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Sermon: Christmas Eve

December 22, 2011

There is only time for a short meditation on Luke 2:1-20.  This is it.  I have rarely, if ever, preached an acceptable Christmas Eve sermon.

Luke 2:1-20

Have you ever considered how our celebration of Christmas would be different if the shepherds had been hiding from the midday sun in the shade of a tree when the angels announced the birth of Jesus Christ?  There would be no Christmas Eve candlelight services.  There would be deep and dreamless sleep in Bethlehem, no “Silent Night.”

But as Luke tells it, the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night.  That is when the angel of the Lord stood before them.  It was in the middle of the night when the glory of the Lord blazed out on the fields and the terrified shepherds and the wandering sheep.  At night.  That is when the first birth announcement of that strange child, unusual from the beginning, was delivered to the world, though, frankly, the shepherds could hardly have qualified as the world.  The shepherds received the news of Jesus’ birth at night, and that fact has shaped our theology and celebration of Christmas.

I like the dark.  When I wake up in the middle of the night, say to get a drink of water from the kitchen, I like to leave the lights off.  I get up out of bed and walk out of my bedroom in the dark, walk down the hall in the dark, get a glass from the cupboard in the dark, fill it from the sink and drink in the dark.  Then I go back to bed without ever turning a light on. The darkness feels like a big, cozy blanket surrounding me.  I also like to think of myself as a sort of super ninja creeping around at night.

But that’s not always a good idea.  It wasn’t that long ago that we had a young granddaughter living with us, and she has toys, toys that would sometimes get left in the middle of the hallway.  More than once, in the dark, I have stepped on Cayden’s toys—never the soft ones, of course; only the hard, plastic ones with jagged edges.  And not everyone in my house is as dedicated to keeping the dishwasher door closed as I am.  Sometimes it is left completely open, about shin high.  More than once, in the dark, I have gone to get a glass from the cupboard and cracked my shin against the open dishwasher door.  And, of course, there are door jambs in my house.  More than once, in the dark, I have misjudged the position of those door jambs and made a vertical face plant into a door jamb.  I am not a super ninja.  I could use one of those flashlights John gave to the kids.

I like the dark.  I enjoy sitting quietly in the dark.  God made the dark.  But there are times that the light is very useful.  As John shared, light points the way, it reveals the path, it highlights dangerous obstacles and pointy toys.

It was in the dark of night that some shepherds were watching the flocks.  The glory of the Lord blazed forth around them to point the way.  “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

The light blazed in the darkness, and the darkness could never overcome it, not even when the light was contained in the filth of an animal’s feeding trough.  The light doesn’t come to us because the darkness is bad, but because we don’t have eyes to see without the light.  The light of God shows us there is a path that isn’t fraught with the perils of toys, dishwasher doors and door jambs.  It is light that reveals there is true love in this world, a way to live unselfishly, a way to live in peace with our neighbors.  The light of Christ has come into this world to give light to another path, one less traveled.

John has reminded us that we, too, can bear that light to the world.  Those flashlights are signs to us that we have within us the capacity to share the news of Christ’s love and light.  But the only way that can happen is if the light has first found a home within us, within our hearts.

My prayer for you is that the magic and mystery of this night will kindle that light in your heart, that the glory of the Lord will shine in the depths of your very being so that when anyone sees you they will understand that the light in you points out the path to the manger.  In that manger can be found the love of God made real for us, God’s great sign that we are loved and favored by the One who created us.

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace toward all people!  May you have a very holy Christmas, infused with all the light of God’s love.

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