In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ve gathered, under the cover of darkness this night, to set again the cosmic scene for the celebration of our Lord’s nativity. The night sky is darkened: a mirror of the people to whom Jesus would come, a people who sat in deepest darkness. Darkened by sin. Darkened by oppressive Roman rule. Darkened by the bitter longing for Israel’s redemption. It had been 600 years since Jerusalem was free from outside forces. Even longer since the whole people of God, His chosen Israel, had been united as one people under one king. With each foreign nation after another taking its turn to rule and scatter God’s people, hope seemed grim. Laments continued to be raised in prayer as messiah after messiah, claiming a secret wisdom or a military prowess, proved again and again to be false and powerless. Nothing changed. The poor hungered for food. The blind begged for their sight. The lame ached to be made whole. The dead remained silent in their tombs. Darkness reigned. Nothing changed. Until this most holy and joyous night. The night in which that first-spoken uncreated light from creation entered into the world, taking on our lowly flesh, and shining the brilliance of the divine light upon the world and upon His people. This great and joyous night is when the word of light is spoken to banish the darkness, not from the eternal realms, but from the cries and whimpers of a new born baby boy. Light has come upon Israel. Joy has come to a holy and just family. The dawn of Salvation has broken upon the world.
This night is just the first glimpse of what the true messiah of Israel will be and what he will do. He will be humble. He will be one of us, a brother to our humanity. Who will endure all that we ourselves endure. He will encounter what life in the world and life in this flesh entails, but he will do so as one perfect, spotless, and sinless. He will fill humanity with divinity, and give us divine wisdom and insight as he preaches and teaches to us spotted and flawed sinners. He will change water to wine. He will give sight to the blind. He will with a word and touch heal the sick, troubled, and lame. He will welcome the unwelcome and bring in the outcast. He will give the Bread of Life to the world. He will unite His people again under a new king. A king that does not fail or corrupt, but a King Eternal and a kingdom that has no end. He, this baby boy cooing on his mother’s lap in the cave surrounded by the barnyard critters, will give life to the world. And what is foreshadowed tonight at Christmas is made clear at Easter.
You and I are the objects of tonight’s events. We are the ones for whom our Lord rent the heavens asunder and came down to love and save. We are the ones for whom that newborn cries and waits to share the goodness of God. We are the ones for whom Jesus has come to redeem and to welcome back into paradise. And as we gather this night, we do so like those shepherds witnessing our Lord’s arrival here among us now. We are the ones who offer to him our own hymns of praise, joy, and adoration, because He has come. Because He has conquered all and because He is our true and everlasting joy. Not presents, not cookies nor cakes, nor holiday meals. Not trees, nor twinkling lights, nor mistletoe and egg nog. Jesus alone is where this true Christmas joy is found as His divine light and word dawns upon our lives and breaks through our darkness. With each coo, with each word spoke, and with each breath given saying to us, I love you, you are mine, come for I am giving you rest from your worries. You are mine and I will never let you go. Look and see all that I have given, all that I have done, and all that I am doing for you and for your salvation. I have come down from heaven and taken for myself, your nature, your flesh so that I can know and save you from your sins. Look upon my body and my life given and live forever with me. Cast off your darkness and by faith join me forever in the eternal light of peace, joy, purity, and righteousness.
Therefore as shepherds, testifying to the miracle of our Saviors work for us, let us never tire of singing the angels' song to Him for on this night, as St. John Chrysostom writes, “the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.” On this night Salvation has dawned and we who have beheld this glorious event by faith are now shepherds to the world, carrying our little light of faith. Shining Him wherever darkness gathers, in our work, at our homes, in our towns and communities, and into the whole world, singing “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth!”
May the joy of our Lord’s nativity fill your hearts and lives with His eternal and abiding peace. Amen.