Thursday, December 24, 2015

The People Who Walked in Darkness - A Homily for Christmas Eve, 2015

Christmas Eve, Year C, 2015
Thursday, December 24th, 2015
Trinity Anglican Church Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 9:2

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when the yoke of the burden of the people would be lifted and the rod of the oppressor would be broken.  The people in Isaiah’s time dared to dream that it would be so.   And to shepherds abiding in the fields, to a young couple from Nazareth, to the people of Judea who struggled under the yoke of the oppressor, could they believe it would be so?  In the birth of this tiny babe, had the rod of the oppressor been broken, had the yoke of oppression been lifted?  Only time would tell, for while that child rested in the manger, he was still but a child, and what can a little child do to break the rod of the oppressor and lift the yoke that burdens the oppressed?

However, we ought to listen carefully to what Isaiah says. Does he say that the people who walked in darkness will see a great light? No!  His proclamation is a bold one: that they have seen a great light.  For Isaiah, the Lord of hosts is ever with us.  And so it was in Bethlehem, too.  At the birth of this blessed babe, the angels did not announce what was to come, but what had happened.  Unto you is born THIS day, in the city of David, a saviour which IS Christ the Lord.  The shepherds did not go to Bethlehem to see a thing that was about to take place, but rather, to see this thing which the Lord has done! 

The birth in time of the timeless Son of God is the moment in history in which God acts definitively and decisively to break the rod of the oppressor, to destroy the yoke of the oppressed.  In the birth in time of the timeless Son of God it is done, the rest of the ministry of Jesus is the working out of all that has already come to pass.  There is no going back to oppression. There is no going back to slavery. There is no going back to darkness. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, on them the light has dawned. 

The birth in time of the timeless Son of God is the dawn of a new day, a day that ever lies open before us.  Even the day, though, must come to an end.  But thanks be to God that he has given us the victory in Christ Jesus.  When the night seems to fall upon us again, when the darkness of death seeks to overcome us and oppress us, when it seeks once again to make us its slave, then Christ himself goes into the darkness, into the land of deepest darkness, on the cross, to the grave, and shines his radiance into the darkest places. No darkness will stand against his light.   Darkness is not darkness in your presence, O Lord.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelled in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shone.  To shepherds in the field, on a night covered by cold and darkness, a light shone forth.  In the midst of darkness, the heavens opened to them.  On a dark night they were surrounded by the glory of God, and heaven filled the earth with its presence. It was such an unusual and unexpected sight that they were sore afraid, terrified.  Sometimes we seem to dwell in such deep darkness that darkness becomes what is normal for us.  Sometimes the darkness becomes so normal, that we bristle at the light.  The light surprises us, frightens us, astonishes us. But from the light comes the voice, “Fear not, I bring you good news! Tidings of Joy!”  Fear not, the light brings joy, the light brings hope, the light brings peace.  And as fast as the light can move, so joy, hope and peace are upon us. They are not something that is merely on the way, they are have arrived.  Christ is born. The Light has arrived, and with it has come our salvation from the darkness. Darkness shall never overcome it.

Wise men, seeking hope looked into the darkness of the night sky.  When you consider the darkness of the night, the depths of blackness that the night sky holds, what a marvel it is that amongst all the blackness, they saw the light that was dawning. In the deep, dark night sky, wise men from the East, caught a glimpse of the light.  It was a star that must have begun its life millions of years before they had ever seen it. It had begun its work of shining in the darkness long before men walked upon the face of the earth.  Is this not so with the ways of God? We cry out, “where are you God?” and “Show me your light?”  But has God not been present from before the foundation of the world? Has his light not shone from time immemorial?  When we stare into the darkness what do we see?  Does the darkness overwhelm us?  Or can we catch a glimpse of the light?  And shall we follow it?
And that’s just what the people in our Christmas stories did.  The shepherds got up, and went, not slowly, not lingering, but with haste, and sought out what had already taken place, sought out the one who was born not to become king of the Jews, but the one who was king before he was ever born.  That was why Herod feared him so much.  The Shepherds went with haste, and they found him, already born, already in their midst, lying in the manger.  And their lives changed forever.

The magi, the wise men, left their home in the east, and made the long journey, perhaps even a couple of years, and found the child and his parents. They offered their gifts, not only gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, but the gift of themselves.  And when they went home, they went not the way they came, but by another road.  I have often thought that there is another meaning to this phrase. The early Christians were first known as “the people of the road”, or “the people of the way”. To go another way, means to follow a new path, a new road. Their lives were changed forever, for they recognized God in their midst in the Christ child. Their lives forever followed another road.

Think of the nativity sets we build and make.  There is Mary and Joseph. There are shepherds. There are wise men.  But if your set is at all like ours, there is always room to grow.  Our set has villagers, wanderers, perhaps you might even have a little drummer boy coming to worship Jesus.  I have seen some nativity sets in which the stable seems to be surrounded by a whole village that is taken in by the birth of the babe.  It is a far sight from that lonely stable. And so it should be. 

Friends, we are continuing to build that nativity set this Christmas, with every generation of new worshippers, new Christians come and fall down before the manger on this holy night.  At this time of year, when the days are short and nights are long. When we seem enveloped in a great darkness, a deep darkness; when the world seems shrouded not only in the darkness of night, but the darkness of evil, there is good news.  A Son has been born to us.  The news is not that he will be born, but that he has been born. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The news is not that we will see a great light, but that we have seen a great light.    So, as the angels proclaimed long ago, as the appointed messenger on this Christmas I proclaim to you now, and again, “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.”  Let us go then, with haste, and see this thing which the Lord has done.