Christmas Eve Candlelight Service 10pm
This is an Ancient story, a story that calls out to us across time. We are told that on this night, near the darkest time of the year, a light is born into the world. We know from our journey through Advent that this light is not the opposite of darkness, rather it has been nourished by darkness.
Jan Richardson in Night Visions wrote, “Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us to dwell with integrity, compassion and love in the midst of ambiguity. The one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary’s womb knew that darkness is not evil of itself. Rather, it can become the tending place in which our longings for healing, justice and peace grow and come to birth.”
Tonight is the night we mark the birth, of hope for healing, justice and peace into the world. Welcome to the delivery room. But this room is not sterile, there are not doctors or midwives or doulas, this ancient story brings us into a barn.
An unexpected place, among angels and animals, when the travelers lodge, or inn was too full, as the story goes. It is a gritty story, that seeks to remind us, that the divine, the holy, can incarnate, make space among us, just as we are, wherever we are.
Characters in our texts go to great lengths to tell this story, the Shepherds especially, do a lot of traveling. The text says an angel, or messenger from God came to the Shepherds shining with the Glory of the Lord, proclaiming, “ Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
This was really good news, to hear this, because the Roman Empire was quite oppressive, so a child, who would bring a different message, of hope and of God, was really welcomed.
There are a lot of action verbs, or movement verbs around the Shepherds. First: “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. This verb in Greek travel is dierchomai, meaning to go across, pass through, spread a report, go over, go straight. So the Shepherds say, “Let’s spread this word, and report it, and pass it along!”
The Shepherds second travel word marks when they arrived. Our text says, “so they went with haste,” and the Greek is erchomai speudó, meaning, they really booked it! Imagine traveling with all those sheep, and still going fast. They must have been really excited to bring this message. Speudó means to desire earnestly, to hurry, to urge on, to make haste. Another way to translate this would be, light lightening they arrived with earnest desire.
The third travel verb associated with the Shepherds is when they return to their fields, full and satisfied, hupostrephó ,but before then, there is another travel verb that does not seem so active, but is a result of the message the Shepherds carried. It is what Mary did in her heart, when she heard the words that the Shepherds traveled with. When Mary heard the message of the Shepherds, she “Pondered the words in her heart.Suntéreó: she was protecting the words, pondering them, treasuring them, keeping them safe in her heart.
Sometimes faith means making a pilgrimage, means traveling great lengths, and moving quickly, and telling people good news. But faith is also unable to be seen, an internal shift, something that happens inside of us, that makes us move. Mary, out of anyone in this story, will stay with Jesus his whole life. She will see him die. She will travel with him, because she treasured these words in her heart.
The child of Jesus, born this night, asks that we too travel with him his whole life. When we baptize children in this space, we all pledge to help raise the child, to help turn the child’s mind to the Good, to God, and to remind that child that wherever they go in the world, this is always a spiritual home. It is really a trip to travel with a child. It is said that a child is a parent’s heart on legs, walking around in the world. What a vulnerable experience to love a child, and to let the child be free. Can we allow the spirit of this Christ child to guide us?
What do we rush towards, like the Shepherds? Which of these types of traveling did you do tonight? Did you come to tell good news, or to hear it? Did you come because you had to? Did your traveling take places in your heart, a slow shift, and internal movement that could be as slow as molasses, but is happening none the less?
One of my favorite Bible verses comes from the Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gospels that is not included in the New Testament, but is incredibly insightful and revealing of the teachings of Jesus. It goes like this:
Jesus said, “If they say to you,
‘Where have you come from?’ Say to them,
We have come from the light,
From the place where the light came into being.
If they say to you, ‘Is it you?’ Say,
We are its children; we are the light of the living God.
If they ask you, ‘What is the evidence of your God in you?’ Say to them,
It is in motion and in rest.”
Gospel of Thomas, 50:1-3, adapted
The promise on Chrismas eve, is that we too are children of light, born of the living God. When we follow Christ, and take seriously the possibility of peace and love ruling the world, rather than violence and greed, we are children of the light. And we recognize that the divine is present to us in all our movements and all our traveling; in our motion and our rest. God will come to us, un unexpected ways in unexpected moments, without us doing anything to deserve it. God will come. And we will arrive. The greatest gift is to remember that in this moment, we are perfect, and completely loved by a God who knows us deeply, and loves us beyond our wildest imaginations.
Whatever it is you are preoccupied with, the fights with family, the pressure to give the perfect gift, to make food just right. This story urges us to make haste toward Christ. To have hope, for a light born into the world. In all our preparing and anticipation of Advent, we have arrived, in this very moment. We are here. And we can rest now, because all is well, all is perfect right now. And all we have to do is remain present.
This is a story that reminds us, that we are made of both dust of the earth, and breath of the divine. This is the Incarnation, the reality and mystery of God being entirely immanent. Entirely present, right here, right now, with all of us gathered together, within each of us.
Let us remember, this face of God, that is vulnerable and tender, born from within human flesh, filled with a soft light, nourished out of the darkness, needing our protection and calling us forth to act accordingly, to act with tenderness and kindness. To treasure this sacred earth and one another.
Let God hollow us out, so that we may carry the presence of Christ. Let the sacred presence of stillness make smooth and sturdy our inward spaces so that we may hold the presence of Christ with less resistance, and with deeper grace. Amen.