The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Christmas Eve 2023
In those days, as begins our gospel from Luke, takes us back to a time long ago when Augustus was Emperor of Rome and to the far away city of David called Bethlehem. In those days calls us to remember a story of old and the simple folk who lived it: a carpenter named Jospeh, who worked hard and payed taxes; Mary, a young peasant girl heavy with child; shepherds in the fields, eeking out a living. In those days is a story about the everyday world, and yet a story that is more than the sum of its facts; a story truer than truth; and a story always told on Christmas Eve.
Indeed, here we are gathered on this holy night and in these days to hear the story of the birth of a child, Jesus, and celebrate the coming of Christ, as prophesied by Isaiah in our Old Testament reading:
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Some one thousand years later, on that first Christmas Eve, the angels sang of God’s promise fulfilled and say to the shepherds—whose knees are knocking!— Do not be afraid: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people. This is the sign; that you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Really, it is such a common sign, a baby born among many that day. But what is unexpected, and what is extraordinary is that this child, the Messiah of God, came into the world no differently than we do, a defenseless baby born of a woman, in a stable of animals no less. Love came down at Christmas into a world of rough edges and hard ways, no different from our own. And yet this gift of deep new life in Christ contradicts so much. To quote the author of our Advent study book, Walter Bruggemann: Our world feels unsavable, and here is the baby named Jesus, God Saves. Our world and our lives often feel abandoned, and here is the baby named Emmanuel, God with us.
But this is how God fulfills God’s gracious purpose for us; by calling us out of the “citadels of power, wealth, and control” into a humble manger; and out beyond ourselves into the miracle and wonder of new possibility and a new future; Christ comes to eclipse and dispute what has so irreversibly been, that reconciliation and healing are ours, if we will receive it.
You see, we are part of the story, even of its writing; for as Mary labored to birth Jesus into her world, so we labor to bring Jesus into ours, laboring in a sacramental dimension; the power of love calling itself into being—our being, in our hearts. Jesus seeks to be born into the manger of our poor hearts, swaddled in our hopes and dreams, and fears and tears. The difficulties of our lives and world will not magically disappear, as Mary and Jospeh and the shepherds well knew, as did Jesus perhaps best of all. But they will be transformed; nothing is ever lost in God. The light of Christ will never be overcome by the ambiguous darkness; for as Isaiah again prophesies:
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.
Truly, Christmas is a festival of light, marked as it is by twinkling lights festooning the streets, shops and homes, Christmas trees, and churches. I can never decide which is my favorite: perhaps it’s the tiny glimmering whites or gleaming reds, or the multicolored strands; maybe it’s the flaxen glow of candle lit windows. Really, I think all of them are the best because these lights shine in the darkness as wondrous signs of hope.
Like a seed in the ground and a child in the womb, new life gestates in the dark. Nine months after the spring equinox, at the winter solstice and darkest time of the year, the light returns and emerges in the fragile form of a newborn; this dark winter’s evening giving way to the rising sun and bright Christmas Day. And so, it must be that Christmas is most especially for all who are dislocated and oppressed by the darkness and in search of the light. Christmas is for all of us who are the weary world into which Christ comes to liberate us from the darkness of sin and death.
At the end of our service, this small community will wander out into the night. Look up in wonder! God’s promise may yet be fully in hand, but it is as real as the shining moon and billion trillion stars above. God’s ancient love is burning still.
Theologian and Jesuit priest Karl Rahner wrote of Christmas Eve: this blessed night, this sacred night, this silent night bears the quiet closeness of the infinite mystery of our existence, which is both sheltering love and inconceivable grandeur.
Even God is in awe of this holy night . . . not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse . . .
In those days are our days, and the once upon a time of the greatest love story ever told is our time: God with us, in the beginning and at the end; now, and forever.
May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into One all things earthly and heavenly, bless us all this Christmas, that the light of hope and peace, and joy and love is born in us; that we shine with the brightness of the true Light and carry its promise into the world.