A sermon for Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 (15-20), Psalm 96
I’m usually tired of all the Christmas music by now. This year I’m not. It may be because I haven’t heard much. And that that is because I’m not listening to the usual and customary radio or Pandora stations. Actually, I’m glad, as strange as it may seem, because all those banal tunes tend to add to my holiday blues; it may get bluer, and I’m already blue enough.
If the street talk is correct, we may have to rearrange our nativity. Rumor is Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem. Mary rode mule back, as Joseph guided the Kawasaki all 70 to 80 miles. The crowded roads made for a very long trip, and I pretty sure it was not so comfortable; especially for Mary at nine months pregnant. When they did get there, the only place to stay was in a back yard shed, way out on the out skirts of town (Allen). I’ve also heard, that the shepherds can’t find a way around the fence at the southern border. There is a report that the Angels got stopped by TSA. Those whole body x-ray machines showed their wings, and no one believes the archangel’s story about shepherds and the King’s birth. Everyone thinks it some sort of wild fairy tale. And the three kings, they have been picked up by Homeland Security. No one believes they aren’t refugees with a very imaginative story. Times are dark.
There is the growing international ISIL threat, shootings in Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino. There are the continuing concerns about numerous black folks killed by police officers at times under questionable circumstances. Declining middle-class industrial jobs is generating fear in previously stable and productive segments of society. Some politicos are exploiting this fear, spouting blame while offering no real solutions. There is the continuing shifting power balance between the US & our allies, whoever they are, and the old, we thought vanquished, Russian Empire; in addition to the rising unpredictable China. In the last few months, we’ve heard about a dubious hedge fund manager exploiting opportunities and raising the cost of a vital but inexpensive drug 5000%. And he is not the only one. We have local troubles of our own; there have been waves of vandalism, theft, and shootings; there have been layoffs and job losses, in the midst of a near normal unemployment rate; and we have our own local political intrigue. Times are dark.
But it is not the first time. The dark is woven into many of our Christmas Hymns. And yes I know it’s an Advent hymn, none the less it reveals the way,
O come, o come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel (Hymnal 1982 #56 ),
O little town of Bethlehem,
yet in thy dark streets (#78),
O Savior of our fallen race,
our constant star in sins deep night (#85),
God and sinners reconciled
born to give us second birth (# 87),
He on Adam’s fallen race
sheds the fullness of his grace (#88),
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
o’er all the weary world.
above the sad and lowly plains
Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long (#89)
to save us all from Satan’s power (#105),
all in the bleak mid-winter (#112).
A couple of thousand years ago it was dark. Mary rode the mule; Joseph walked as he guided the four-legged beast. They were off to Bethlehem to get counted so they could pay taxes to the empire that occupied their lands (Allen). At this particular time Israel is occupied by Romans; before then they were occupied by the Greeks, and before then the Persians, and before then the Babylonians, and before then the Assyrians, and before that they fought one Kingdom against the other. For nearly 900 years, they have either been occupied or fighting each other (Factsheet Chronology). And we should not forget Israel is a people who came to be in slavery in a foreign land ~ in Egypt. Isaiah speaks a far deeper truth than we realize: The people who walked in darkness… those who lived in a land of deep darkness. (Isaiah 9:2) Time and again the political and military rulers followed the devices and desire of their own hearts rather than trust in God. Time and again, the religious leaders, save an astonishingly few prophets, went along. The darkness that faces us this evening has faced followers of God, for millennium of years (Brooks).
But the truth is the darkness has never been dominating. O Little Town of Bethlehem reveals the deeper truth
in thy dark streets shined
The everlasting Light,
the hopes and fears of all the years,
are met in thee tonight
The dark night wakes,
the glory breaks
and Christmas comes once more
Our Lord Emmanuel abides with us. (Hymnal 1982 #78).
The dark diktats cannot hold. Jesus was born; the incarnation was accomplished. The everlasting light, the great light has shone is shining on the world; it never has been, nor ever can be overcome.
O Little Town of Bethlehem not only reminds us of the light of Christ coming into our world; the hymn points our way forward. Bits of two verses:
So God imparts to human hearts, and
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door
reveal that we have our part to play. Jesus’ birth, the incarnation, helps define our Christian calling.
William Templeton, a former Arch Bishop of Canterbury, believes the incarnation calls us to build the kingdom of God on earth. God incarnate in Jesus, makes social transformation possible; it is our calling to work for justice and reconciliation. Evelyn Underhill writes about committing our lives to the work of the continuing incarnation in prayer and action. It does not matter how blue one is, it does not matter how dark it is, each of us in our unique way can do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micha 6:8) (Butterworth).
Tonight we have once again witnessed the light of the world; once again we hear that we are the torch bearers.
As feed the hungry we prepare him room (Hymnal 1982 #100).
As we clothe the naked, we receive him (#100).
As we heal the sick, we adore him (#83).
In bringing shalom, wholeness, to one little corner of creation, we join with angle choirs sweetly singing through the night Gloria to God in the Highest (#96).
Allen, Ron. Commentary on Luke 2:1-14(15-20). 24 12 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. “Commentary on Isaiah 9:27.” 12 12 2015. Working Preacher.
Butterworth, Susan. “People of the Incarnation, Christmas Day (C) – 2015.” 24 12 2015. Sermons that Work.
Church, Episcopal. Hymnal 1982. 1982.
Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Christmas, Christmas blues, incarnation, the darkness, Christmas light, Luke, O Little Town of Bethlehem