December 24, 2013
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Congratulations! You’re here! No more gift wrapping, food preparation, or miles to go – at least in the next hour or so. So snuggle in, because it’s time to be still – that the Holy Spirit can wash over you.
Over the years, the attempt has been to keep large parts of this service the same – not because it is easy or time efficient, but we can find welcome and comfort in tradition and the familiar. Sometimes a word or a song will take us back to a time that was important and/or meaningful. Other times we know that we are in the midst of a memory in the making.
Not that this is about me, but the part that makes it Christmas for me, is when the scriptures have been read, the carols have been sung, and the candles are all lit as we are singing “Silent Night”. None of you are more holy than you are at that moment. For that time during those three verses, it’s as if everything comes together.
There is a sentence in the book of John, just after the first of the scripture readings tonight. It says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” (Jn 1:5) Since human beings have existed, light and darkness have held symbolic and religious meanings. Perhaps it grew out of that dim era, when our ancient ancestors began to learn to use and control fire, and found instead of huddling all night in the cold and the dark, a small fire offered a source of warmth and light, of comfort and security.
These days we light candles for a number of reasons: romance, ambiance, power outages. In the weeks approaching Christmas we light special candles because they speak to us the hope that springs eternal in the human heart. They remind us of a dark time, in a desolate country, how the birth of Jesus Christ signaled for all peoples the eternal hope of the eventual triumph of good, whatever the current state of human history.
Light was the first of God’s creations. Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” Light shines in the darkness, not over against the darkness, or from above. A light shining out of the darkness, this is a new thing. Then Jesus told us, “You are the light of the world.” (Mt 5 14)
This is the night we celebrate the source of the light. The light comes through us, not from us. Not all the darkness in the world can extinguish the smallest flame. We celebrate the light that has come into the world, and we take it with us - to bring comfort and hope - to those we love and everyone else. So let us continue with this Spirit-washing, memory-making, comfort-bringing, celebrate of the birth of Emmanuel: God with us.