A Light in the Darkness – Christmas Eve/December 27, 2020
Isaiah 60:1-3, John 1:1-14
December 24, 2020
This year I find myself drawn even more to this imagery from the first chapter – the prologue – of John’s Gospel. Telling about Jesus, he wrote, “In him was light, and the light was the life of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it.” I’ve always loved those words. But perhaps even more this year
I think of the time when Jesus came to Earth. It was a “dark time.” The Romans were in power. They had conquered and subjugated the world. And of course, there have been many other such “dark times.” Maybe you can think of some of them. The time of the bubonic plague, the time of the Spanish flu, the great depression, and of course the various wars throughout the ages. There aren’t many of us left who lived through a “World War.” But there have been others. There are many times in history could be considered times of “darkness” in that way.
One period of history was actually called, “The Dark Ages!” That’s a time I don’t know a whole lot about – and not a whole lot of people do, which is one reason it was called “The Dark Ages.” That was the time from the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, until the Renaissance. That was roughly 900 years, from the 5th to the 14th centuries. We also refer to that time as the “Middle Ages,” or even the “Medieval Age.” It was a time when the world became fragmented into a lot of small “feudal” kingdoms. It was ruled by whoever was the strongest. And of course, the “Dark Ages” were capped off with the coming of the bubonic plague in around the 14th century.
There have been many “dark times” throughout history. And as we think about that this year that’s about to end, I think we can all agree that the year 2020, has been a time of “darkness.” Maybe more so than any other in a lot of our lives. For a lot of younger people, this has been the first taste of any kind of darkness in the world. So many people have lost jobs, they’ve lost income, they’ve lost loved ones, they’ve lost hope. For many, there seems to be no “light at the end of the tunnel.” And maybe this year we’ve even gotten a little taste of what some of those other dark times might have been like.
And maybe we’ve been through other dark times of our own. I remember a time almost exactly 20 years ago, when I had gone through a particularly trying time in my life – a “dark night of the soul,” as they say. It was the end of the year 2000. And as the New Year came at midnight, and the year 2001 began, I remember saying, “Here’s to the Near Year. I hope it’s a heck of a lot better than the old one!” (Only I didn’t say “heck!”)
So now, here we are. It’s Christmas Eve, we’re “on the cusp” of a new year. This time next week it’ll be New Years’ Eve. And I’ve always loved how Christmas comes right at the end of a year and on the doorstep to a new year. And I’ve loved that because in this celebration there is new-ness, there is renewal. This is a celebration of a turning point in history!
Some people have said, “It’s not going to be much of a Christmas. There’s not a lot to be joyful about this year.” “We can’t get together.” “There are no dinners, no parties. We can’t even gather in Church!” And in that sense, I suppose they’re right. It might not be “much of a Christmas,” at least not in terms of the celebration of this event that we’re used to.
But I think they’re wrong when they say there’s not a lot to be joyful about. Because Christmas is more than just joy over a birth! It’s more than just a celebration – even of the coming of Christ into the world. John had it right. Christmas is a light shining in the darkness. It is Jesus the light, coming to a darkened world!
As I said, maybe this year, more than ever, I am drawn to these images John gave us, of the light in the darkness. Maybe this year, I’ve thought even more about Jesus’ own words. “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”
I hope you are thinking about those words, too, in whatever version of “darkness” you might find yourself. The words are still true. And they’re true every year at this time. “The light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it!”
Eternal God, you have given us hope in Jesus coming into our world. Help us this Christmas to see his light, no matter how dark our world seems to be. May the love, joy, peace, and hope of Christmas come to us, no matter what darkness we may be going through. Help us to rejoice in our hearts that “Christ the Savior is born.” For we pray in his name, Amen.
That reminds me of the story of William Tennant. Do you remember him? William Tennant was the pastor of several churches in Bucks County over 300 years ago, including Bensalem Presbyterian, Neshaminy-Warwick, and Doylestown! And Tennant was looked down upon by the “established clergy” of the early 1700’s. They had all been trained in the ivy-covered, stone-walled institutions of the Old World. And here was this “upstart preacher,” in the Pennsylvania colony, training clergy in his rustic colonial building, which they referred to by the derogatory name “The Log College.” Yet, it was the students of William Tennant who went on to spark “The Great Awakening,” which was the greatest religious resurgence in the history of the New World! And it happened all right around here!
It’s been said that God rarely calls great people to do great things. He calls humble people to do great things! And that fits the paradigm he established long ago, with people like Moses, and Jeremiah, and David. And there was no greater example than that of Jesus Christ. “Who, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” And that humility has ever been hallmark of God’s kingdom. Jesus himself taught that “The last shall be first, and the first last.” And “He who would be great among you must be a servant – like me!”
As we think about that humility, exemplified by Jesus, and taught by Paul, I hope we also hear the power of the second part of the angel’s song. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, and goodwill among men.”
Boy, is that a message we need to hear today! Our world longs for peace. And I don’t mean peace only as in “the absence of warfare.” I mean peace that goes hand in hand with goodwill! And of course, I mean inner peace – peace of mind, peace in our hearts, no matter what the circumstances of life. You’ve heard me say that many times.
The world is in such desperate need of that peace. It so needs “peace and goodwill among men.” But that’s not easy! And let me tell you, there will never be peace without humility and compassion. When selfishness and conceit prevail and meekness is lost, when conquering and controlling is greater than caring, when power is more to be desired than love, there will be no true peace!
Jesus came to show us that. Paul pleaded for us to know that! And we, as God’s people, should know it best! As we look forward to the new year, it is my prayer that we will live that peace and goodwill in our lives. And may it grow in our world throughout the year, and not just as part of this Christmas story. May we remember this amazing contrast in the birth of our Savior, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Eternal God, we give you glory and praise, as did the angel host on that night long ago. May we know the peace that he came to bring, and may we grow in the compassion he lived. May we have the strength to be the humble, loving people he has called us to be. For we pray in his name, Amen.