In our worship service last night I talked about our need for Christmas. The earliest Christians understood this intuitively. That’s one of the reasons behind our celebrations on Dec. 25th. The darkness had continued until it threatened to obscure the day itself. The longest night of the year, the winter solstice on Dec. 21, meant darkness had gotten to its breaking point. And some of these earliest Christians date Jesus’ birth to this window. Jesus birth marked the return of light. From this point on, the light gets longer, the power of darkness gets shorter.
This seems important – because you see, if the world was all wonderful and perfect, full of joy and light – then we wouldn’t need Christmas. If each one of us always were loving and kind, if we never betrayed each other, or lashed out in fear or anger; then… we wouldn’t need Christmas.
Christmas comes precisely because of the darkness all around us. I suspect that’s why you’re here tonight. Because you need light. You need good news. You want to hear news of comfort and joy!
Because some of relationships are estranged – there’s a darkness in our homes; Because some of us are tasting the bitterness of disappointment. This year wasn’t what we hoped.
Because some of us got far more bad news than we did good. Because we can sense the whisper of mortality in our ears; Because we wonder if the world will ever be at peace; and whether our children will be okay;
Because there is darkness.
John writing his gospel alone on the island of Patmos, said, “The light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.”
What a powerful imagery. On one of the longest nights on earth –or all right, in the northern hemisphere – when you don’t think the darkness of night could get any thicker or darker, a single light comes in. Cutting it in two.
“All the darkeness in the world can’t extinguish the light of just one candle.” As St. Francis of Assisi wrote.
No. I suspect you come here tonight in part to remember that in the blackest of nights, a light shines so clear and steady and true that even all of the darkness in the world can’t hold it back.
This was the defining story of Christianity. That Jesus Christ, the light of God has come into the world and pushed back the darkness. That he came to show us the way to love – he showed us what it looks like to love well, to bless others, to forgive and to trust and to have courage.
He showed us that we’re not alone – that God is invested in the world. That God knows us and loves us by name and sent us to love our neighbors. This was the defining story of the early church told: The light of God has come and is right now pushing back the darkness. The darkness will not prevail against it!
This sure confidence that the God of justice, mercy, truth and grace was going to prevail from north to south and from east to west was so real, so palpable to them that they build their entire lives around that message. The Kingdom of God has come!
And in response to Jesus message, they began in their own way to push back the darkness as well. They shared what they had with those in need, they forgave others, they walked in the way of peace that Jesus walked. In this way the light that entered the world in the small village of Bethlehem started to shine from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, to Rome, and Corinth, to the entire known world.
There’s all sorts of ways you and I can begin pushing the darkness. We can start by forgiving that person we’ve been begrudging; or turning to the one next to us at dinner and saying, “I’m sorry. I’ve been neglecting you.” It starts just that small. It can be wild, and wonderful and even sometimes wacky.
I closed the Christmas eve sermon last night with one such wacky example. Matt Harding has traveled the world asking people to join him in...wait for it...dancing. Yep. No big program to eliminate poverty, or train new teachers, or evangelize the people. “Just dance with me!” But I have to say, this dancing thing is powerful. The world seems more connected. The macro problems seem like they are discussions seeking common solutions rather than face-offs between enemies. And, see what you think, but I feel just a little bit more light.