Growing up, I think we had semi-gloss ceilings. I loved to lay on the living room floor watching the christmas tree lights flicker across it’s shiny glaze. Those tree lights came with sturdy bases that held giant screw in bulbs. Whenever a solid red, blue, orange, or green light went out, I replaced it with a flashing transparent bulb. Since each individual bulb operated independently from one beside it, irregular patterns of light danced across the ceiling. The tree created a mini fireworks show. Perhaps, in this season of longer nights, Christmas tree lights pull us in like a sort of burning bush. They remind us each year that even the deepest midnight is not the final word.
Tonight, we greet and bless each other by sharing the light from Christ’s manger with each other. We hold our candles as beacons inviting everyone to draw nearer to Christ’s Light. When we light our candles, remember to bring your unlit wick to the flame. That is solid enough theology and reduces the likelihood of hot wax dripping on a pew-backs or your fingers!
John’s Gospel introduces Jesus without a birth story. John’ proloudge tells us “That the light of all people has come into the world. The light makes its’ home with us. The light gives us life. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can not defeat it.” In Matthew, God break through the night with dreams guiding Joseph and a star pulling the Magi from far away lands.
Luke tells us that out in the mountain pastures shepherds camped out. Maybe a little fire burned for warmth or just comfort. They watch and listen for disruptions on the edges of the flock. Perhaps, like David these shepherds made up tunes. The city Jesus is born in is named after King David. David must have been quite a picker as King Saul invited David to play in the palace. Shepherds by the nature of their work lived outside any strict keeping of the religious purity rules. And yet, like our cowboys, shepherds held a certain almost religious romance for the Jewish people, as both David and Moses tended to sheep.
Naturally, the angels appearing struck fear into the shepherds. After the shock, Luke describes Heaven’s glow coming around and encircling the shepherds. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the covenant tablets, Moses’ whole face shone brightly, “because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34) Tonight, God halos the earth.
God has always loved the world, and send us joy tonight. God never stopped loving the world that God made, so let “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains. Repeat the sounding joy!” Tonight, heaven’s glow shines on sheep, shepherds, border collies, mountain pastures, moonlight, stars, and Magi. Perfect Love abides in the refuge of horses and oxen, milking cows and goats, chickens and barn swallows, bats and bees, and barn cats. God so loves the world.
Tonight, God whispers good news for all people: “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today. The child in the manger is Christ (The Expected One- God’s Annointed- the Messiah)- the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”
“This will be a sign unto you.” What is the sign that marks God’s birth into our world? How does Love’s Pure Light shine? Christ comes into the world as humbly, simply, and humanly as any of us do. Mary pushes. Joseph offers quiet presence. A midwife coaches. The rabbis taught that a midwife could break almost any religious rules to bring life into the world. The shepherds will bring lullabies and the Magi offer gifts. The deep mystery of Christmas is the simple humanity of the story: God loves us and chooses to be with us. The heart of Christianity is the incarnation. “God with us in the ordinary”: that is our sign. Pause and ponder the Incarnation’s mystery.
Our deepest Christian mystery is that God is fully present in Jesus: child of Heaven and child of Mary. The Creator come to dwell in human life is the deepest compliment God could pay humanity. On Christmas Eve, God says I love you people so deeply, I am moving in with you. We are created in the image of God, named beloved, and so God can somehow abide perfectly within our humanity. The incarnation undoes the theology of humanitys’ total corruption or any shame about our flesh and bones. Indeed, Jesus names us “The light of the world, and tells us to shine our goodness to all the world”, so that others might see God working in us, and find their way into heaven’s glow.”
“The world no longer trust Christians who “love Jesus”, but do not seem to love anything else. In Jesus Christ , God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive worldview is made available to us. That might be the whole point of the Gospels. … “The true light that enlightens every person was coming into the world” (John 1:9). The Incarnation did not just happen one time two thousand years ago. … (Tonight) Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness. The point of the Christian Life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else. This is the full, final, and intended effect of the Incarnation- symbolized by its finality in the cross, which is God’s great act of solidarity instead of judgement” (Richard Rohr: The Universal Christ) Heaven’s glow surrounds us- God is with us. Ponder God’s deep love and solidarity with us.
As we come to Christ’s Table, know God loves creation, humanity, and you. The Light of the world says to all who will listen: “You are the Light of the World… Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city, who is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Oh Come to christ’s manger, come to God’s table, take the bread of life and share the light of the world with one another, for tonight we celebrate God’s deep love for all of us. Amen