I bring you glad tidings of great joy! A child is born, a prince of peace who will establish justice, here and around this earth. He will be guide and counselor, a ruler to lead us in paths of peace, who will break down walls and make the path straight. The prophet promises a prince of peace who will burn all the combat boots and bloodied uniforms, stoking a fire to light the way toward justice and peace.
That world still feels a very long way off. More than 2000 years later we are still waiting and hoping and yearning for that light to banish the darkness once and for all, and deliver us from the long night. We gather on this night to celebrate the kindling of that light in human flesh – in the birth of the Holy One among us. We are here to remember and discover again the light that burns bright in the darkness, a light the darkness did not put out – not in this land so many years ago, nor through the years since. The darkness did not prevail; it will not and cannot overcome the light of Christ. The light continues to burn through trials and migrations, wars and plagues, political machinations and death. The light is here this night, burning still in human hearts set ablaze by God.
The Holy One comes among us in light and darkness, when we are most in need and despair, as well as in rejoicing. God is here, Emmanuel.
We remember the Christ child delivered on a bleak midwinter night. His mother Mary and Joseph set out into darkness, seeking shelter on a cold and bitter night, knowing that the time of delivery was very near. In cities around the world tonight homeless teenagers still struggle to find shelter. In many of those cities, they stand in line to see if a lottery will produce a bed for them in an overcrowded shelter. Tomorrow will bring the same challenge – will there be a place in the inn?
We remember a holy child and family fleeing into exile, refugees before an earthly king who sought to finally silence every threat and opposition. This Land of the Holy One still waits for earthly leaders to come to the table and deliver homes where all children might grow and flourish in the light of peace. O Lord, you set a table before us in the presence of our enemies, you spread your feast, and let your bounty overflow. Let your children’s fear of one another be banished by the light you shed in our midst.
The empires of this world continue to make war – in Afghanistan, in the China Sea, in Pakistan and in Congo. We wait with trepidation for the next chapter in Iran and Syria and Egypt. Give us your peace, O Lord; let your kingdom come, and speedily. Give us hearts of hope while you are working your purposes out over all the earth. Make us vessels of your peace, set us alight as partners with your eternal flame.
Herod threatened this child, this babe of Mary. Children are still dying at the hands of the angry and confused and possessed, shot to death in schools, and turned into drug-addled soldiers in wars of conquest. Good Lord, deliver your people from themselves. Let your fires consume the hardware of violence and the instruments of death. Teach us peace, let peace prevail this night and every night.
Human beings here and around the globe live in fear, assaulted by petty tyrants who dominate others to escape their own fear and anxiety. Holy God, creator of us all, remind us of the dignity you bestow on every human being through your birth in human flesh. Help us hold up mirrors to see your face in tyrant and prisoner alike. Teach us equity in your embrace of all the world this night. For you are born in our midst for the healing of every division.
God answers the darkness of human hearts with a tiny cry in an occupied land – the cry of a babe born to a surprised teenager who said yes to God’s daunting invitation. That mother and child are sheltered by the compassion of a foster father, who has answered another surprising invitation. Jesus is God’s own “yes” to humanity, as he is reminded at his baptism: “you are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.” God’s yes overwhelms the darkness, and the YES of Jesus brings restoration and wholeness to humanity and all creation. God says to us this night, “you are my beloved children, among whom I rejoice to dwell.”
Sometimes the invitation to embrace that divine light comes in surprising places. Two weeks ago in New York the leader of the largest mosque in that city and the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel sat down to a Hanukkah meal together with several other rabbis and imams. That meal, too, was lit with candles in the darkness. The Chief Rabbi invited the imams to visit Israel – and several accepted. There is a growing flicker of light in the darkness, as the children of Abraham seek peace in this Land of the Holy One.
How will you answer God’s invitation this night? Will you seek the light in the darkness? Our own “yes” answers God’s yes in human flesh – and the Christ light is kindled within us like a candle in the night. Will your own heart welcome Christ’s birth within? Will you fan and feed that Christ light to flame up and banish the darkness?
For unto us is born a child, healer of humanity and all creation, the prince of peace. This is indeed good news of great joy for all people. Raise your voice, ring out your joy, sing a new song, and tell of light born this night in human flesh, Emmanuel. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to all people – to all God’s creation. May the Christ light burn within us, and among us, and between us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. May the peace of Christ spread abroad as fire to consume the instruments of violence and war. Let that light blaze forth like the dawn! The Sun of righteousness is born in our midst! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.