Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The People Who Walked in Darkness - A Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2013

Homily for Christmas Eve, 2013
Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
-Isaiah 9:2

Many have been in the dark in the days leading up to Christmas.  Ice has weighed down power lines. Branches and even the trunks of trees have snapped.  Many have sat in coldness and darkness, and yet wonderful stories of hope, of generosity, and of joy have emerged.  Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a sign given to us in all of this.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the darkness and cold might have awakened us to the insatiability of the consumerism of the season and the unrealistic expectations of family to be in two or three places at one time.  When the angels sing of peace on earth, for many, this may seem the least peaceful time of year.  For many, it is a time filled with pressures, with angst, with exhaustion.  The loss of power and heat, the loss of light and warmth, the snow blocking driveways and entrance ways, perhaps these are a sign to us to be still for a moment and seek the meaning and truth of a season somewhere else than malls and parties. 

Where shall we seek?  Where shall we look?  And where shall we go when our road is blocked and the way seems dark and cold?  The shepherds of old, on a cold, dark wintery night, in the quiet of the darkness heard the song of the angel, and they responded, “Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”  We may not be able to travel to the literal Bethlehem, but can we, ourselves, go even unto another very real Bethlehem and witness this thing which the Lord has done?  With lights out, with driveways blocked, can we yet go even unto Bethlehem?

In the days of the Prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel walked in darkness.  Perhaps they, too, felt as if their way was blocked. Perhaps they, too, felt a coldness and darkness that cut them through to the core.  For them, the darkness was the boots of tramping warriors.  For them the darkness was their loss of faith amidst oppression and corruption.  For them the darkness seemed unending.  But Isaiah reminds them that even the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Yes, even those who have dwelled in the land of deep darkness, upon them a light has shone.

For the people of Isaiah’s day, the hope came in the birth of a new heir – someone who would bring justice, righteousness, and peace. Although this child about whom Isaiah spoke was a king who predated Christ by about eight centuries, Isaiah’s words were also a prophetic utterance concerning another king who would come centuries later, and who, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is with us still.  The name of the king about whom Isaiah spoke to his contemporaries is lost to us, but the name of the one who ultimately fulfilled his prophecy is written on our hearts for ever and ever, and that name is Jesus Christ, our King and Lord—the one who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, heralded by angels, worshiped by shepherds, adored by magi. 

But in this present time, amid the stamping of feet in Christmas malls, and the reverie of Christmas parties, can we hear the angels’ song?  Can we hear the mother’s lullaby?  Can we hear the babe crying in the night in that cold, dark stable?    With all the clamour our ears become deaf.  With all the hysteria of “doing Christmas right” is it possible that the artificial warmth of our hearths will prevent us from receiving the Good News about which the angels sing? Or of making that journey even unto Bethlehem?

Then suddenly God acts in a surprising and unpredictable way. When the world is struck dark, when our artificial fires fail, when the way to the mall is blocked, we are given a special gift.  It is the gift of being able to gather with that small group of shepherds around that meagre fire, a fire that is soon paled by the warmth of the angelic apparition that fills the sky. Then, and only then, are our hearts prepared to make that trip to Bethlehem.  Then, and only then, are we able like the magi to leave riches, and opulence and the safety of our earthly palaces behind and  make the journey along desert road, our path illumined only by the light of a distant star.  In the darkness, with all light extinguished, we seek the light that never goes out.  In the cold night, we seek the warmth that cannot fail, along our snow-blocked, ice-laden paths, we seek the one whose way is ever open to us.

Oh how difficult it can be to see his light, perceive his warmth, travel his way, when other lights distract our eyes, other fires burn within us, and other roads seem to beckon down their paths.  These things become for us the meaning of life, they masquerade as the meaning of Christmas, they encourage us to rely on them to such an extent that we do not know what we shall do when they fail us. What can we do? Where may we go?

Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem!  No, not that distant war-torn place we see on TV and read of in our papers and on the internet, but that place where heaven touches earth and the cold turns to warm, the darkness turns to light, and the way of life is open for us. Let us turn to the Bethlehem of our hearts, where Christ is born this day! Let us go then even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has done!  For in Bethlehem, there is no artificial light.  In Bethlehem there is no artificial warmth.  In Bethlehem there is no road but one, one that leads directly to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In Bethlehem, his gates lie open continually. There is not wanting nor destruction within its borders.  Even as all other lights fail, so too shall all nations come to the light that shines in Bethlehem.  And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Advent began with a prayer that we might be given grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life.  But darkness deceives us. Darkness masquerades as light. Sometimes we do not know that we travel in the darkness, for the lights are so bright, and the fires burn so brilliantly, and all roads seem lit.  Yet, make no mistake, the light we create because we are afraid of the dark is of no enduring consolation.  The fires we light because we are afraid of the coldness within us shall not warm us continually.  The roads we build to make the rough places plain will crumble.  There is only one light, one divine flame, one holy way, and that is Christ our God. 

Sometimes we need to have our lights turned off; sometimes we need to have our furnaces quit;  sometimes we need to have our driveways blocked, to remind us of the true light, the true divine flame, the one true way,  and to seek it.  The angel voices herald it again. The shepherds make the journey again.  The magi once again follow the star.  And in stable, cold and dark, the light shines in the darkness.


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