by Rev. Doug Gray
Good evening! This is a candlelight service, but before the candlelight, there is darkness. The darkness reminds us of the world before Jesus, of the world without Jesus. For centuries prophets promised, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” “…for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” Promises of light. The light of God’s Presence and promises burned in the darkness for centuries, but when would the light come?
How did God’s people feel? Did they ask, “What is God up to? Doesn’t God see the how much suffering and violence there is in the world? Has he forgotten us who are trying? Will we live to see the wonders of God?” You have waited only a few minutes for the light to begin. They waited for more than 400 years!
In his book, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backwards, Brian Seaward tells the story of Joanne who wanted to be a mother from the moment she got her first doll for Christmas at the age of five. But after she was married, it was more than eight years before she got the news that she was pregnant. Over the moon with excitement, Joanne wasted no time getting ready for THE day. She did everything you can imagine to be ready—Lamaze classes, parenting seminars and relaxation tapes—you name it. Toward the end of her sixth month, though, Joanne’s water broke and she went into labor. With the doctor’s help, Joanne and the baby held on until Joanne awoke from her emergency cesarean to find her baby daughter was in critical, but stable, condition. On Wednesday, December 8, the world met Michelle Annelee West. The doctor shared with Joanne and her husband that the baby’s chances were less than 50%. “Again, Joanne affirmed her belief and placed the outcome in God’s hands.” On December 10, Joanne saw little Michelle for the first time in the “premie” intensive care unit. Joanne nicknamed her ‘Sam’ for ‘small adorable miracle.’ As the days became weeks, “Sam” was taken off all the machines, but was still too small and weak to leave the hospital. More than anything, Joanne wanted Michelle home for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Joanne made her daily visit to see Sam, secretly hoping that Michelle could come home with her. It appeared, however, that Michelle’s first “real” Christmas would have to wait. Joanne remembers, “There was only one nurse in the unit due to a low census. She saw me holding back the tears and tried to comfort me.” “What do you mean, no Christmas!” the nurse exclaimed. “You must be kidding. Joanne, we have Christmas in this room every day,” said the nurse. “Just look around the room, look at all these babies. Isn’t Christmas about little babies? Isn’t Christmas about God’s love? Isn’t Christmas about miracles? Some of these babies have no medical reason to be alive right now, save a miracle. Christmas? Why we have it every day in this room!” At this point she hit the light switch for a moment and the room succumbed to darkness, save for hundreds of red and green lights from all the monitors. Christmas lights.”
The light of hope comes in the darkness and Jesus was born into dark times. So small a spark, lit in the gloom of a stable. Would anyone have noticed if the angels had not pointed the way, if the eyes of wisemen had not been so observant of the stars? But the light of the Christ-child touched both shepherds and wisemen, Mary and Joseph…and the light grew. The light and the life spread from Jesus, and so many were drawn to it! Jesus gathered some close friends around himself and stoked the fires of their love of God by showing them possibilities they had never imagined, teaching them a way to share and grow the light.
The light of hope may come in the darkness, but one day, the world thought the light had been put out. Jesus, hung on a cross, and died. How could light every return? Some of us may feel that way right now. Maybe we are missing someone who is not with us tonight. Maybe we are not sure how we will get through the holidays. Does it feel like the light of hope is gone? Does the darkness threaten to overwhelm us? Just as Christ’s light was renewed on Easter morning, so the light of God’s love for us can never be extinguished. But we must return to the source of light, the promises of love that still shine even in this present darkness
The Seventh Lesson in Carols
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
John 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Miracles in the darkness. A King born in a stable. A mother loving her daughter. A nurse loving her patient. Christmas lights on intensive care monitors. The light of hope burns brightly in the darkness, and it can spread. A brother forgiving a sister. A stranger helping one of God’s people. God’s people helping a stranger. Henri Nouwen writes, “God came to us because [God] wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles, but always can trust that he walks with us…” So wick touches wick, until, from one tiny flame, this whole place, this whole world will become bright with the welcome of the light of Christmas. As it spreads, we will sing of a silent night—a night in which God’s silence was forever broken—a night in which God’s Word was BORN. Such is the nature of God’s Light. It may start small within the darkened confines of even our own hearts…but it spreads. And as it does, it rolls all darkness back before it. God with us. For this is Light that will extinguish forever the darkness of death, the blackness of sin, the gloom of Satan’s reign.
[We sing Silent Night.]
Look around you tonight. See the faces. Tonight is a once in a lifetime. We will never all be together again like this, so cherish each candle-lit face. We find that however dark our lives have been, however dark the world may seem, tonight there is light and hope. If we try to hold that light for our own, it remains just a light, but if we raise our lights together…we become the light of the world, for the light of hope comes in the darkness. Be inspired, tonight, by the glowing, growing Light of our Lord…by the glowing, growing Love in which Jesus is given. God with us, to be with others. Then let us go from this place, with our hearts on fire, bright with God’s Light. Go. Grow. And Glow! Amen. Merry Christmas!