Sermons That Work

Light in Darkness, Christmas 1 – 2002

December 29, 2002

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone…
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
in the bleak mid-winter long, long ago.

Some days seem darker than others. Some days seem colder. The shortest, darkest day of the year was only a few days ago. Although the days gradually lengthen now, winter hangs on. Canadian clippers with cold blasts of Arctic air continue to slam across the plains slicing down even into the deep South of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. In the East recent snow has melted and the hard ground has softened, but the dark winter days continue and soon there will be cold and snow again.

As if it were a last pathetic effort to reach people where they are, little shopping mall angels sing: “Peace on Earth good will to men,” while powerful men talk of war and prominent church figures speak of it as inevitable and sometimes justified.

Some days seem colder, sometimes seem darker, than others.

Now almost in 2003 we are only two years away from a dark and cold century, marked, as one writer has said, by wars or worse: the forced starvation of a whole population in the Ukraine, the forced extermination of whole races in the death camps and ovens of the Holocaust, the forced imprisonment of those declared outside the regime in the gulags of Siberia, the forced banishment or murder for those outside our group in ethnic cleansing, and in this land the perpetuated discrimination based on color or sex. [1]

Today we stand before a future not only unknown and therefore frightening, but before a future in which anything can happen, or has already happened — with a few grieving the loss of faith, and a few trying to remember — not only how faith was — but asking: “How it is to be for us again?”

Is there room for God; is there room for faith in a world gone mad?

Some days seem colder-sometimes seem darker than others. In a season when little shopping mall angels sing: “Peace on Earth to men of good will,” the arrogant talk of war: defensive, antiseptic, surgical, clean and quick, justified and scorching.

On that first Christmas night, when heaven could not hold him and the Earth barely able to welcome him, Jesus Lord and Christ, was stable-born, a baby in Bethlehem.

Now in our dark night, does he look to come again? Does he look again for hearts to hold him?

Angels and archangels may have gathered there
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air…
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

Christmas is too good to be true.

Christmas is too far-fetched and too far away.

That God Almighty could become a baby was unthinkable. The long-expected gift was too fine and too far-fetched, they said. In Jesus, God joins our weakness and that is foolish to the strong.

On that first Christmas night, when heaven could not hold him, Jesus Lord and Christ, was stable-born in Bethlehem, in a land we now call Israel. Jesus was born long ago in a day when a ruthless and frightened man could order the slaughter of all male children, and it was done.

Christmas is too far-fetched; too far away, and too feeble!

No! Christmas is too near!

Christmas is God’s work, God’s risk for intimacy with you and me. Christmas is a time for closeness and warmth, a time for carols and singing, a time for laughter and love, a time for warmth and kindness — a time for kissing, for play, and for peace.

Mary, remembering her revolutionary Magnificat, kissed her baby; and God kissed the Earth. Now in our dark night, God wants to kiss the earth again — in Bethlehems all around the world in the land between you and me.

Today, Jesus wishes to be born again, not in the city of David, but in Bethlehems all around the world in the land between you and me.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb…
If I were a wiseman, I would do my part,
yet what can I give him … give my heart. [2]

What is the challenge for this new year — 2003?

To make room in the land between your heart and mine for faith and beauty and love and goodness and God to live again; and counting on these things, to expect them to make a difference!

“I believe in one God…who was made flesh and dwells among us.”

“Look at that — I have never seen anything so beautiful.”

“Let love set fear aside — to welcome, embrace, and feed the fearful stranger again.”

To know that God wants and works for Peace On Earth and that with the help of a little child — the one born in Bethlehem and the one hiding in each of us —

God’s will shall be done.

[1] This sweeping description of the 20th Century is paraphrased from the Introduction to Finding Spaceby Anne Belford Ulanov, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

[2] This popular Christmas hymn was written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and the most common tune for it is Cranham, by Gustav Holst (1874-1934).

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Christopher Sikkema


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