Christmas Eve Meditation
Maybe more than any other worship service throughout the year, I struggle with this one the most. Not because I don’t like this service. It’s just the opposite. I love this service—singing the Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story, lighting the Christ candle, and of course passing the light to one another as we sing Silent Night preparing ourselves to carry the light out into the darkness of the night. I love seeing you—each of you—on this evening. The excitement and joy; the anticipation and hope; the warmth and love radiating from your faces—it is simply palpable. I love that we gather on this Holy Night as a community to affirm our faith and celebrate the birth of one whose life and light continues to change our lives and the world. Yes, I love this service. And yet, I struggle with it. I struggle because it feels so very difficult to find the words to reach the depth of meaning that this night holds. Who can articulate the mystery of this night? Who can adequately explain why this night feels different from any other night? What message could I or anyone else come up with that could be any more important than: “For unto us a child is born. His name shall be Emmanuel, which means, God with us.”? God with us—what an amazing thought and reality! Trying to say anything more on this night feels like a paradox: there is nothing more to say than those words, “for unto us a child is born” and yet there is so much to say. I simply want to share one brief thought with you tonight. Not to say more but rather to try and honor the meaning of this night.
As you know, this past Tuesday was the darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. There are more hours of night on the winter solstice than on any other day in the year. And this year, in a rare coincidence, the shadow of the earth blotted out even the light from the full moon for a time. We wait out the dark of winter, looking forward to decreasing darkness as we move toward spring. But for many in this world, the waiting in the dark goes on and on. In more ways than one, we are a people waiting in darkness. You know the litany: wars rage on; people all over the world are homeless and starving to death; in our country many remain out of work unable to provide for their families; and the list goes on. Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ birth, saying, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” But you and I both know that the darkness never totally goes away—it isn’t ever going to totally disappear. No matter how much light there is, there will always be darkness. That is why John’s gospel is so important for us to hear on this holy night. John says that, “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” It is such a hopeful and relevant word for our times.
It would be easy for us to gather on this “feel good” night and pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist, if but just for this night. We could ignore the realities not only of our story but of this Christmas story. We could pretend that Mary and Joseph were not two teenagers scared to death. We can romanticize the stable where Mary gave birth and the cow trough baby bed and ignore that still today there is “no room in the inn” for so many people. We can write Herod out of the story and forget about all the powers and principalities that promote fear and hate and injustice. Yes, we can pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist on this holy night. But we would simply be pretending, because the darkness never totally goes away. No matter how much light there is.
So, on this evening, we have to surrender to the fact that there is darkness, and get to the real question – how do we receive the light and give witness to this light for all people? Hear again the words of John’s gospel, words that name the true depth of the meaning of this night: “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Can you imagine how dark that night must have felt to Mary and Joseph as they gave birth to their baby in a stable? And yet, through the grace of God, these two frightened teens made a safe place to welcome the light of a child, the light of hope, the light of the world. They gave birth to a light so bright that it emboldens us to know that the light is just as persistent, just as enduring, just as powerful as the darkness. “The light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”
“For unto us a child is born. His name shall be Emmanuel, which means, God with us.” This child that we welcome into the world tonight would later say to us, “You are the light of the world…No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it give light to all in the house.” We honor Christ’s birth by allowing our light to give light to all people. Whether on the darkest night of the year or in the darkest hour of one’s soul there is a light that is not ever overcome by the darkness. Tonight, we welcome that light into our world.