A Light in the Darkness
On Christmas Eve I had an opportunity that Youth Directiors only dream about. I had the privilege of preaching. Christmas Eve is typically reserved for the most seasoned of clergy and preachers but this year we had a different preacher at all services. Below is the sermon I preached. I am sorry I am so late in posting it but I was waiting for the audio which is still being processed. I owe a huge thank you to Rev. Jason Micheli who helped me edit, rewrite sections, and edit some more. Without him, I might have been rambling on for too long about ideas that made little to no sense.
Whether it was as a child being tucked in bed by a parent and feeling the uneasiness that comes with shadows dancing off of the ceiling, an unsureness about navigating a new road late at night and not quite knowing where the next sharp turn or dip would be, or even being at home as an adult and being uneasy as you made the treacherous trip from the bed to the bathroom in the middle of the night fearful that you might step on a MatchBox car or a Lego, the dark can be a pretty frightening place.
We all know what it’s like to be afraid of the dark. John tells his Christmas story by first talking about the light. The beginning of Luke and Matthew’s Gospels are the more familiar Christmas stories to us. Maybe we’re more familiar with them because we find it easier to believe in the darkness. To fear. Because, you can be sure, Luke and Matthew begin their Christmas stories in the dark.
Think for a second about the circumstances of Christ’s, the Light’s, birth. The holy family had to travel over eighty miles from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. This trip would have taken several days. I know the short-trip from our home to the hospital was nerve wracking enough for me and we were in a Jeep, on a paved road, and the trip was only twenty-one miles.
And then there is the actual birth of Christ. If you are a mother then you know exactly what Mary might was going through. Even today with the most advanced medical services, techniques, and procedures available there is still a sense of fear that accompanies the birth of a child.
If we move beyond the actual birth of Christ to the circumstances and surrounding events, we can see that Christ was not being born into a Norman Rockwell family painting. Mary, His mother, was a pregnant unwed teenager. The penalty for such an offense in this day was stoning. Imagine the fear a pregnant teenager girl might have today, then add the penalty of death by being hit with rocks, and then add that the child birth during this time was risky business.
After the birth of Christ Joseph was told to “take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Matthew 2.13, MSG). King Herod, after being deceived by the Wise Men ordered the massacre of every male child under the age of two who lived in the areas surrounding Bethlehem, fearful that the birth of the Messiah would lead to the rising of an army and the overthrow of Herod’s rule.
My mentor and former pastor Jason Micheli reminds us that the holy night when Christ was born darkness was everywhere. And that darkness was trying to overcome the light.
(darkness because of) The sound of boots stamping down the dusty roads
(darkness because of) The sound of doors being knocked on and kicked down
(darkness because of) The scraping sound of metal on metal as swords are unsheathed
(darkness because of) The chaotic sounds of orders being shouted
(darkness as) fathers (are) shoved aside
(darkness as) mothers (are) gasping
(darkness as) babies (are) being taken.
In each of these instances the actors involved could have been frozen by their fear. They could’ve chosen to believe in the darkness. Mary could have wavered in her devotion as a servant of God, and the Wise Men and Joseph could have stumbled and led Herod right to the infant Messiah almost certainly resulting in Christ’s death.
But they didn’t allow the darkness to take control of them. The darkness that replaced the light was not allowed to remain. They did not allow the darkness to dictate how they were going to live their lives as servants of God.
God was present in Christ and could have chosen to be born into a stately royal family, not worried about impending ridicule of His mother or threats of death from a jealous king. Instead God chose to be born into the most dark of situations, and chose to lead those who served willingly to the call of God.
There are a lot of voices lately telling us to be afraid. To believe in the dark.
When we fear people on the other side of the world who are seeking refuge, just as Jesus’ parents did, from war, murder, and rape, we believe in the dark more than we believe in the light.
When we fear people who look different from us, we’re believing in the dark. Not the light.
Maybe it’s good you’re all here tonight, even if you didn’t want to be. The world could certainly use a few more people who’re ready to believe in the light, to follow Christ who tells us on Easter morning not to be afraid. There are already more than enough people who believe in the dark more.
I mean - Just last week, FEMA gave a security webinar for churches preparing for large crowds on Christmas Eve. One recommendation was that church greeters, the nice women and men who greeted you at the door with a “good evening” or “Merry Christmas” tonight, could give everyone attending worship a hug. This hug was not intended for welcoming or an embracing of other sisters and brother in Christ but rather for patting down everyone in attendance.
And in Alabama a bill was introduced to allow churches to hire police officers, not off-duty police officers but rather their own church employees who would have the same power and authority as municipal police officers. A director within the FBI even suggested that churches encourage those in worship to throw Bibles at would be attackers.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what all the voices of fear, all those who believe in the darkness get right is: we do not know what will happen tomorrow. We do not know what will happen next week or next year. I can’t even tell you what will happen later tonight. An uncertain future can be scary.
And that lack of knowledge about what is to come has some of us gripped into a UFC style choke hold that we cannot seem to wrestle free from.
But that’s exactly what makes the nativity story, which we’ve turned into family friendly pageant, inspiring paintings, and toe-tapping songs was and still is one of the most dangerous stories we read about in the Bible.
Because into a world just as if not more frightening and dark than our own God took flesh, was born of Mary, the light, as John says, shone in the darkness.
God did not allow the fear that came with a scandalous teenage pregnancy to cast darkness onto the Good News. And God did not allow the darkness that came with Herod’s massacre of the innocents block out the Light that had been born.
Author and pastor Brian McLaren said that the birth of Christ “signals the beginning of the end for the dark night of fear” and signaled “a new way” and “a new understanding”.
When we discover the world with what McLaren describes a “childlike wonder”4 we are able to see not only a new world around us but then we can begin to see the light of Christ in the world.
And just like God covenanted with Abraham and Sarah, Noah,Moses, and David God has made a new covenant with us through the birth of the Christ Child. There is nowhere we can go that God will not be there with us. There is no experience we will have where God is not right there with us. And there is not darkness that we might experience where the light will not be right beside us casting it out.
Through Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection God has entered into our lives, experiencing the fullness of life alongside us. The joy, the pain, the excitement, and yes even the fear that come with the dark. Christmas is an opportunity for us to “rethink everything” and to allow the Light that was born on that perilous night to shine bright in our lives and in our community.
Tonight we celebrate the “dawning of the Light”. John tells us that the light shines in the darkness, and that the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1.5, NRSV). Maybe given all the fear out there and in us lately, maybe given how much easier it’s gotten for us to believe in the darkness maybe what the world needs most is people, a people, who believe not just that in the manger the light of God came but that in Jesus, in his way of life is a light- if dare to let it shine- that not even darkness can overcome.