Sermons

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7 / Isaiah 62:6-12 / Luke 2:1-20: Christmas 2017

Every year the light comes, without fail. The solstice finally arrives, and although we hardly notice the difference at first, the days begin, imperceptibly, to lengthen.

Every year the light comes – all of the Advent candles are lit, and still more candles are placed in the windows, and in the hands of worshipers, and the glow spreads.

Every year the light comes – the prophet proclaims the end of walking in great darkness, and the angels arrive with glory shining all around them, announcing good news of great joy.

 

Every year the light comes, and every year I come face to face with the invitation to open the door and say, “come on in.”

Every year it asks something new of me, something deeper.

And every year, I wonder, can I do it? Can I let the light in?

My preparations for Christmas are an apt metaphor for this question – when I was a child, my parents, of course, took care of everything. They arranged our outings to find the tree, collected ornaments, made sure presents were under the tree. As young adults, all my sister and brother and I had to do was come home and settle into the traditions that had long been established – help mix the dough and roll the pinwheel cookies, arrange the nativity scene by the fireplace, and contribute our own gifts to the pile.

But in subsequent years, with no children in my house and Christmas being a working holiday, my energy around decking the halls has waxed and waned. Should we get a tree this year? Two years ago the tree was about eight feet tall and filled the rectory with the heavenly scent of balsam fir. Last year we didn’t get a tree at all. This year, I got what Wilson Farm calls a “Charlie Brown Tree” – I’ll leave it to your imagination as to its stature.

Even though I know that this celebration isn’t about the decorations, I still feel a little guilty when my preparations fall short of Hallmark standards. It’s not that I think I have to measure up to someone else’s idea of what Christmas should look like – it’s that I wonder if my humbler embellishments are in fact not a virtue but a sign of apathy, or a lukewarm heart. I worry – am I not excited enough about the light coming to a world that every year seems to sink lower and lower into the darkness? Does my Charlie Brown tree open the door wide enough, so that the light can actually enter in?

As you can see, like Charlie Brown himself, I sometimes worry just a little too much about these things. But I don’t ever want to stop wondering about how, when the light does come, to let more and more of it in. I need it too much to shut any of it out. I suspect that you do, too.

In all my wondering and wandering, what has made the difference for me is really this: that the light which is coming into the world this night/day as a human child will find its way into whatever opening we are able to provide for it. The extravagance of our response does not matter – but the fact of our response does. And it is left up to us.

The words that leapt out at me this year from Luke’s story were words that spoke of God’s fervent desire to connect with each and every one of us. As the glorious light shone around the shepherds, the angel of the Lord spoke these words: “I am bringing you good news of great joy… to you is born this day… a Savior.” “This will be a sign for you…

To you – for you. The messiah is born to us, for us, offered with love, but God leaves room for us to accept the invitation. Not because God wants proof of our love or exacts a certain price, but because God has created us for love and we are most fully ourselves when we respond, freely and joyfully, to love.

Have you noticed in the gospel, and in the world in general, that emperors send out decrees, while angels announce good news. Emperors mandate migration, shifting their subjects like chess pieces according to strategy, while the angels know their news will bring such great joy that those who hear it will run freely to where the light leads.

Emperors like Augustus declare themselves divine so that they may show the world how different they are from ordinary folk. God becomes a helpless baby, to show how God and human beings belong to each other and for each other. To you, the angels proclaim – for you this child is born.

We do not always feel it, the power of the light to show us who we really are, created for God’s embrace. But every year the light comes, and every year it is for us – for all of us. Christ was born for this – to shine a light on who God is, and who we really are, made for God and for each other.

This is not a time for worrying about whether our preparations have been up to snuff,

but a time for knowing that Christ the Lord is for us – for you. And if you think that the door of your heart isn’t quite wide enough yet, know that God will find a way. Know that every longing can be stretched by Christ into a manger that can receive him. Know that every pain and fear can become invitations to intimacy with God and with those who are privileged to walk in the darkness with us. Know that although our feeble attempts to invite the light of Christ in are enough, God will continue to invite us to open wider, and deeper, until the glory of the Lord shines all around us and we become light to the world.

I want to leave you with a prayer, a blessing, composed by the artist, writer, and pastor Jan Richardson. Her prayer is my prayer – for you, for me, and for all who seek to receive Christ the Lord into their lives. It is called “How the Light Comes.”

How the Light Comes

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.


What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.


That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.


That it loves
searching out
what is hidden,
what is lost,
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.


That it has a fondness
for the body,
for finding its way
toward flesh,
for tracing the edges
of form,
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.

That it will.

That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.


And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.

May we lift our faces
to let it find us.

May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.

May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

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