a sermon on Isaiah 9:2-7 for Christmas Eve
These are strange days to be talking so much about light. We’ve just journeyed through the shortest day of the year, but there’s plenty of other darkness in our world, too. Turn on the television or radio any day and you can hear it right away—darkness is all around us. Wars and conflicts rage around the world, and there are refugees and displaced persons everywhere who have been forced out of their homes to live in refugee camps for years on end. Violence and injustice keep inching closer and closer to home, not to mention all of the people in need of a warm and dry place to sleep. Those chosen to lead us in so many different places and ways toss about harsh words of blame that ignore the way we all participate in the difficulties of our world and so get in the way of the possibilities of reconciliation and new life. Peace and light just seem far off, dreams surely not to be realized in our lifetime if ever at all. So when Isaiah talks about “the people who walk in darkness,” we have a pretty good idea of what the darkness he might be talking about.
But even amidst all the struggles and pain of our world, we have nonetheless seen a great light. The prophet speaks of three great marks of light shining in his own day: joy rising in the nation as it grows and reflects more and more the fullness of God’s mercy, freedom finding expression and hope as all the marks of oppression and pain are torn away, and the fullness of peace coming as the garments of war are burned up as fuel for the fire of hope.
These great marks of light find their greatest expression in the child born “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” His authority is taking hold to show new and different ways in all the world. He will reign with justice and righteousness “from this time onward and forevermore.” And God’s power and promise will bring all these things to fruition even in those times when it seems so completely impossible and improbable.
In our time, the light comes to us, too. Just as Jesus was born on that Christmas two millennia ago, so Jesus is born anew in us and in our world each year in this celebration. So on this night when we hear the familiar words of Jesus’ birth again, when we wonder with Mary and Joseph about the gift of this newborn Jesus, when we join our voices with the angels to proclaim the birth of a baby who changes the world, when we welcome the presence of God into human flesh as Jesus is born of Mary, when we experience the promise of light shining into the darkest corners of our world, we see the light coming to us.
But we cannot simply sit still—we must respond. How are we to live now that we are people who have walked in darkness but now seen a great light? This light shines so brightly that it not only illumines our lives but also guides us as we seek the transformation and renewal of all things and energizes us as we seek the peace and wholeness that can come only from the Prince of Peace. This light shines forth from the strange event we celebrate tonight. Writer and radio host Krista Tippett reminds us well of the mystery and wonder of this night:
There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other.
In the midst of all that troubles us and our world, Christmas shows us that God’s light shines through in the way that God comes to know our human condition so very personally and then seeks to transform it. And this light shines forth when we carry the light that we have shared in this gathering tonight into our lives, honoring the humanity of all as Jesus did in his life and ministry and working for justice, peace, and reconciliation in every corner of our world.
Who better can share the light of life than people who have known darkness all too well? Who better knows the depth of struggle that must be addressed in our world than the people who have faced it directly and emerged to bear even greater light? Who better to make God’s presence real in the everyday than the very people like us who have seen him here, who have shared this great feast and been fed in this holy meal? Who better than us to help bring God’s light into the darkness? And if we don’t join in this work, who will?
So as we go forth from this Christmas Eve, as we bear the light of this night into the darkness and uncertainty of our world, may God strengthen us to shine this light in the darkness each and every day until it shines so brightly that all things are made new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.