12-24-18 Christmas Eve Message - “Calm and Bright”
Throughout this Advent season, this season of waiting, of anticipating, we have explored the reason for the season through the lens of the song, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Each week, we looked at one verse of the song and how that verse shared the Christmas Gospel, the Christmas Good News, for those who would hear it. On week one, it was an exploration of peace, through verse one:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
Peace is the way of God, we discovered through the words of the prophet Isaiah, who warned that the way of war is the way of darkness, saying,
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…
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
And Isaiah prophesied that those who walk in the light, rather that in the darkness,
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
We remembered the Christmas truce that occurred on Christmas Eve, 1914, when, in the midst of World War I, German and British troops, hunkered down in their trenches in opposing battle lines, heard the other side singing, in their own language, “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright…” and joined in the singing. For a day, they put down their weapons, set aside their hostilities, came out of the darkness and exchanged greetings and gifts. Trading swords for plowshares, they shared in God’s great light, if for only a day.And with them, we learned that humanity is the holy infant for whom God so desires a heavenly peace, and that it IS possible to bring calm and bright to our own corners of this world.
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia"!
Christ, the Savior is born,
Christ, the Savior is born
In week two our journey was towards JOY.
And while that word, JOY, is not found in the second verse of the song, we shared how, when the “Glories stream from heaven afar,” and “heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia!” that that response IS the response of Joy to the light of God streaming with the Good News that “Christ the Savior is born.”
The passage from the gospel that week was of the angels proclaiming to the shepherds, “Look! I bring good news to you - wonderful, joyous news for all people.” That good news was that God had been born in flesh, in human flesh. And the good news didn’t stop there. That God chose to become one of us, even as God is one with us, is God’s good news message to us that our humanity is important, that our humanity matters - it matters in general and it matters specifically to God. More than just a birth announcement, this proclamation is a life announcement to those who hear it. When we know that God is present with us AND in us, then we can see glories streaming every day, if we have eyes to see. And when we live our lives through that lens of wonder and joy, we wonder how our lives might be renewed? How might our joy be made full? The incarnation, God in the flesh in Jesus Christ, says as much about who WE are as it does about who God is. Which leads us to verse 3.
Verse 3 LOVE
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
The presence of God in human form is the "dawn" of redeeming grace, says the hymn's third verse. Grace is God’s love for us and for all of creation. God IS love, and God is light. God so desired to be "up close and personal" that God came to live, breathe, feel, teach, touch, and love. Made in the image of God, we are called to nurture relationships that birth, multiply and radiate grace, God’s love, in the world.
And how do we do that, we asked in week 3? By following the teachings of Jesus. It’s not enough to simply “believe in” God, to “believe in” Jesus - even the demons did that, Jesus said. No, we are called to be followers, to be Christ’s light in the world, to be God’s hands and feet. God became one of us that we might know that God is with us, and has been with us since before Creation…In the beginning. On this night, the star, the songs, the lights, all invite us to ask, even to dream, what would the world be like if “love’s pure light” was at the center. Before it can be at the center of the world, it must become the center of our hearts and our lives.
Silent night! Holy night!
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
"Alleluia" to our King:
“Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born.”
The last verse of the hymn is what we would have shared in worship yesterday. This verse invites us to lift our voices in singing alleluias to the one who is "King."
This descriptor was more radical for the people of Jesus' time than it seems in our own, as it resisted the powers of empire that threatened "the least of these" that Jesus came to serve. Kings are largely meaningless to us today, in our western democracies, but to declare a non-royal as “king,” was to name them as a rival, an enemy. To declare Jesus as king, meant that Caesar was not. That was treasonous. To declare Jesus as Lord, another title used for Caesar, was again to proclaim an alternative loyalty, another act of treason.
So as we follow the star, the wondrous light as it’s called in the song, that led magi to this new king, we’re challenged to proclaim whether Christ as king, Christ as Lord, is just something we say when we’re in church, or if it’s how we live our lives. Are those words just something sprayed in glitter across the Christmas cards we mail to one another, or are they words that shape our life in such a way that our response is to sing with the angels, “Alleluia!” ?
That challenge is something we are directly confronted with in the aftermath of yesterday’s accident. Grace, love, living Christ-like lives are easy things to lift up in church, easy to proclaim in song, but much harder to carry out in real life when made more specific by events that cause injury, harm, and destruction.
Our first response in situations like the one we find ourselves in now can easily be one of anger, of finger-pointing and blaming. It requires no self-discipline, no self-restraint on our parts to begin casting “shouldas” all over the place. But we should be careful, lest we “shoulda” all over ourselves. I know that the bruises are still fresh, the abrasions still tender, the shock of the trauma still raw, but it was when his body hurt the most, when his emotions had been stripped to their last nerve, that Jesus the adult modeled grace and forgiveness for us.
He never cast blame on his betrayer, he never pointed fingers at his betrayer - on the contrary, he offered grace to them and to those who would hammer the nails into his hands and feet and forgiveness to the bearer of the spear that pierced his side. In the moments of his death, Christ modeled for us the love of God in human form. Is it possible for us, in the moment of his birth, to do the same?
We are reminded by this seemingly benign and sweet song that whenever there is injustice in this world, we are to look to the one whose power is love.
How might this increase our hope for the future? So, in our reading tonight, the Gospel writer Luke wants, I think, to make sure we realize that it is not just human flesh ‘in general’ that God takes on in Christ; it is our flesh - yours and mine. And it is not simply history ‘in general’ that God enters via this birth, it is our history and our very lives to which God is committed, not in some distant, hoped for future or afterlife, but here and now.
So if there is only one thing that we hear this Christmas Eve, perhaps it should be that this story of long ago is not only about angels and shepherds, a mother and her newborn. It’s also about us, all of us gathered amid the candles and readings, carols and prayers.It’s about us, gathered in the fellowship hall on metal folding chairs rather in the comfort of the sanctuary and our pews.As the crash occurred yesterday we were about to sing “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Now, I’m not suggesting that Jesus was behind the wheel of that Toyota yesterday, or that Jesus makes himself known in that way. But I do believe Jesus was present yesterday. That situation was bad, there’s no doubt about that, but it could have been so much worse. God was with us - all of us - as together we faced a situation that was unexpected and shocking to us. I will never doubt that God kept this ordeal from becoming a tragedy.
Two thousand years ago, God came at Christmas for us, that we might have hope and courage amid the dark and dangerous times and places of our lives.
This, in the end, regardless of the location, is why we gather, so that as God entered into time and history so long ago through the Word made flesh, God might also enter our lives here and now through the Word proclaimed in Scripture, song, and sermon. No wonder we grow quiet! We need a silent night in here.
Well it is a Silent Night, and most certainly a Holy Night. Thank God it is so. Amen.