Our Gospel from the second chapter of Luke proclaims Jesus as the light for revelation. Blessed Simeon was waiting to see this light, and it was revealed to him as Jesus was brought into the temple as a baby. And he sang out, "My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Into the darkness of this world came the light of God, Jesus Christ.
Isaiah, in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, shouts aloud the vindication of God's people that shines out like the dawn, the salvation that burns like a torch. Or, as we have heard so often, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined."
In the darkness of so many difficult days, these words of comfort and joy ease my heart. Certainly this is a year that needs a message of hope and joy just as when Jesus was born.
In the time of Mary and Joseph, people yearned with all their might for salvation--from poverty, the oppression of the occupying Roman army, from Herod, the sick and gloomy tyrant who ruled their lives. Religious fanatics were increasing in number all the time. People rushed after each new one, only to be disappointed.
To a world of turmoil, war, police states like Israel under Herod, came the Son of God, the bearer of peace. It was a time of violence between people and governments. Some began to debase their flesh and things of this physical world. And a stiff rebuke comes lovingly from God in the form of a child who shows us our bodies and our world are holy--holy because God made them. Jesus brought a positive attitude toward life and living. Life was to be lived in covenant with God, not merely endured.
He came as a child who grew into a man who was crucified for us. Jesus is the Light of the World. Arise, shine, for your light has come. Our world is lit by God's holiness.
There was a time during World War I when soldiers confronted each other from their respective trenches. It was Christmas Eve. And a German soldier was heard singing, "Silent Night" in German. British soldiers began to sing back, in English. Soon both sides were singing and an unofficial truce was declared as soldiers, under white flags, joined each other in no-man's land. And they celebrated Christmas together. When they returned to their respective sides, they wouldn't fire on each other any longer. The enemy now had a face, and it looked like theirs. The troops had to be replaced on each side because they fired over each other's heads rather than at each other.
Christmas has a way of doing that. It breaks down the barriers and makes us more aware of our kinship.
Let me tell you a story of a young man who some 36 years ago stood in the cave in Bethlehem which is under the Church of the Nativity. As he stood there, in the space which tradition has claimed as the birthplace of Jesus, he noticed the diverse crowd standing close to each other, for it is a small space. There were pilgrims from around the world, all there because they loved the Lord. And one voice began to sing, in German, the Christmas hymn we know as "Silent Night." And one by one, in the first languages of that assembled band of Christians, came a glorious rendition of "Silent Night." Despite the differences of language, there was no need of interpretation. And for that young man, it was a moment of deep commitment to Jesus and it was a time of insight--Jesus is indeed the one for all people, for all nations. And I must say, I don't think I've ever been the same.
This is a time to welcome each other and to share the light of the world.
In medieval times, there was a charming legend that on Christmas Eve the Christ Child wandered throughout the world looking for places where he would be welcomed. Those who loved him--hoping he would find their homes--placed lighted candles in the window to invite him in. No one knew what he would look like when he came. He might be a beggar. Blind. A poor and lonely child. So devout Christians welcomed all into their homes who knocked on their door on Christmas Day. To turn anyone away may have meant rejecting the Christ Child.
At Christmas, we remember that the Christ Child is wandering our roads, looking for homes where He will be given warmth and shelter. May He find a place in our hearts and in our homes where there is room for Him.
Is Christ knocking now? Will you open the door?
Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world." And he also said, "You are the light of the world." In these simple words we have the summary of what it means to be a Christian. Our credo is "Christ is the Light of the world." "You are the light of the world" sums up our plain obligation to reflect this light.
Jesus is the Light of the world for all. The light shines in the darkness--of Afghanistan, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem and the whole area we call the Holy Land, and where all of us are gathered at this very moment. The Light shines in the face of inhumanity to others. Homelessness and hunger and not enough money. The Light shines when the heroism of the bravest who protect us brings them harm.
Into the darknesses we have created with our own hands comes God's answer. The answer of love.
Just a little bit of light can make a great deal of difference. It could be the reassuring light at the other end of the tunnel for someone. We need to light up the lives of others with love and joy and decency.
A little song comes to mind: "This Little Light of Mine." This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine.
Well, will your little light shine? That's the big question. And your answer will make a big difference to the world around you.
"Arise, shine, for your light has come."
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined."
You may know the story of the man who refused to go to church with his family on Christmas Eve because he didn't believe the Gospel story. As he was reading the paper, he heard a noise at the front picture window. The snow was coming down hard and the wind had picked up. He went to investigate and discovered two small sparrows that had flown into the window. Other sparrows were perched on the bushes, cold and shivering.
He felt sorrow for them and got on his coat and went out and picked up the injured birds, carrying them to the warmth of the barn where he thought the other birds would come in and find shelter. He left the doors open, but the other birds didn't follow. So he placed breadcrumbs, like Hansel and Gretel, as a path. Surely, he thought, the hungry little birds would follow. They didn't. So he tried to chase them into the barn. It didn't work. Finally, frustrated, he sat down and thought, "If I could just talk to them and get them to know I want to help them and save them. But," he thought, " I can't do it unless I become one of them--become one of them!"
Then the church bells began to ring and the man knelt in the deep snow realizing he now knew this peace on earth the angels sang about. And he said, "Thank you, God, for becoming one of us."
When I think of Christmas, I think of gifts--that of Jesus to us, the gifts of the Magi, the gifts we give to each other as signs of love and care.
What kind of gifts are we to each other? Perhaps this final little story might give some clue. It takes place in the midst of the Great Depression when a family of three--Mom, Dad, and little six-year old Peter--had absolutely no money for store-bought presents. Nevertheless, they were inventive in celebrating Christmas. They decided to make pictures of the presents they would like to give one another if money were no object. So they drew pictures or cut out pictures from catalogs and magazines. They put the pictures into boxes, stuck some old bows on them, and put them under a scraggly Christmas tree. On Christmas morning the tree was heaped with riches. The gifts were only pictures, to be sure, but they were symbols of Christmas giving. There was a shiny new car for Dad and a red motor boat, some golf clubs, a new suit, some sweaters, and an all-weather coat.
Mom found her dream house and a diamond necklace, dresses, coats, and a vacation cruise. Most of the make-believe presents were for little Pete. There were pictures of a camping tent, a new bicycle, a pedal car, and all kinds of toys and games.
Now, of course, Mom and Dad didn't expect anything from little Pete. But Petey, with a squeal of delight, crawled under the tree and pulled out a gift he had prepared all by himself. He handed his present to his parents with a smile and they opened it. They found a picture drawn with first-grade crayons. It was a picture of three people standing together with big smiles on their faces. They had their arms around each other. And under the picture, Petey had printed a single word--"us."
The light dawned and tears of joy filled the eyes of the parents because they realized that, in years to come, they may be able to give some of those Christmas presents they had only imagined, but they could never give a present more precious than the one they had received that year--the gift of love they had for each other.
The Christ Child is found whenever greed is overcome by generosity, whenever hatred is squeezed out by love, whenever war is overwhelmed by peace, whenever despair gives way to hope. Christ's love can fill our hearts and bind us together.
Into the darkness of this world has come the Light of God, Jesus Christ. Rejoice!
Let us pray.
Lord God, how wonderfully you came to take away all our fear and all our doubts. You came as the Light of the world to be our help and to remove our pride. Help us to know that your Light is to be reflected by us into all the world. Help us to know, Lord, that we no longer need to search far and wide, high and low to find God. The glow of your holiness leads us to you for you are the Light at the end of our spiritual tunnel. Fill us with your Spirit and bring us to kneel at your manger, there to confess, "My Lord and my God." Amen.