Year C, Christmas Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20
This Christmas was supposed to be our triumphant return…or maybe that was last Christmas. At some point, we were supposed to have a triumphant return. Yet even when planning back in November when the infections were low and omicron was just a word no one could properly pronounce—even then we knew it would not be as triumphant as we hoped. There would still be masks, still be anxiety. But…we would be able to sing Christmas carols and put on a Christmas pageant. While I am usually someone who likes to be realistic and keep expectations low, I was pretty excited about Christmas Eve. And then just this week, it has seemed like the sky is falling again. It’s not. But it feels that way.
“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.” What a beautiful verse. When I read it about 10 days ago, I thought—this is perfect. We have been walking in darkness for almost two years and now we have seen the great light. When I read it a week later (just a few days ago), I found myself asking—how great would this light have to be, to shine on those haunted by darkness. Sometimes the darkness feels impenetrable.
I have preached many times about the importance of not expecting huge miracles, or impressive signs from God. God comes to us in more subtle ways. Yet I found myself yearning for something dramatic this year, yearning for it more than ever. So I come back to the question, how bright would that light have to be to penetrate the current darkness?
We all know the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. We hear it every year. The repetition lulls us into a sense of complacency. We see the story in gauzy light, like a halo in the fog. But this story is not meant to comfort. It’s about disruption and drama. When you consider the Christmas story—it’s full of disruption. Mary and Joseph’s life was first disrupted by Mary’s pregnancy and then by the long and arduous trip to Bethlehem when she was 9 months pregnant. And then we see the shepherd’s lives disrupted. There they were, doing their jobs—protecting their flock and a heavenly host showed up and told them to leave that place, abandon their jobs and search for a baby.
It’s easy to overlook the shepherds. They are extras in the story and rarely have any lines in the Christmas pageant. But imagine for a moment what kind of scene that must have been. They were in their field in the middle of the night, probably sleeping and suddenly an angel appeared. They were terrified- understandably. Even if the angel did appear in human form, it must have still been unsettling. Now when I have imagined this scene, I have always imagined a bright light surrounding the angel. That’s probably because every painting and picture I have ever seen has depicted the scene this way. Yet as I thought about it, I could not help but wonder why an angel would need extra light. They would probably need a little light since it was pitch dark, but not much. We all know how even a small amount of light can illuminate a very dark space.
How bright would the light have to be? Now the shepherds had an angel. Even if there was no magnificent light show, someone extraordinary appeared before them and gave them a message that inspired them to leave their sheep and search for a baby in a manger.
The world right now is dark and I would really like an angel, or a light show. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself googling “good news about COVID.” There were no hits on the world wide web for that search criteria. I found myself doing that again this week. While there were not an overwhelming amount of hits, there were some. There were some saying that while a new wave was hitting us, we are much more prepared than we were previously. We have vaccines and even medicine for those who have gotten very sick as a result of COVID. Yet I have to confess, I found little comfort there. It’s just been too long and we are all so tired of it all.
What I realized as I was desperately googling “good news” was that I was forgetting something kind of important about our Gospel message. It is the good news. The Gospel—the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection is the good news. But I still feel like I need the light to illuminate the good news because it’s been a really hard couple of years. Then I was reminded of a line from Psalm 139: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” I keep praying for a light that will overcome the darkness. But perhaps what we should really pray for is that the darkness will no longer have power over us, because with God, darkness is just different lighting.
I don’t know what is going to happen with COVID, or the environment, or inflation, or the rampant violence in our nation and world. What I know is that we cannot merely search for good news using google. The good news is in God’s love for us. The good news is in a God that loved the world so much that he sent his son to become a human so he would know what it is to walk in darkness and search for the light. The good news is that we have a God who loves us so much that he died and came back to life to show us what it really is to live in the light.