a sermon on Luke 2:1-20, Isaiah 9:2-7, and John 1:1-14
Sometimes it is hard to see the light. Even on these shortest days of the year, we are surrounded with more lights than we can every imagine. The bright lights of our city shine even more brightly surrounded by the festive bulbs of this season which seem to get brighter with each passing year. It turns out that our nation uses more electricity on Christmas lights than El Salvador, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal, or Cambodia use in an entire year! Yet even with all these lights around us, the darkness of our world seems to prevail so easily.
As I look back over this year, I have seen so much of this pervasive darkness around us. In this darkness, we have been able to see refugees turned away in fear after putting their lives at risk to seek safety. In this darkness, we have been able to see war and strife escalate around the world as prayers and actions for peace seem to go unheard. In this darkness, we have been able to see people treated unfairly because of the color of their skin or the faith they choose to practice. In this darkness, we have been able to see countless people harmed by acts of terror, in startling acts of violence driven by perverted interpretations of faith, in the senseless and preventable tragedies of mass shootings, and in the deep hurt of violence perpetrated in the unseen recesses of homes far and near. And in this darkness, we have been able to see the politics of fear and hatred rise up with a new vengeance.
The darkness of our world is all too familiar, but there is plenty of darkness in our lives closer to home, too—maybe in the pain and hurt of divided families, perhaps in the midst of friendships challenged by change, maybe in distance of time or space that drives us apart from those we love, in illness and loneliness, in the search for meaningful work, in so many things that we can easily name, and in so many things that cannot so easily be named. Sometimes, oftentimes, it is hard to see the light.
When we look back to that first Christmas, it is easy to imagine that they had an easier time of seeing the light, but I think that the first Christmas had plenty of darkness, too. After all, the whole story began with an unexpected and unplanned child, conceived before the socially acceptable time. There was a special government edict that required a pregnant mother to put her health and life at risk to travel so close to her baby’s due date. There was a shortage of rooms in the inn that left this family with no place to stay other than in the manger out back. And a fear of the angel of the Lord left a bunch of shepherds cowering in the field.
Yet the events we celebrate tonight assure us that darkness is not the last word and that God is with us in all the darkness around us. “The glory of the Lord shone around them” when the shepherds were afraid, and they saw that there was light in their darkness. “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,” and they saw that there was light in their darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”—and so we too can see that there is light in our darkness.
Even so, this good news of the birth of Jesus that we celebrate tonight does not mean that all the darkness of our world is suddenly flooded with light. Rather, the birth of Jesus at Christmas assures us that this light shines in the darkness, that there will be enough light from the glory of God in our midst to show us the way through to the new day that Christ will bring into being. I think author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it well:
Even when light fades and darkness falls—as it does every single day, in every single life—God does not turn the world over to some other deity. Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone. There is a divine presence that transcends all your ideas about it, along with all your language for calling it to your aid… But whether you decide to trust the witness of those who have gone before you, or you decide to do whatever it takes to become a witness yourself, here is the witness of faith: darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day. (Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 15-16)
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” So in this world where it is so often hard to see the light, may we be people of the light—people working to shine God’s light into our weary world, people seeking to be a light shining in the darkness, people watching and waiting and working for a new and greater light to come into our world—so that we might see the glory of God in Jesus Christ this Christmas and every day until he comes in even greater glory to make all things new. Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.