by Rev. Magrey DeVega, St. Paul's UMC Cherokee, IA
First, read John 1:4
Lights are all around us this time of year. Our trees are adorned with strings of lights and topped with stars, our houses are decked with brightly colored displays, and our Advent wreaths mark time with the lighting of candles. But consider what they all have in common: when they are obstructed, they create shadows.
And let’s just acknowledge that, despite this season of joy and peace, you may be living among those shadows. Maybe Christmas hasn't felt very “Christmassy” this year. How can one convince you that this is the time for family and friends, when you have just buried a loved one and are coping with the loss?
How does one convince you that this is the season for giving and sharing, when you've just lost your job, your stock portfolio has plummeted, your business has gone in the tank, and you've been forced to pare down your Christmas list, wrap fewer presents, and make the stockings a little lighter this year?
How does one convince you that this is the season for peace on earth and goodwill among people when all you see is evidence to the contrary? How does Christmas make sense to a war-addicted, revenge-obsessed, violence-propagating culture?
How does one convince you that this is the season for love, when all you've seen in your relationships is bitterness, betrayal, mistrust, and resentment?
But listen carefully to what John says here.
Jesus was not born into a world of holiday cheer, festive displays, and widespread goodwill. He entered a world of crowded city streets, inhospitable innkeepers, a paranoid, murderous king, and hopelessly oppressed citizens.
He too would learn the sting of a loved ones death, the pain of a close friend’s betrayal, the fatigue of keeping up a personal crusade, the vengeful backlash that came from simply trying to speak the truth, and even the pain of one day suffering his own torture and death.
Jesus was born into a pretty dark world, not unlike our own. But if there is one truth to lift up tonight, one candle to hold up amidst our darkness, it is this: What has come into being in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
God has come to be here with you. Not in spite of your suffering, but to share in your suffering. Not in spite of your darkness, but precisely because of it. Because, as the gospel suggests, you were sitting in darkness, and now you can see a great light.
And this is not just any light. This is God’s light. And God’s light can do something that no other light can claim to do: God’s light doesn’t create shadows.
It goes against every property of light, every principle of physics we ever learned. Natural light creates shadows when obstructions are in the way. But God’s light obliterates obstacles, bends around them, bursts through them, even when the greatest barriers of life appear.
What kind of light is this? It is not fabricated holiday light, with shopping lists and tinsel wrap. That light creates shadows that only amplify our misery. This light is the light of a God who came near to be with us.
What kind of light is this? It is not the light of unfulfilled hopes and dashed dreams. That light creates shadows and fills us with remorse and bitterness. This light is the light of a God who fills us with the eternal hope of our security in the kingdom.
What kind of light is this? It is not the light of vengeful war and attacks on our enemies. That light creates permanent shadows and hollow victories. This light is the light of a God who lifts up an irrational vision of peace.
What kind of light is this? It is not the light of plastic good cheer, and festive escapism. Those memories will fade, and so will its benefits. This light is the light of a God who says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
What kind of light is this? It is the light that says you are not alone. You do not suffer in solitude. You have a companion for your journey. One who breathed your air and walked your sod. One who cried your tears, felt your anger, wrestled with your temptations, and felt the sting of saying good-bye.
This companion is Emmanuel. And God is still with us.
Dear God, thank you for the light of Jesus, which shines through my obstructions and gives me a hope that will not fade, a peace that will not be understood, a love that will not let me go, and a joy that will not create shadows. Amen.
Christmas Eve is finally here! Though you probably have some preparations left to do, now is also the time to put on our finest and celebrate with our own family Christmas Eve traditions and most likely a visit to church for a candlelight service and a few verses of Silent Night and Joy to the World. Though those candlelight hymns are beautiful, they are not the most important candle we light on Christmas Eve.
At the center of the Advent wreath sits the Christ Candle, a symbol of the holiness of our Lord. We might say that the Christ Candle is like Jesus’ birthday candle! As all good birthday candles deserve a proper cake, make or buy a birthday cake for Jesus and eat it as your special Christmas Eve dessert along with your “Jesus” mason jar of white M & M candies. Be sure to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and make a wish on Jesus’ behalf for the world.
What do you think Jesus would wish for on His birthday?
(PS: Don’t forget those other lights! Put out your luminaries when you get home from Christmas Eve services.)