Christmas Eve 2006
Tonight we celebrate Christmas Eve with a “service of light”. We light candles, especially that white Christ candle in the center of the advent wreath.
Later in the service, we will all hold a lighted candle and sing “Silent Night”, which includes the line, “Son of God, love’s pure light”. So many of our other Christmas hymns mention light somehow too. “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light”, “Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light”, “Light and Life to all he brings”, etc. etc…
Most of our homes have some sort of Christmas lights up for decoration. Sometimes we even drive through certain neighborhoods known for elaborate Christmas light displays. Christmas and light seem to go together.
Light is one of the foundational symbols of the Christian faith. Scripture begins and ends with light. God’s first recorded words, “Let there be light” open up the creation account, just as Revelation closes with the promise that there will be no more night in Heaven, for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb shall be our light.
Light also stands for all that is good and right and holy, as opposed to darkness, which stands for all that is sinful and evil and to be feared.
Jesus called himself the “Light of the World”. And in our Nicene Creed we confess him as God of God, Light of Light. For all the good things that light stands for, Jesus fulfills them most perfectly. He is the light in the midst of the darkness.
Just a few days ago, meteorologists reminded us of the Winter Solstice – the “shortest day” of the year. Only 9 hours of daylight on December 21st. But from that day on, the hours of daylight have been getting longer. Is it any coincidence the ancient church chose this time of year, in which the “light begins returning” to celebrate the arrival of the true light of the world, Jesus Christ, and his birth in Bethlehem? The truth is we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, whether December 25th or some other day. But the when isn’t nearly as important as the what and the why and the who. Jesus, the Light of the World, was born to dispel the darkness of sin – of our sin.
It was a dark time, when Jesus was born. Luke records how Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of the Roman Emperor’s decree. Roman rule was a burden on the faithful people of God, who chaffed at the Romans’ pagan religion and totalitarian regime. The Jews longed for the days of King David, when they governed themselves, no answering to some foreigners. They longed for a Messiah to save them from such tyranny. And though the light had come, he came to deliver from a different kind of darkness.
As we go about our Christmas celebrations, the darkness is never far, is it? The darkness of strained family relationships. The darkness of the stressful demands on our time. The darkness of a loneliness in this supposed happiest time of the year. The darkness of guilt looking back on a year full of mistakes. The darkness. The lurking knowledge that even though it seems like the rest of the world is all smiles and candy-canes, it’s a thin veneer that is easily shattered.
It was a dark time, in the Judean night, as the shepherds went about their business. Watching over the flocks, protecting them from predators and thieves, it was business as usual for those ancient sheep-herders. Until light broke into their night. “The glory of the Lord” shone, or shined, around the angels. And the light they could see was overshadowed by the light that they heard – the message of the angels, “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.
But the greatest light the Shepherds saw that night was not the angelic choirs singing God’s praises. The greatest light was a baby wrapped up and lying in a manger. The light that had dawned on this world now in human form.
Light. Heavenly light. Light which would be seen more clearly by three disciples gathered on a mountaintop. There the Light of the World would pull back the veil on his true nature, and they would glimpse the glory hidden beneath. There Jesus was transfigured, and he shined like flashing lightning.
The Light the darkness sought to snuff out. In the dark of the night, in Dark Gethsemane, was the hour of the powers of darkness. They arrested him, brought him to illegal trial under cover of darkness, and at break of dawn he was already on the way to the cross. And as he hung, suffering, dying, even the sun itself stopped giving light. Then the darkness of death took hold.
But such light the darkness cannot contain. For at the dawn of Easter morn, the Light of the World broke forth from the darkness of death, shattering the powers of evil, sin and death itself. Much as his birth into the dark Judean night gave hope and peace, so also his resurrection took away the fear of all the darkness – even of death itself.
Those shepherds who had heard and seen and been so enlightened, they did what we all do when we see the light. They rejoiced. The praised God. And they shared the light. They went and told all who would hear what they saw and heard. So too, when disciples of Jesus saw him raised from the dead, they shared the light of his salvation – preaching, teaching, witnessing. So too, do we, his modern disciples, share the light as we have opportunity. We speak by word and by example to those still in the darkness, pointing to the light, the True Light, the Light of Lights, our Lord Jesus.
Tonight we light our candles, and pass the light from one to the other, in much the same way Christians share the light and love of Christ with each other and with the world. It will all start with the Christ candle, for he is always the source of our light. And though these candles will soon be extinguished as we go on our way, we know the true light can never be snuffed out. His light is eternal. His love never ends.
Light. In all the Christmas lights and candles we see this season, may we see reminders of the True Light, Jesus Christ, who has come to chase away the darkness of sin, and bring us into his light for eternity. And may we share that light until the day that we all shine like stars in his heavenly presence forever.