Christmas Eve—A—December 24, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
Right before Thanksgiving, I spent two weeks in Israel-Palestine, seeing the holy sites, hearing about peace and justice work, and meeting Palestinian Lutherans. After having been there three different times, I have lots of favorite places, but tonight the one that comes most to mind is the Shepherd’s field outside of Bethlehem. At the site, there is excavations of a 5th century Byzantine Monastery, along with a first century cave in which the shepherds probably used as protection from bad weather and cold. This cave has been converted into a chapel, but there is also an beautifully, ornate, above ground chapel as well. This is no surprise, because there is a church built over every holy site. But I have to say that this is my favorite chapel. It is small but filled with paintings and statues of terrified shepherds, angels, and of course sheep. And it is unique in how bright it is—most churches are dark and heavy, almost dreary, but the reason I love this chapel so much is because of how bright it is. The ceiling is like swiss cheese, full of small circle windows that let the light pour in a way that makes me think of what it might have been like when the heavenly hosts appeared above that field so long ago, and angels brought that good news to the lowly shepherds.
As Isaiah says it: “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.” Those people include the shepherds, but the light also shines on and for us!
Being from Virginia, I am used to a lot more light in the winter. It was a shock to move to Philadelphia for seminary and then again when I moved up here. Y’all know…it is so dark this time of year in New England. It is easy to have to leave for work or school before the sun comes up, and it is almost impossible to get a full day in and get home before the sun sets. And if you sit in an office all day, you could not see the sun all winter. This definitely has an affect on me…I am less motivated to take my dog for a walk (because it is cold and usually wet on top of it being dark), I seem to be more of a homebody, and I’m even sometimes tempted to go to bed before what some might consider a respectable hour for an adult’s bedtime.
But maybe for you the darkness is not just physical; maybe you are in an emotionally dark period in your life. As the news of school shootings and natural disasters become more and more frequent, and more and more catastrophic, it is easy to lose hope, to believe that it is just all downhill from here.
But the darkness of disease, injury, disaster, or winter never gets the last word. It cannot conquer the light. And that is the good news we hear and enact tonight. The glory of the Lord comes into the world, shines around us, into every corner, every little crack and crevice. The glad tidings of great joy conquers the darkness. For we are promised an “endless peace” and a kingdom that is characterized by “justice and righteousness”. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11)
And so this evening, as we gather together to celebrate, yet again, Christ coming into our world, God breaking into this reality and shaking things up and turning them upside down, we will turn off all the lights—as we contemplate the darkness that we have, do, and will live in—and then we spread the light of Christ in our midst. It is given to us a gift, and then we pass it on, because what else would we possibly do with such good news and bright light?
The angels appeared to the shepherds two millennia ago to give the news, they continued the pattern when they shared their experience with Mary and others who had gathered, and so too we gather to hear the gospel read, preached, sung, and prayed and then we go out into the darkness with the light bright in our hearts to sustain us and to share with others. For the light and love of Christ cannot be extinguished, so there is no need to be afraid. Amen.