There is no service Episcopalians love more than the Christmas Eve service. We love the warmth of the service, the heartfelt joy of the great carols, the presence and voices of happy children, the candlelit church, the solemnity and intimacy of Christmas communion. It stirs our memories and our imaginations. And we love the Christmas message: God come among us in the form of an infant child, Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.
We approach the Christmas season with the benefit of many years of experience, our memories full of many tellings of the story, so many, in fact, that a lot of us can tell the story ourselves. We tell it as a story of triumph, of God’s overcoming evil and dark with the power of goodness and light. And it is that, to be sure, although I suspect that first night, things were a bit more tentative: a poor family, in town to register for Roman taxation, seeking any refuge in order to deliver a baby, a birth noted only in heaven and by some shepherds. Perhaps, less than a triumph, that first Christmas was more like a match struck in the night, a guttering candle burning bravely in the dark.
This has been a year when, for the first time in a long time, many Americans have found themselves afraid: of an uncertain economic future, of a rapidly changing cultural landscape, of strangers who are moving into the neighborhood, of gunmen and terrorists who threaten to bring the horrors of faraway conflicts to our doors. It may not feel like a time of triumph for us, but more like a time of encroaching darkness, of doubt and confusion – are we in trouble? This may be a year when the joy of the carols catches in our throats.
Let me invite you to be attentive all over again to the story – the foreign oppressor, the poor parents, the humble birth, the slaughter of innocents, the flight to Egypt. Our God knows what it’s like to be us, to live our lives and in our time. God knows what it’s like to be afraid in the dark. And in the dark God kindles a flame to push back the dark. Not a big light. Not an overpowering light. But a candle burning bravely, a sign of God’s presence, God’s love. Hope.
“The light shines in the dark and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5 The light struck in Bethlehem has never been extinguished. It burns even now, bravely pushing back the darkness. And you can light your candle from it. God is with us yet. There is reason for hope.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you might pause, even for a moment, and light that candle in your heart. Choose hope. God is faithful. The light shines.
The Peace of God be yours.