Christmas Day 2014
Eternal God, who sent your Word into this world to share your love and peace, Grant us grateful hearts and passionate souls that we may share your good news and word, through your holy and everlasting name. Amen.
You know the sensation, the fumbling in the dark, using only your fingers to feel for the familiar forms... the scraping noise... the moment the match lights up with the beginnings of fire... the haste to light the candle well and fully before the match is consumed and as your fingers feel the heat of combustion creeping closer. Bringing forth light in this world. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
The fascination in the scriptures with the dichotomy of light and dark has a profound influence on our theology. Through metaphor, imagery, and explanation, we use light and dark to make sense of the inner spiritual realms as well as the world around us. We still light candles in church, even though they are not our main source of light anymore. There is something powerful about the way light is created, flickers, dances, from a candle that speaks to our history and traditions. Candles focus the light, like spotlights, onto the main focus, be it the altar, the gospel, or the cross.
The beginning of John's gospel recalls the beginning, Genesis, where "In the beginning when God created." It was in the darkness of chaos, as the priestly writers of Genesis say, that God first brought light. In the Hebrew tradition, this is when the Word, which was in God and was God, was spoken and came into action. In ancient times, agreements were not written down, everything was done by word of honor. In Hebrew, daber, which means word, speak, also means thing. The connection is deep between what is spoken and done. Words shape reality.
We all know words share our realities in many ways. Just think of the power of I love you, or thank you, or I never want to see you again. Many times we use our word power in ways that contribute to the darkness of the world. In words of anger, pain, hate, indifference. These words create darkness. In our minds, or in the minds of others. And we all have things that frighten us about the darkness. Perhaps the literal darkness, perhaps the metaphorical. Not knowing what is going on or what is happening, what might happen. The darkness of depression or anxiety, worry about family members, about the country, about the environment, about the children, or those who walk the streets, or our world leaders. The evil that happens around us in forms of abuse, neglect, hate, and fear. We face darkness in so many places in our lives. Yet, there are always cracks. Cracks in the dark where light shines through. Sometimes we cannot see the light, we are facing in the wrong direction as it were. We need John to stand and point in the correct direction so that we can see the light, and not just the shadows. Sometimes the light is as small as a tea candle in a window. Sometimes it is as big and bright as the Rockefeller Tree, sometime as simple as a smile, or elaborate as a surprise party. But nothing can stop the true light of the universe from breaking in.
The birth of one so holy in the presence of a world so sinful is hope - hope for true meaning - hope that love, despite our attempts to mold it to our own devices, is stronger than all else. This hope allows us to trust God, trust ourselves, and trust each other. Through the action of sending his son, through this great love, God has proclaimed us His children. As his children, we are cared for, loved, protected, and comforted.
As God's children, we still battle the forces of evil in this world. It is ourselves that we are mostly battling. The greed, selfishness, pride, shame, guilt, that we carry. For most people, a baby strips us of all that.
At any party the person who has the greatest following is the baby that shows up in its parent's arms, because it couldn't be left behind. Most people want to say hi, to give a pat or hold the hand for a little bit, even hold the baby, willing to hang on to the preciousness that exists at the start of life, willing to walk that person to sleep. Babies demand our attention, a response. I do not know anyone that is indifferent to babies. Love them, hate them, I don't know anyone who is indifferent. They rely solely on us. To think of God, in a position of relying solely on the care of a few human beings.
What a position of power and knowledge for humanity. That God trusts us enough, despite all the horrors of this world, to come here as a baby. To be born, helpless and needy. Such are we. We remember this birth for so many reasons. We look forward to his wise teachings, his grace, truth, love, compassion, and response to us in our positions of helplessness and neediness. We look forward to his death, which saves us from ourselves and our sin.
But at this moment, all we have is a baby. Full of possibility, full of vulnerability, full of neediness. Babies are relational beings. God is relational, in being, the father, the son, and the holy spirit, in relationship with each of us. Even light is relational, fire cannot exist without a substance reacting with oxygen. Lightbulbs are elements reacting with electricity. Its a relationship of change. Being in love is transformational, being in relationship with God is transformational. Holding a baby for an hour is transformational. (It may only make your arms tired, but if thats all you walk away with, I would be impressed.)
This is the light of one shining in the darkness. We are not alone in this darkness. We are not alone in our worlds of pain, shame, guilt, and greed. We have been given the light of the world. The greatest gift of Love.
In Bethlehem in Judea, there is a cathedral marking the remembered birthplace of Jesus. Below and behind the main altar there is a small staircase leading down to a small cave lit only by silver lamps. There is a silver star embedded in the floor surrounded by tapestry and candles, rejoicing in the birth of the King. Only oil lamps and candles are in this space, for thousands of years. Marking the entrance of just one instance of the light of Christ in this world.
When the darkness of the world and our own minds threaten to overcome us, remember that a little light goes a long way. Leonard Cohen sings, "there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." Or Professor Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light." Remember the baby, who demands all our love, and we are so happy to give, and rejoice. It doesn't matter how dark our world is this year, we know the light and the darkness cannot overcome it. And we do not rejoice alone, the "fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy." Rejoice! God is with us.