Merry Christmas everyone! We gather here tonight to celebrate our traditional Christmas Eve service.
This is a time of the year when we hold our traditions dear. My family traditions include going out to cut down a tree after deliberating for hours until Kevin decides which is perfect enough, setting up the nativity scene but waiting to put baby Jesus in his manger until Christmas day, and my favorite tradition: eating lots of tamales.
I love our St. Marks traditions too: the Christmas tree, the nativity scene, the beautiful, familiar scripture readings. My favorite part of tonight’s service is the singing of Christmas hymns. My personal tradition is to always cry during the singing of “Silent Night”. We end this service triumphantly singing “Joy to the World” while carrying our lit candles out into the night, thus bringing the light of Christ out of church and into the world.
These traditions are comforting and familiar. Most of us don’t like changes, especially to this most traditional time of year. But have you ever thought about the irony of holding so tightly to tradition while we celebrate the greatest moment of change in human history?
Think about this: tonight we celebrate the very moment when GOD enters humanity … and nothing is the same after that. If that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, it should. It is estimated that in all of human history, the total number of people who have EVER lived is … well, you all guess. …. OK, I’ll tell you, The total number of people who have ever lived is around 100 billion. Now, out of 100 billion people, one, exactly one of these was God. God coming to earth, God made man, God stepping into history.
God loves us so much he becomes man in the person of Jesus. Jesus is God incarnate; God in the flesh. And that means change. It means God coming into our time and into our lives, shaking things up and recreating everything. According to the calendar used by most people in the world, time itself is changed, time is divided up into before Christ and Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, time after Christ.
Christmas is a constant celebration year after year that no year is ever the same and that our lives are never the same and that every year we are, in fact, older and, hopefully, wiser but still engaged with our God, the God of history, in making good things happen.
Another change is taking place: the solstice. A few days ago we had the shortest day of the year. I’ve really noticed the darkness this year, especially in the morning when it is pitch black at 7 AM. The good news is that now we are moving into longer days, we are moving into light.
But the world can seem so dark, can’t it? Just watch the news or turn on your computer for a pile of bad news. My father in law liked to have his TV turned on all day to a news channel. So all day long, he listened to bad news and began to feel that the world was getting awfully dark. But even in deep darkness, there is light is at work in the world.
Here’s a small example: At Gonzaga University there is a tradition of students holding doors for each other. I’ve noticed that students will stop and see me coming from a distance and just stand there patiently holding the door for me while I hobble as fast as I can. Something you hear at this university is that they strive for the Jesuit ideal of forming “men and women for others”. This tradition, helping others by holding doors open, this habit of waiting on others, is a small gesture that hopefully helps form caring and thoughtful young men and women for others.
There is so much good news in the world. I’m heartened that women in Saudi Arabia can vote now and they elected 17 women to office. Global leaders met in Paris and agreed to begin to address climate change. Muslims raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the families of the San Bernardino victims. Jimmy Carter is cancer free. A tiny church in Montesano is able to give away $7,200 to help others, which is 28% of its budget! (yay, St. Marks!)
Yes, life can seem dark at times but as Christians, I believe we are called to see the light of goodness around us. We remember this at Christmas when Jesus, who is the light of the world, is born. Many images of baby Jesus lying in his manger show him glowing brightly. We need to make space for the light of Christ to shine into and through our souls. We are called to let Christ’s light shine through us, we are called to bring Christ’s light to the world.
In tonight’s gospel the shepherds were hunkered down in a dark field when angels appeared and “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The shepherds went and adored the Christ child, then returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. They went out with joy. And this evening it would be my prayer that you too will go out with joy! The same kind of joy experienced by the shepherds, the joy of encountering God!
So tonight, as we celebrate the world changing, we go back to our tradition: We end this service, going out into the world, when we will hopefully be lit by a bright full moon, triumphantly singing “Joy to the World” while carrying our lit candles out into the night, thus bringing the light of Christ out of church and into the world.