Christmas Day/December 27 sermon

27 Dec

(Our Christmas Day service was cancelled so I may have just recycled that sermon to use on the following Sunday. We’re still in the Christmas season so it works.)

Grace and peace to you from God our father, Jesus Christ our savior and Lord.

The town of Bethlehem set the scene for our Christmas day, the day we celebrate Christ’s birth. In the town of Bethlehem, the streets are dark. No streetlights or headlights. It is night and we imagine people are escaping the darkness of night by being in their homes. The streets are empty but for a lonely couple. Joseph and Mary. Weary from traveling, tired with child. They cannot find a place to escape the darkness of the night, the darkness of their tired travels. Each opportunity, each knock, becomes a disappointment. Finally Joseph and Mary find a place to rest their heads – a stable. With livestock and straw. They escape the literal darkness of the streets but the darkness in their hearts remains – the darkness of uncertainty, anxiety, the worry of giving birth. Are they safe? Can they stay warm? What is to come next?

Suddenly something changes. Into the darkness breaks light. We sing – quietly at first and then evermore boldly – “yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” The true light, to be for all people, to dwell with us in grace and truth. The light breaks in. The darkness is no longer what dominates. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Christ is born.

We have prayed for Christ’s coming. We have waited. We have prepared. We light all the candles on our Advent wreath. We think we are ready. We think we are ready for the coming of the light, the coming of the Christ child. We wait for the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

We know darkness. We know what the streets of Bethlehem were like that night. We can feel the darkness of night. The kind of darkness when you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. We also know the darkness of sin. The darkness of uncertainty, of loneliness. The kind of darkness when you don’t know where your next step will land, where your next day will lead. The dark places in our lives are heavy. The darkness weighs us down, presses upon us. Our darkness are the things that shame us and the things that drag us down.

So we try and hide our darkness in our closets. We don’t want other to know what shames us or what presses upon us. We send out Christmas cards with the perfect family picture. The Christmas letter with the highlights of everything good from the past year. We conceal our darkness and our shortcomings. We put a smile on our face even if it hurts us. Even if we are living in pain, we don’t want others to see. We hope that we can keep those disappointments to ourselves, letting few others see the shadows. We don’t want others to see our messes and imperfections.

Our darkness grows. It changes. Darkness is maybe different than years before or maybe it is the same struggle. We mourn the loss of a loved one and face the first holiday season without them. We are stressed financially in tough economic times. We’re unemployed. We struggle with addiction. We face the reality of old age. We have been abused. Physically. Mentally. We feel the need for deep relationship but have found none. The darkness of loneliness. The darkness on my heart today is spending this Christmas season away from family, far from the people whom I love and who know me as a daughter, a sister, a grandchild. We all have darkness, whether we share it with others or keep it deep within ourselves. Darkness that presses up against us, that we fight day in and day out.

But today we sing that in the dark streets shineth. Shineth the everlasting light. We have prepared our hearts and our minds through the weeks of advent, awaiting the coming of the Christ child, the coming of the light of the world. The darkness in our lives are the things we want unseen, the problems, addictions, and secrets we want no one else to know. Those things are still present in advent, in our preparation. The light comes. Light breaks into our imperfect world and we are filled with joy and with hope. Light breaks in, the Word made flesh appears. Who is with God and who is God.

The Christ child is a great gift, the greatest of gifts we are given each Christmas. The word became flesh and lived among us. God comes to earth, to dwell with us, to live with us. God loves the world so much that he sends his only son to be with you. With me. With us. In Bethlehem we see the baby, born of Mary. The one who was with God and who is God. We know the rest of the story – we know where it goes from here. This is only the beginning of the rest. We know that this great gift will become a great sacrifice for our sins, to reconcile us to God. We know this and we celebrate this.

The light shines in the darkness and we are mesmerized by the light. In this Christmas season, we hang lights on our Christmas trees. We light candles. We welcome and invite light into our lives. The light comes to illuminate the world around us. The darkness cannot overcome it. But no where does it say that the darkness leaves. The darkness cannot overcome the light but the darkness is not gone.

The darkness in our lives has not miraculously vanished with the dawn of Christmas day. Culture models that this season is one of cheer and love, miracles and community. To feel anything but is to be called a Scrooge. We place so much emphasis on the joys and hope of Christmas that it is a disappointment when the cancer is still there. Your loved one is still gone. Broken relationships still exist. The light that comes illuminates the world around us. We see again the deep cracks and stains that are in our lives; dark corners still remain.

I used to feel this as kid. The hype, the excitement for the day of Christmas kept growing and growing inside of me. Anticipation of how special the day would be. Of how wonderful that single day of Christmas is. The excitement mounted on Christmas eve and my brothers and I barely slept that night. We were too excited. The day after Christmas was always a disappointment. Things were the same again. The way they were before Christmas but with nothing more to look forward to. It was a let down. Christmas was over. And had anything really changed except that the presents had been opened and the house was a mess?

But there is something different. We’re reminded again that Christ illuminates the world around us. Christ lights our path, our going in and our coming out. Christ, as a light, goes into the darkest places, into the struggles and brokenness of our community and our lives. Are you ready to let someone into your darkest places? To open the closet where you have hidden your struggles, disappointments, sins? We may not be ready, we don’t want our cracks and shadows to be shown, to be known by others but we can’t stop the light.

Light has a way of breaking in, of flooding all the space it can find. It pours through the air, through the cracks, through the space that surrounds us. Think of your bedroom at night. Even in the place of night there is light. The street lamp streams through the window, between the closed blinds. The light from the hall peaks from under the door. Wherever there is the opportunity to spread, the light is there. The light reveals where darkness has been, where our struggles lie. There in those places, the light spills out, Christ with you in the midst of depression and loneliness, sickness and struggle. Christ as the light of the world cannot be contained.

The Word became flesh and lived among us. Christ, the light of the world, became human, born a baby to an unwed teenage girl. Visited by shepherds. Born in a building with sheep and cows. Christ lives among us; he dwells with us. There is more here – the verb used for lived can also be translated as tabernacled – Christ tabernacles among us. Not necessarily a word in our everyday vocabulary. A tabernacle is a tent – Christ sets up residence with us. He sets up a tent in our lives and is here for the long haul. He did not come for a fleeting moment but the light of world came and stayed. Christ tabernacles with us like God tabernacled with the Israelites in the wilderness. God with us. Christ with us. Setting up a tent and camping with us in the midst of our broken lives.

In the darkness, in our struggles, God is with us. Emmanuel. We celebrate the coming of the light in the midst of our darkness. In the dark streets of Bethlehem and in the darkness of our lives, there is light. Light illuminates the world around us and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light of the world comes and is present even when the darkness seems overwhelming. Light spills into every space possible. It feels for every opening. Christ, as the light of the world, the word made flesh, feels for every opportunity to enter into our hearts and minds. To flood our life with the knowledge of the love of God. The everlasting light shines in the streets of Bethlehem and in our lives. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Amen.

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