Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve

--the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Those of us who live in the country know what it means to walk in darkness. It is not uncommon to drive down some of our back roads feeling like we are in a cave with only our measly headlights to guide us. There is always the fear that a deer, or worse, a skunk, will jump out in front of us. If it is snowing we can’t even use our high beams we just have to pick our way carefully. If it is clear, we can see the stars. But even out here in the country there is still some light pollution and it is difficult to see the whole array of the heavens.

In Texas, Christmas time is a light show. The electrical consumption doubles in the state of Texas between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every building, out building, fence, tree and outhouse is decorated with lights. When you fly into the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport the two cities look like they are ablaze. There is no distinction between night and day. Every house has electric icicles hanging from it. There is no groping to find the driveway there. It wasn’t until I moved to Bainbridge 30 years ago that I found out that icicles were not a GOOD thing. In my mind, they were just pretty decorations, not the telltale signs that your house didn’t have any insulation. Up here in the North we know the difference of dark and light. And so did the people in Isaiah’s day.

They found their way by following the stars in the desert the same way that mariners found their way on the sea. They longed for the light of home the same way we look for a porch light on a snowy night. And Isaiah used this metaphor to remind the people that God would provide them with the kind leadership to leave the political and spiritual darkness that had come upon them. Isaiah warned of the coming captivity of the people of Judah, but he also gave them hope that God would relent and give them a future.

Isaiah tells of a leader who would come to show the way from darkness to light. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and for 500 years the people of Judah looked for that child.

Finally in the time of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria and the Galilee, that child was born into the tribe of Judah to lead the people out of the political and spiritual malaise into which the people of God had once again fallen. He was to lead the people of God back to living in the light. This child was to know what it meant to be human. But he also was born to know what it meant to be Divine and teach that to us all. He was the Prince of Peace, because when humanity knows the love of God and lives it, peace reigns. He was to familiarize us with the Father—bring us into a common family, all peoples, all tribes, and all faiths for the sake of the whole world.

All ages walk in darkness. All of us personally enter into darkness. It is part of what it means to be human. Even in our light-polluted world where we do not fear the deer or the skunk jumping out in front of us, we still walk in the darkness of doubt, or short-sightedness, or self-absorption, or fear and self-protection. We, too, fumble through life searching for meaning, searching for purpose, searching for connection with others—in short we are looking for that Light of God in our own captivity. We look for the warmth of acceptance, or home, or peace. We often hide from the Light because it is there we see our frailties and shortcomings. But in the Light of God we do not have to hide. We are called not to dwell on our imperfections but to learn from them and sin no more. It is in Christ, that child who was born for us in Bethlehem so long ago, that we can find the wherewithal to trust and let go of fear. This child who was brought to us in a stall in Bethlehem is the Light of the world. It is he who has shown all humanity what it means to totally alive, totally fulfilled, totally satisfied, totally filled with God’s grace.

Tonight, over two thousand years later we still celebrate that moment when God and humanity met and became one. No longer can those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior find in ourselves only our humanity. In Christ Jesus have had a taste of what it means to be whole and holy. In the Incarnation of Christ we find that the Christian life is not just waiting for the bliss of Heaven. The Christian life is the adventure of drinking deeply of what it means to live fully in the Light of God with the full knowledge of our failings and the full experience of God’s mercy.

Like the shepherds of tonight’s Gospel reading, we too are drawn by the light and music. We too must journey to Bethlehem to see this thing that has been related to us by prophets and sung to us by angel choirs all our lives. We are drawn to the light of home—for it is in Christ we know what we were born for. It is in his name we proclaim our family heritage. It is in his life that we find the pattern for our own.

It is in Christ we know the holiness of our birth. In Him we know not only the particular uniqueness of our personal existence, but we find our commonality with all creation. As we gaze at the manger, we know the lowliness of our birth, even if we were born in a castle. As we look at the tiny fingers of the new born, we see our own hands. As we watch Mary and Joseph we see the love of family and know our mission to pass that love on.

We are a people who have walked in darkness but we know where our Light is. We know that if we do not keep that Christ Light before us, we can opt for fear and dissolution. And all though we celebrate this journey to Bethlehem only once a year, the journey to Bethlehem is something we do daily. Christ is born anew in us each time we live in Christ’s light. Each time we forget ourselves and contribute to the well-being of others we understand why this Child came to us. Each time we stretch ourselves to expand our vision of peace, each time we feed those who are hungry, each time we refrain from vengeance, each time we contribute to the welfare of others we get a glimpse of the light that radiates from that manger—the Light that saves the world.

Tonight we come to Bethlehem, to hear again the story of Christ’s birth and our own. At this altar you are invited to become all that you were hoped to be. In the light of these candles you are drawn to the love of the Father. In the ancient songs and carols you can find your home, that centered place where God and you are made one.

So when you go back to your everyday world next week, someone may ask you, “What did you do for Christmas?” Just answer them, “I went to Bethlehem.” They will probably think you went to Pennsylvania, but you will know better. If they ask, “what did you do there?” You can tell them you saw the hope for the world. You saw in Christ the hope that walking from the darkness into the Light brings. You saw the hope that says that God and humanity have met and are made one. You saw that in Christ that we can do all things in the name of the One who sent him. In Bethlehem you saw the Christ Child but you also saw yourself and all the hope that God has in you. AMEN

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