Christmas Eve (A)
December 24, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When it comes to the Christmas Season and its traditions, each of you enjoy something different. For some, Christmas is about rigging up the lights or TV specials. For others, it’s sending Christmas cards or gathering with your family. My family enjoys a steady stream Christmas music from old classics to new favorites. Most of the songs proclaim that it’s the happiest season of all, but not all of them. Rudolph is a bullied, handicapped reindeer. Frosty befriends some children and then melts away. On the more serious side, I’ll be Home for Christmas, written during the height of World War II, ends with the person being home “only in my dreams”. Blue Christmas and Last Christmas are about heartbreak and loneliness. And Christmas Shoes, a true tearjerker, is about a little boy buying a special present for his dying mother. These songs resonate with people because they’re catchy but also because sometimes the words echo their thoughts and feelings. Do the sad songs speak the truth to you? Do the songs and the emotions they bring to the surface make this dark night even darker?
Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” While Isaiah is announcing good news, he’s also acknowledging the reality of the Darkness. Not physical darkness, something worse, a spiritual, emotional, or mental Darkness that blinds us, a Darkness that’s impenetrable and never-ending, and one that isn’t imaginary or just in our heads. The Darkness is real, powerful and persistent and it’s not something that’ll go away if we just ignore it. The worst thing about the Darkness is that Satan is the Evil One behind it and he has list of ways to keep you in the dark.
I wasn’t totally kidding when I lumped Rudolph in with the sad Christmas songs. I was bullied severely as a kid and I know what it’s like to not have the friends you desperately want. Are some of you kids experiencing the pain of Rudolph? Are some of you adults experiencing the Rudolph’s pain? Let’s face it, real life seldom ends with the victim suddenly playing the hero, and bullies don’t often change their ways. So, to be a Rudolph, or one of the other Misfit toys, who is lonely, bullied, or friendless is to sit in the Dark.
I hope you haven’t been bullied, or aren’t being bullied, but there are still plenty of other events that bring on the Darkness. Divorce casts a shadow on the lives of couples, children, and their extended families. The guilt of a past abortion dims the holiday mood. Stressed out parents bickering or yelling at their children bring gloom to the joyous season. Halls aren’t decked with boughs of holly when families are separated or when people are home only in their dreams. And there’s not a lot of Fa la la’s when finances are tight and the bills aren’t paid.
I certainly didn’t need the reminder, but after spending time at the hospital the last few days, I once again saw the merriment of the Christmas season darkened by the stress and sorrow over a sick and hurting loved one. It’s an unfortunate truth that cancer, dementia, and pain don’t take Christmas vacations. And when those illnesses turn to death, the holidays become a dark time, at least partially, anyway. It’s the same darkness that also comes with the heartache of a miscarriage or a deceased child.
Satan’s greatest weapon for keeping us in the dark though is Sin; the Sin which permeates all of our lives. He loves the Darkness that falls over us when the sins of others are inflicted upon us. When we’re used and abused, when we’re forced to endure the despicable behavior and hatred of others, the Darkness that comes over us can seem inescapable. And when he entices us to commit a sin, when we’re the ones with despicable behavior and hatred, we’re in the shadows, especially when we try to rationalize our sins, minimize them, or enjoy and repeat them. He loves it too when we know what we’re doing, when we commit that hated sin, and then when we’re overpowered by the blackness of guilt and regret. The darkness of Sin is truly the blackest.
The darkness of Sin, of the sorrows of life, of the hardships of existence bring on a pain that is especially hard at Christmas. Sorrow, grief, loneliness, anger, regret, they all extinguish the lights of the joyous season. So maybe you avoid anything to do with Christmas; songs, trees, lights or parties. Or maybe instead of avoiding Christmas, you do everything Christmassy, all the while faking the smiles and the laughter. The Darkness can seem unrelenting and unending, but I assure you that it isn’t, because the Light has come.
You have walked in the Darkness, many of you feel like you still do, but in the Savior born this day in the city of David, you will find the Light that dispels the athe horrible Darkness. Saint John puts it this way, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” He is the Light of the World and He has come to give you hope and life and peace. The Darkness of Sin and the Devil, the Darkness of Sorrow and Pain are put to flight by the Light that shines in the darkened stable.
When Isaiah says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”, he is saying that this Child is born and given to you! The Child isn’t given in some general way, nor is the Child given for some and not for others. But this Child, this Son of God, is yours! You can look upon His face and know that it’s true; hope and help have come to you.
Isaiah wrote his words about 700 years before the first, incredible Christmas. But he wrote them as if they had already happened. The Light wasn’t just coming, it had come. The Darkness wasn’t going to be dispelled, it was dispelled. So, whatever God has promised you is as good as done. The Light has come to dispel your darkness! His peace isn’t just coming, it’s come! Your hope isn’t on the way, it’s here! The peace of which the angels sang is yours now.
The Light comes to you as this Holy Child and He bears such wonderful names that tell you who He is for you. Isaiah says, “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the Counselor because He speaks His Word to you, and when He speaks, the promises are real and really for you. The Lord says to you, “I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” The Darkness won’t stand before the Eternal Light of God. Yes, there is darkness in your lives now, we can’t pretend it isn’t there, but God will lead you out of it. He is the Mighty God who can and will deliver you. He is the Everlasting Father who loves you an Everlasting Love, and you can trust Him to comfort you and dry your tears. He is the Prince of Peace of whom the angels sang. “Peace on the earth, good will to men, From heaven’s all gracious King.” This peace is between you and God so you can be sure that He is with you in the dark times. You may not see Him, but He sees you. Santa supposedly knows when you are sleeping and when you are awake, but he can’t do anything for you. God though, He can and will.
You can be sure that He is with you and that He will scatter the darkness and break the gloom because Isaiah says, “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” He’s so zealous that He does whatever’s necessary to bring you out of the darkness; to give you hope in your grief, addiction, despair, fear, and anxiety. In Psalm 34 we’re promised, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
His zeal to bring you out of the darkness and into the Light would even take Him to the cross so that He would feel your pain. He suffered your depression, sadness, loneliness. He took into His body the Darkness of guilt, regret, and fear that threatens to overwhelm you. The Darkness of that first Good Friday extinguished the Light of Christ, but it was only for a moment and by enduring the Darkness our Lord will lead you out of it. In the Darkness of midday and in the Darkness of the tomb He did what He was born to do – to save you from the Darkness of Sin, Death, Despair, or whatever else wraps you up in its black shroud.
In the darkness of ancient Israel, Isaiah, as a messenger of God, spoke of the coming of the Holy Child which brought Light and hope. In the darkness of a midnight clear, the angels as messengers of God proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Savior laying in a manger, no crib for a bed. And in the darkness of Christmas 2016, I, as a messenger of God, tell you that beneath your heavy load, as you are bent low by care and guilt, as you toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow, you can look up for the Light of the World has dawned on you. That Light is Christ for you. But don’t just take my word for it, take His, for it is the God’s truth. You have lived in deep Darkness, but the Savior, Christ the Lord, has conquered it completely. The Darkness must give way to the Light because the Holy Child is Light which has been given to you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen