This is a version of the sermon preached on December 24, 2019 at BBUMC – Christmas Eve. It’s based on the texts in the Revised Common Lectionary. It draws from worship resources for the Advent series, “Are We There Yet?“
We employed a little bit of interactivity with this sermon. I’ve left my instructions so that you might be able to imagine what’s happening.
Today’s sermon explores the following scripture passages: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20.
Holy Spirit, fill us this night, that the old, old story we love to tell and sing, might reveal Jesus to us in ways that lead us deeper in our journey with him. Through Jesus, God with us, we pray. Amen.
Let’s begin with a little activity. As you’re able, please lift your unlit candles high in the air and keep them up. You might want to do one of these grade school moves [two hands].
Perhaps the candle part of the service is what we’ve truly come for tonight, at least in part. But what about this candle holding action is so meaningful? When we hold uplifted candles, are we merely holding candles we use once a year and then put back in storage? Is this like our faith, dusted off occasionally and put away the rest of the time?
Are we holding candles, in the midst of a darkened sanctuary in the dark of night as a symbolic action? Do we light them and silently proclaim, “Jesus is our light! Darkness, get you gone!”
Are we holding candles as symbols of our renewed commitment to follow Jesus more faithfully than we have since we last held these candles?
Now, I see some arms are already a little droopy, but keep them aloft if you can. Let’s play a little more. [ushers turn off lights and tree].
It’s significant that we gather in darkness, and that we name some of the areas of darkness in our lives. Perhaps we’re here, but missing someone who is not. Perhaps we’re struggling to find hope or direction – in our relationships, our jobs, or some other area of our lives. Perhaps we’re weighed down with a public or private struggle with brokenness, illness, or sin – something that gnaws at us in the darkness and threatens to block out the light in our lives.
It’s difficult to keep holding these candles isn’t it? Sometimes, darkness has weight. [You can lower your candles.]
Whatever darkness we’re experiencing in our lives, take a look at this: [youth lights candle on chancel].
One small light, one little act of rebellion against the darkness, changes this space. But, more than that, [light your candles now, please], one small light can begin a chain reaction of light casting out darkness, transforming our space, our lives, and the world.
On that Bethlehem plain, two thousand years ago, shepherds were watching their sheep by night. We assume these shepherds were Jewish men, and so they would have been raised into a vision of God’s not-yet kingdom – a unity of heaven and earth in God’s presence. But they knew better than to ask, “Are we there yet?” Everything about them was darker than the God-inspired vision they hoped for. They lived in the darkness, kept out from comfortable society, seen as suspicious, seen as outsiders, seen as less than. They lived, also, in dark times, in which the world was not as it should be, or at least as they envisioned it. Our candle meditation a moment ago reveals that we too know such darkness. [Ushers turn on lights]
But suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel of the Lord comes to the shepherds, surrounded by the glory of the Lord. And it’s as though, all of a sudden, their world is filled with one small light, a glimmer of hope, a twinkling of joy and promise. The angel tells them the good news of great joy for all people, that their long-awaited savior of the world has been born. “Go, and see,” they tell them.
Soon, the angel is surrounded by a great throng of angels singing praise to God. And there, we see it again: one light spreads and becomes more and more lights, casting out darkness, and kindling hope. Even more so is this true as the shepherds return to their fields after seeing the child, swaddled snuggly in a manger among the livestock on the ground floor of a small house. They couldn’t keep quiet. They shared it with others, and all who heard it were amazed. The light, the vision, was spreading.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah proclaimed a God-inspired message of hope similar to the angels’ message:
“The people [who were] walking in darkness,” Isaiah says, “have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned” (Is 9:2).
Then, Isaiah continues, proclaiming that the light is a child born to them on whose shoulders will rest authority over all the earth.
“He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).
Tonight especially, we hear Isaiah’s words and think of Jesus, but if we think back to our candle activity, we can see even more.
When that one candle was lit, it enabled us to see an alternative vision of reality. Where there had once been darkness, we could see at least a little, if only the person holding the light. Then, as we all lit our candles, the darkness began to dissipate, and we could see our neighbors, perhaps others across the sanctuary, and maybe even enough to read. Something similar has happens to Isaiah’s hearers whenever they hear him: light gives us vision of reality that darkness cannot overcome. Once we’ve seen, we cannot fully un-see again. And vision gives us hope and courage to live by.
In Jesus, God’s light and life comes into the world. Jesus, God’s light, casts out darkness, holding aloft a light that cannot, will not, ever, be overcome. But, it’s especially through those who see his light, and then share it, that God’s light truly spreads, shaping our vision of ourselves, of others, and of the world. Jesus gives us vision to live into God’s light-filled reality, so that God’s light can be seen throughout the world in us.
So, yes, when we hold our candles aloft later in worship, we’ll do so as an act of defiance and rebellion against the darkness we experience. We’ll light our candles and proclaim, “God, the light of the world, is with us, and having seen him, we will love and follow him!” We’ll light our candles, and we’ll remember that Jesus reveals God’s will and way for us and for the world. And having seen it, God emboldens us to live into God’s presence in this life and the life to come.
If the candles are rebellion against the darkness, then they challenge us to lives shining out amidst darkness: speaking truth to power; lifting up the struggling without demanding they fix themselves first; caring for our neighbors near and far; and committing ourselves to grow more and like Jesus through study, prayer, worship, and community. We’ll light our candles as an act of renewed commitment to be bearers of Jesus’ light every day.
Tonight, we’ll light our candles and remember that Jesus shows us that God is always present with us. We’ll light our candles and remember that God’s light casts out all darkness and fear. We’ll light our candles and see the way God’s love, come down at Christmas, changes our lives, our vision, and our hearts. And, by the grace of God seen in our invigorated faithfulness, we’ll light our candles and watch them spread as beacons of God’s light and love across the world.