The following are the three meditations I shared during our Family Christmas Eve Service at Messiah Lutheran Church and School in 2012. Our theme was “Sent into the World.” We remembered both how Jesus was sent into our world to save us as a newborn babe and how we are sent as his church out into the world. Thus, the service included many hymns and carols from all over the world. The three below were part of the meditation portion of the program, but it was a night filled with music and fun.
The Gift of Jesus
Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
Prop: small Christmas tree ornament of the globe
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
Consider the world [holding up ornament]….Ok, it’s a bit larger than this ornament, but it’s a relatively small place in the vast, extensive darkness of space. Proportionally, this ornament in comparison to your own size is much, much larger – infinitesimally so – than what we would find with a God’s eye view of our planet. Our world is only a small rock in a vast galaxy that itself is only one of millions of galaxies. Our universe was created from a black void – both the Bible and science think so – and this poor little sphere spends much of its time suspended amidst that darkness; hidden by larger heavenly bodies, and threatened by them as well. Yes, our fallen world is filled with threats and horrors and many terrible unknowns, and it always has been. Yet, light breaks in to give warmth, nurture life, and bring joy. Amidst a cosmic battle, God doesn’t leave us unloved or alone in the dark. Instead, he chose to dwell among us…even became one of us on this tiny, out of the way planet we call home.
Long ago, the great prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th Century BC. It was a time of much darkness. Certainly, they didn’t have our modern conveniences or scientific knowledge, but they shared in our troubled humanity. Throughout Isaiah’s life, the nation of Israel faced wars and rumors of war. At least three times, the existence of Israel was at risk of obliteration and exile. It was a time of early death due to violence, famine and disease. There was seemingly too little joy and never enough peace. Yet, a son was born to a young maiden, wife of the king, and the prophet saw in this somewhat ordinary experience the promise that lay within. God would be faithful no matter how dark the days got. God’s plan to rescue his Holy people would never go unfulfilled. Later Christians would understand this same passage to testify to the coming of Jesus Christ.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen too much darkness. Many are still homeless in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy. Diplomats in Benghazi were horrifically killed. In Connecticut, we hear the cries of modern “Rachels” weeping as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. (See Jeremiah 31:15-17 and Matthew 2) They cry over too many innocents and our own innocence lost in the safety of their small town school. Closer to home and only in these past few weeks, members of our community have suffered new joblessness, accidents and serious illness, and our beloved Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Chip Gunsten, died unexpectedly. More tears. More death. Darkness. We might be tempted to echo the writer of Lamentations wondering, “Why God would allow such things? Why would he punish us so?” as we groan anew:
5 [God] has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago. (See Lamentations 3)
Yet in these times of trouble, hear the promises that come to us through Isaiah. Much like that time long ago, there is a sign to remember and hope to be found amidst our darkness. When the time was right, a virgin did conceive, and a very different child was born…one like no one before or since…perhaps beyond Isaiah’s own understanding. He would be a miracle of light, giving hope, joy and love to all the nations. This king would not be a king in our political sense. Instead, he would suffer under the political forces of our world as we might. He would live amongst the ill and dying. His life would be continually threatened from the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem until his own death on a cross. God had come, not to punish us, but to share our lot and change it; to end suffering and bring everlasting peace. All authority rested on Jesus’ shoulders, and yet out of love, he took upon those same shoulders the weight of sin, death and the Devil to defeat them all and save us.
Like that original Christmas night long ago, Jesus comes to our tiny planet to touch our tiny lives and hearts today. He wishes to be God with Us, Emmanuel, and so none of the political chaos, evil or darkness is powerful enough to stop him. Although it might be hard for us to recognize him with our human senses at times, our faith hears his voice and trusts he is near. Together as church, we gather as one, holding on in the darkness and never alone. God does not will such suffering. God is only love. Jesus remains our proof, and the fullness of God’s Kingdom will banish our darkness forever when the time is right.
Until then, we testify to the light and hold on to one another – teaching, serving, worshipping, loving God and neighbor. For, “What has come into being in [that baby] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (See John 1).”
Although we remain in this land of darkness, the light shines on us and through us still, and our Lord Jesus promises that it always will. No matter what worries us or threatens us…no matter the darkness we sense around us or in us, rejoice! Rejoice with the choirs of angels and all God’s saints for the promise of Christmas has come to us, and we will never again be separated from his love. Amen.
Carol, “Angels We have Heard on High,” Red, 289
The Gift of Grace
Reading: Titus 2:11-14
Prop: Wrapped package or gift bag – empty inside
One of my favorite traditions each Christmas Eve is to gather with my extended family and friends, share a special meal and open gifts. It is such a great joy to see the look of expectation through the eyes of my young nieces and nephews gathered together. Unfortunately sometimes…and I’m afraid it was the same when I was young too…the package comes all wrapped and beautifully bowed…it gets opened frantically, quickly…only to have the child move on just as rapidly to the next gift. The gift delights for a moment, but then the child moves on perhaps as if that beautiful gift box or bag was filled with nothing. [Emptying and examining package]
We, the children of God, spend much of our lives in a similar fashion. We chase after the next bobble or possession, seek positions of power that don’t last, and spend too much time in activities that can’t love us – costly time away from our family and friends. I often hear when someone has a near death experience or approaches the end of their life, “I wish things were different. I have wasted my life.” Yes, as children, we can easily lose our way.
Yet through Christ, a different gift lies before us; one that is eternal and can fill all our life’s empty places. We sense that something is missing, and that perhaps, we could do better. We somehow in our hearts expect more from this life. And so, Jesus calls us buy name, offering us the ultimate gift of his love and friendship.
The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer compared us to miners trapped underground. We might feel that we are without hope – waiting for death – until suddenly a voice is heard, calling from seemingly nowhere, yet calling in our darkness. “Where are you? Help is coming!” The helpless miner stands up, mustering strength to cry out in return, “Here I am! Come through to me and rescue me!” Faced with the inability to save himself, the miner admits his neediness, “I cannot come through. I cannot help myself. But I wait. I wait and will hold on until you come. Only come quickly.” The miner sees nothing, nothing at all to give him hope. He only hears the promise of the savior, “I am coming for you!” Blow after blow, the sound comes nearer. There is a last crashing, seemingly thunderous blow of the hammer…light breaks in…at first just a hope or glimmer of light…but yes, more…certainly more! One strike and he will be free. New life will be his.[i]
This story is a metaphor for the giftedness of our present life. Jesus has come to save us, he is with us, and he will come again. That saving work began in a small stable. It continued on a cross. It proceeded from a tomb. Yet this is only the first breaking in of his light and love. His saving work continues to dawn in our daily lives today. He calls us to wait…listen for his voice, hold on for his help, and live in his hope. Look up, raise your heads, and expect salvation…a salvation that not even the power of death can keep from us.
In return, we are only asked in the present age to seek lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior,* Jesus Christ (see Titus 2:11-14). He will do all the heavy work, so that through faith, we receive a gift beyond price – a saving grace, a living grace…a grace that must be shared with others, so that we may one day taste our freedom fully together. With such a life reborn of faith, we’ll sense the light of Christ is near us even amidst our darkness. Amen.
Carol, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” Red, 271
The Gift of Church
Reading: Luke 2:1-20
“Props”: the people of God!
In these modern times, skeptics demand proof. “Prove that the reason for the season is Jesus! Prove to me that God is love!” What signs can we give them?
Long ago, some less modern skeptics gathered in a field. They were of lowly status, shepherds of sheep. They were known for dirty bodies and dirty lives filled with drinking, lies, and even theft. They were a hard people shaped by the hardness of life, and they expected little.
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (see Luke 2)
The long expected sign for the King of Kings, the Messiah, our Savior…the one who would change all the world…was a baby! It was a poor infant from a poor family in poor circumstances. A child swaddled in simple, torn strips of cloth. That was the great sign of God’s love. God had come to share in the hardness of life and free us from it.
That child would grow to be a boy wise beyond his years. Then, he would become a man who preached and taught not as the scribes and priests did but as one with the authority of God. This great rabbi would travel the land by foot. He would walk far and wide reaching out not only to the expected Chosen Ones of God, but all people: the lepers, the wounded, and the greatest of sinners. Even on his cross, that man would share comforting words of God from scripture, pray for his persecutors, offer forgiveness to someone crucified beside him, care for his mother, and give up his own life so that others might live. Jesus’ life and being was and remains that greatest of signs of God’s love for us.
And so here we are, gathered as millions and millions of Christians have done over the millennia and do so tonight. We would not be here if Jesus hadn’t been born as one of us and risen from the dead…if people like us hadn’t been touched by the light of his life and past that light on to us through the ages (as we will symbolically do with candlelight later this evening). The incarnate Christ is who we worship…the ever so real and yet divine Jesus…and he is present in our world through the incarnate church, the embodiment of his teachings, life and love.
We can be a hard people with a hard life, and yet the angels speak to us…call us to become Christ’s messengers. “Do not be afraid! To you is born a Savior”…for you a Savior. He is a gift come to you, so that you with others might share one communal, eternal, joyful life with him. Through faith, we are to be his body, a sign of good news and great joy for all people.
As his body, we are asked to share in his life, suffering, death, and resurrection out of love. It is his Spirit that washes over us in our baptism, and his flesh and blood that touches our own in our sacred meal. Just as Jesus’ life is the final answer to sin, death and the Devil, he has spoken us into being for this time and this place with all its unique challenges. Look to your right and left…see yourself in a mirror. We are the church! We are to be Christ in the world!
We are called to be Christ’s church together, a gift to the world as Jesus was God’s loving gift to us. As the Spirit was a gift to the first disciples that same Holy Spirit seeks to empower us now. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:16-20)…be zealous in good deeds (Titus 2:14)…walk in his light (Isaiah 9:2)…For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into our world to rescue us and dwell in our hearts (John 3:16-17). Out of that same love, God sends us back out into that hard, dark world – strengthened and never alone – to share his light not just on this holy night, but always.
May we like those shepherds, praise God and share with one and all what we have seen and heard. Amen.
Carol, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” Red, 276
[i] Paraphrase of a portion of a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as translated in Robertson, E. (trans. And ed.) (2005) Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons. “How a prisoner awaits for his release.” December 3, 1933. pp. 88-90.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2012 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.