The king’s heart was quieted for a moment. With the prayer he remembered the Promise, ‘I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me…Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.’ A shriek of a hungry newborn echoed through halls of the palace. The king’s heart was quieted by the cry of his son. At last a peace came upon him, for a Promise had been made. [II Samuel 7]

The old man looked at his newborn son and couldn’t have been more proud. His countenance shone with the radiance of a new father. In his arms, grasping and tugging at his long beard was a Promise fulfilled. The people gathered cooed at the boy and congratulated him and his wife. But the old man said nothing, he merely smiled. For him, there was no one else there but him and his son. In his spirit it was dawning upon him that this Promise was not the only fulfillment that had come. He began to open his mouth but paused for a moment. He had to choose his words carefully, as he became keenly aware that the rest of the people are not ready for the days to come. They would never truly be ready, but it couldn’t be delayed any longer. The day of fulfillment was coming. He knew he would not see that day come to completion; but to hold his son and to pronounce this blessing, for him it was enough. Holding the boy close to him, he proclaimed, ‘You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord and prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us. To shine on those in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ The crowd silently stared at him in amazement. He only saw his son, he smiled again at the baby and rejoiced in his heart; for he knew the old promises were being fulfilled, and a new Promise was being made. [Luke 1]

It was a cold morning in the city. Darkness still ruled the sky, but the stars had already disappeared. The faintest of glows could be seen on the horizon as the women silently slipped through the gate. The city was quiet, still asleep. Though her heart grieved, with all the turmoil, shouting, and crying she had seen in the past few days she took a quiet comfort that finally there was some semblance of peace. In the stillness of the morning she could be with him, if only for a moment, to say goodbye one last time. As they approached the mouth of the grave something was out of place. The stone had been rolled away; the void of death exposed to the serene garden. The women stopped at the mouth of the cave, uneasy and unsure what had happened. Everything was still as the air in the tomb. One took a step forward as her heart sank, “where have they taken him?” she wondered. The stone bed where he laid to rest was empty but made. His sheets folded, neatly resting at the foot. A flash of light broke the stillness. Terror filled her heart as she remembered the words that he said. Somewhere between panic and euphoria she dropped her jar of spices and ran out of the grave. The other women dropped their jars and ran. She had to tell them. She had to tell everyone. The darkness of night had finally been vanquished; the Sun rose. A new dawn had broken. [Mark 16 & Luke 24]

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