The following reflection was given this evening at Saugatuck Congregational Church‘s 9pm service. There were several “lessons” read at this service, you can read them here:
A Christmas Eve Reflection
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah says.
For those living in the bleakest darkness, under the very shadow of death, a light has suddenly burst forth to shine upon them.
John tells us that this light has always existed.
That in fact, this light is the very reason why everything else exists, even if we don’t always recognize it.
It is the light that has shone through every story ever told throughout all of history. Even if we don’t always recognize it.
In the ancient Roman province of Palestine, the story goes, a seemingly ordinary young family was forced by a new law to travel to the city of Bethlehem and register for a census.
“Beth Lehem,” in Hebrew, means “House of Bread.”
Its a name that comes from the story of two women, Ruth and Naomi, who sought refuge in this little town after their families had died and they had no means to support themselves.
Faced with the prospect of starvation, they instead found bread. And not just bread, they also found the welcome of a new family and a new home. In the middle of their darkest night a light suddenly shone upon them.
And it is from that new family, the book of Ruth tells us, that there emerged the line of Israel’s most famous king, David.
And it is that same family, the Gospel of Luke tells us, that took this long, dark journey back to Bethlehem. This same family that found themselves again without a home, forced instead to sleep in the darkness of a stable out back of the inn. This same family unto whom a child was born in that darkness.
A child who was the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome this light.
Most people didn’t notice this new arrival. There was no family sitting in the waiting room with balloons to celebrate. Even at the inn most people wouldn’t have known what was happening in the stable out back.
“The light was in the world, but the world didn’t recognize the light,” John says.
The darkness was still all most of us could see.
But in a field nearby there was a group of shepherds, shepherds like King David had been before he was king. And just as God had chosen to elevate a lowly shepherd then, now God chooses to work through shepherds once again.
And so there suddenly appeared an angel, and “The Lord’s glory shone around them.” There was no mistaking that light, and in it they found a sense of deep longing. This angel promise peace, brought hope, spoke of great joy and love. And so they went to see where this child was of whom the angels spoke and sang.
As John puts it:
“The Word,” the light, “became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Glory full of grace and truth. Peace, hope, joy, love. That is what this light brings.
But apart from these shepherds, who welcomed the light? Who welcomed this baby lying in a manger?
No one, it would seem. It would be another two or three years before the magi showed up. It was only these shepherds who recognized the light for what it was.
“But for those who did welcome him,” John writes, “those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children.”
Eventually, the word spread. The news got out. It spread throughout the whole region first, and the crowds began to come. Then it spread across the empire, and transformed a whole civilization. Then it spread across the world, eventually reaching us here tonight: There is hope here, there is peace here, there is joy, there is love! The light has appeared, we have seen it!
“The true light that shines on all people,” it has finally come into the world. It is here, at last, the wait is over! Will you welcome it? Will you be like the shepherds and rejoice?
“The word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory,” we have seen the light that shines in the darkness, the light that breaks through the shadow of death itself and cannot be overcome. The light that is “full of grace and truth,” the light that brings hope, peace, joy, and love. That light is here tonight!
May we be those who recognize it, those who welcome it, those who become the children of God. Amen.