The Big Picture – December 24, 2019, Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve, 2019
This year I’ve been trying something new. I’ve been using the themes of our Advent Candles as the themes for our worship services. And I think it’s given us cause to focus on those candles – and what they mean – a little bit more. So far, we have seen that Advent is, “A Season of Hope,” “A Season of Faith,” “A Season of Love,” and “A Season of Peace.”
Tonight, we light the center candle in our Advent Wreath. This is the Christ Candle. And actually, the Christ Candle is a later addition to the tradition of the Advent Wreath. It used to be that there was only the four candles around the wreath itself. Do you remember that?
Also, do you know where the Advent Wreath was originally displayed in churches? It was hung from the ceiling so that it was suspended over the chancel! Have any of you ever seen one hung that way? I was in one church years ago that still did that.
That was the tradition. That was the way “it used to be.” And even now, when we’re looking for Liturgies for the lighting of the Advent candles, we find a lot of them that only have readings for the four outer candles. So, when we’ve used those liturgies – including the one we used this year – I’ve written a liturgy for lighting the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve.
And I will always do it that way. Because I for one am glad for this “addition” to the Advent tradition. Because I think the Christ candle encompasses them all. And the scripture we use when we light it, which we’ll read again in just a few minutes, is the one that I think gives us “The Big Picture” of Christmas. It is from the “prologue” of John’s Gospel. And in this passage, John puts the Christmas story in the perspective of all of history, starting with the same words used by the writer of the first words of the entire Bible, “In the beginning…”
John gives us the big picture. And I think that’s so important! Because our “picture” of Christmas can easily be too small, can’t it! What do we think of on Christmas? We think of a baby, a manger, even angels and wise men! And those are all wonderful things! But when we think of God becoming a man – which is hard enough to wrap our heads around – we also need to think of the cross, and the empty tomb, and of Jesus Christ the King. That’s the culmination of the entire celebration of his life throughout the year! (That’s why we have Christ the King Sunday, just before Advent begins!)
Well, John gives us an even bigger picture than that! He tells us to look the other way. He takes us back to the past, to the beginning of time, and he says, “Jesus – the Word – was there!” That part of our “Triune God” which we have come to know as the Son, was there at creation, and “all things were made through him.” That throws a slight theological monkey wrench into our all too simple description of the Trinity, doesn’t it? We think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as “Creator,” “Redeemer,” and “Sustainer.” But here we have the Son as creator! Think about that. And if we think of the Spirit as the Sustainer, remember that Jesus didn’t say, “The Holy Spirit will be with you to the close of the age.” He said, “I will be with you…” So, it’s not all that simple!
So then, on Christmas, we recognize, we see the big picture – that God the Son – Jesus – didn’t come into existence on Christmas Day, two thousand years ago. He always existed! He, the Word, was “in the beginning with God and he was God.” He was with God in Creation, and all things were made through him.
That’s the Big Picture” of Christmas. And that is a big picture, isn’t it! It’s a picture that’s hard to fathom! (And in terms of understanding it, if you think you have, you probably haven’t!) And don’t get me wrong! It’s great to think of the events that happened here. It’s great to read the birth narratives, to sing songs of angels and shepherds! It’s great to think of this poor peasant girl who gave birth to the Messiah. But we can’t leave it there. We can’t leave the baby in the manger and then put it and him away with all the decorations. (And usually way too soon, in my opinion!) We have to read and think about these words of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
That’s what we celebrate here! We celebrate that the Light that has come into the world, and that Light was the life of all mankind. And that “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never conquered it!”
Eternal God, in your great wisdom and amazing Grace, you came to live among us. Help us to know you live among us still. Help us to live in your Hope, your Faith, your Love and your Peace, now and throughout our lives. This we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.