December 24, 2017
Christmas Eve Special
Preached by Rev. George Yando on December 24, 2017.
More In The Manger Than Meets The Eye
It’s a pleasure to see you all here tonight. Gathered in this beautiful sanctuary, it’s easy to forget that many, many other people in this community, across the country and around the world will be gathering tonight in many different kinds of places, gathering tonight under circumstances far different from our own.
Tonight, some will gather with family in the glow of candles, and some will sit alone in the flicker of a television set.
Tonight, some will look around tables and be glad for the blessings of life, and some will look at family members who have hurt them and will likely do so again.
Tonight, some will have a glass of wine and stop, and some will continue drinking until this night ends the way most nights end.
Tonight, some will worship God in cheerful places, and some will taste the acid of their alienation from church or from God.
Tonight, some children will go to bed excited, and some will listen to the sounds of gunfire outside their homes or shouting just outside their bedrooms.
Tonight, some will turn off the lights of home in anticipation of a merry Christmas, and some will stand guard in the darkness far from home in anticipation of warfare’s unceasing mayhem.
Tonight, some will stay close to heart and hearth, and some will prowl the clubs and streets, looking for thrills or escape, a quick fix or acceptance.
It is necessary that we remember and do not forget all that is going on beyond the walls of this sanctuary. It is necessary that we know all that is going on. God surely knows. For it was this chasm in the human experience that Jesus came to redeem, this exile called loneliness, or addiction, or alienation, or warfare.
Jesus was light shining in the darkness, as the Gospel writer John put it. A Messiah sent to lead God’s people out of bondage and home across a fearsome desert, as Luke put it. A shepherd for the lost sheep, as Matthew put it.
Tonight we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Tonight we gather to remember that the birth of Jesus makes no sense apart from the darkness. There can be no true understanding of this moment, and no celebrating it, unless we see and remember the lost and lonely, the child crouching in terror, the soldier far from home, the trapped digging their pit deeper.
Tonight we gather to take a deep breath and prepare ourselves to relax and enjoy a time of gathering with family and friends, a time taken as reward for energetic efforts these past few weeks as we’ve made preparations for this annual event. But our seasonal bustle is simply madness unless we acknowledge the darkness we are trying to escape.
If we could listen in on Christmas prayers and hear what God hears, I think we would hear a mother’s cry, “Save my daughter or son from self-destruction!” We would hear the elderly begging companionship. We would hear adult children wishing they could be near dying parents. We would hear the clanking chains of injustice which drag down more lives than we realize. We would hear the desperation, the confusion, the fear that lie within modern religion’s trivial conflicts. We would hear a minister, a rabbi, a pastor, a priest sitting alone in the darkness with a thousand wounds, a thousand painful memories, a thousand cries of need, a thousand burdens unknown by anyone else and unshared, and we would see this individual searching for the right words, hoping that this year the light-hearted will listen, the smug will stop judging and the lost sheep will come home.
We would hear the organist practicing alone in a darkened chancel, playing fingers gently over the keyboard, searching for the right touch that will enable the faithful not to bellow “O come all ye faithful,” but to caress it, to feel it, to mean it.
None of this season makes any sense unless we can acknowledge the darkness and ourselves as “people who walk in darkness.” Jesus was light in the darkness, not a cheerleader for the pious. Jesus was light in the darkness, not a proud institution’s poster child. Jesus was light in the darkness, not a fussy dispenser of tidy rules and well-deserved rewards for those who keep them.
To a mother who sees her child walking in darkness, to a soldier standing guard in dangerous places and desperate times, to a lonely forgotten and fearful senior languishing in a tiny apartment of nursing home suite, to a child whose childhood has been savagely stripped away by abuse, to a father drowning in despair of ever being able to provide adequately for his family, to every one of us in that darkness which we hesitate to admit, Jesus was – and is today – that light which the darkness cannot vanquish.
If all we see and remember this night is a cute baby born into humble circumstances to be the reason for a season of shallow festivity and careless indifference to the reality of the real darkness in our lives and in our world, then we have missed the point. Jesus was born into a world of darkness to bring light and life, healing and hope. Jesus was – and is today – that light which the darkness cannot vanquish. Thanks be to God. Amen.