Beauty is a norm for us at St. Paul’s - it’s just what we do, and we do it well. In some way on a daily basis - year after year - we, as a parish, have brought care to the beauty of our space, the beauty of our worship - and beyond to the beauty of our community and the world we live in. Christmas is one of the times when we really pull out all the stops - and I know many (if not most) of us do so in our homes as well. The crèche, the flowers, the tree, and more… the familiar music, the carols, the choir, the best vestments the sacristy can provide… We bring our very best to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.
Yet once again this year - I find that what really holds my attention on this day (as it has year after year), is not so much the beauty of the Christmas story, but the fact that the events of Jesus’ birth are not actually all that lovely.
For the real, live, flesh and blood holy family – it must have all been very, deeply, messily, human.
While we do, indeed, have lots of warm, comforting memories and feelings associated with beautiful images of the Nativity, the beauty of the actual story lies entirely in the fact that this remarkable event happened in the midst of the messiness of humanity – politics and greed and oppression… a long, no doubt exhausting journey for a very young, very pregnant woman… an overcrowded town… surrounded by strangers (I’ve often wondered if the innkeeper sent other people to that stable as well)… livestock and feed and manure…
The only reason we continue to talk about and cherish this lovely-messy story, is because in the midst of all that – there came God’s Word: “Let there be light.” And there was Light. The Light of Christ.
The light shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not overcome it.
For many of us this year has been especially dark and messy. We have all experienced the impacts of living in a global pandemic. I’m sure most of us know someone who has been ill or who has died from COVID-19.
Other challenges in our lives have also continued unabated - often made still more difficult by the restrictions of the pandemic, and often intensified even further by the isolation it imposes on us. Loss and grief and anxiety have been painfully common elements of our lives this year.
When I met with my confessor this week – we talked about the importance of looking squarely at the darkness in our lives – because it is really when we look at it and acknowledge it fully, that the light begins to shine there and dispel the darkness.
The Light shines in the darkness.
The Light of the world – the Savior of humankind – is born among strangers, and laid in a manger. The glory of the Lord – the angelic messenger – comes in the middle of a field at night – to ordinary working people, to shepherds and to sheep.
And we are reminded of the words of the prophet –
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. Here, now - among the shortest days, the longest nights of the year – the Light comes, to people who walk in darkness. Whatever that darkness may be – sickness or sadness; loss, anxiety; grief and sorrow; pain and doubt…
To wrestle with the darkness of life is one of the most human things there is. Life is always mixed – joy and sorrow; easy times and hard times; …light and darkness…
The Word of God takes up all this – takes it upon himself, takes up ourm difficulties, our pain, our sadness – the Word made flesh takes all the awkwardness and messiness of being human and redeems it – and turns it to light.
We gather today with joy and wonder to offer our prayers of praise and thanksgiving that the Lord of Light came among us as a human child.
The Light shines in the Word made flesh – in a person.
The light shines in people.
Meister Eckhart at the turn of the 14th century preached – “Here in time we celebrate holy day because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature.
Saint Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me.” What matters is that it shall happen in me.
The Light came in the darkness of Bethlehem under Roman rule – over 2000 years ago. And in this season, we look forward to His coming again.
In the meantime…
It is our task, our calling, as faithful witnesses of the Incarnation – to bear witness to that Light as it shines day after day – Amid the darkness of global pandemic; In our own daily moments of darkness; And in the many unexpected places and people in whom Christ is made known to us. What matters is that it shall happen in me – and in you, and you…
It is our calling to go from this gathering - to reach out and to bear this Light to the world in which we live – and to be ready (as we practice during the season of Advent), to be ready to see that Light shine in others – especially in the most unexpected places.
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.
Let there be light.
The Light of Christ.