“Jesus, the Light of the World”
Christmas Eve (RCL I) - December 24, 2018
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Isaiah 9:2-7 (CEB)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice. As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor. Because every boot of the thundering warriors, and every garment rolled in blood will be burned, fuel for the fire. A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.
Thank you to our children and our children’s ministry volunteers for organizing and performing this Spontaneous Nativity. Like Willie, our narrator, said, on the original Christmas, everything was spontaneous, chaotic, and unexpected. Nothing was planned or orderly, because no one expected the gift of baby Jesus.
He was a surprise to the world. And that’s because through the birth of Jesus, God gave us something that we hoped for but couldn’t fully understand. God gave us light!
When I was in high school, my family took a weekend trip over the summer to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Cooperstown is in upstate New York, about 200 miles from where I grew up, so it was a long road trip for us. In addition to visiting the Hall of Fame, we stopped for some sightseeing.
We visited a cave with beautiful rock formations that was clearly a tourist attraction. I couldn’t tell you the name of the cave, but I remember seeing it in no small part because there is a family photo from that day in my parents’ dining room. I see it every time I visit them in New York. The other thing I remember about that trip was just how dark the cave was. When we were far from the electric light fixtures, it became pitch black. You could barely see your own hand in front of your eyes. When we finally emerged from the cave we needed some time for our eyes to adjust. The light of the outdoors shocked us and was too much to bear.
This is the kind of shock that humanity experienced when Jesus was born.
The Prophet Isaiah puts it this way: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. Isaiah says that life before Christ is like walking around in the dark. If you’ve been in the darkness for a long time, like we were in the cave, your eyes adjust and you can start to see pretty well. Coming out of the cave is uncomfortable, but manageable. But if you stay in the dark for hours and days and weeks and year, then you can lose the ability to process the light. You can go blind.
And if you cannot see, because you’ve lived in darkness for ages and ages, then Light changes your whole world. Light is incomprehensible. Light doesn’t even register in your brain. It’s so good and so different that it’s hard to process. This is some of what happens when a sinful and broken world meets the holiness and perfection of God. God’s goodness took on a human form, Jesus, and he changed everything about the universe.
His light broke the darkness open. His light gave us a new vision for the good. His light provided a way of salvation for us both now and into eternity. He shocked the system to its core.
Because here’s the thing: even though we couldn’t fully understand the light of God, we knew that something was wrong with the darkness. The Psalmist could ask God to restore us and save us because he knew that the world was messed up. Isaiah could call all people grass that withers away because he knew that we have no ability to help ourselves stop sinning, hurting ourselves and each other. Mary could pray that the mighty will be brought low and the lowly lifted high because she lived in a world where the rich and powerful crushed the weak to amass more wealth and power.
This is why we started tonight service in a dark church. As we closed the season of Advent, we remembered the key themes of the season: hope, peace, joy, and love. We heard the story of salvation from the Old Testament in the times before Jesus’ birth, guided only by the small light of our hope in God. We pray for these virtues every year before Christmas because the world is still a very dark and sinful place.
We need hope because injustice and despair threaten to overwhelm us. We need peace because endless wars are still the norm. We need joy because grief and loss weigh on us so heavily. We need love because hatred and suffering are still present throughout the world.
What we realized throughout the Old Testament age was that we could see and name the darkness of the world, but we had no power to fix it. Evil infiltrates the lives of every individual, family, church, community, society, and nation. We cannot escape it. Darkness cannot produce light on its own because darkness isn’t a thing. It’s just the absence of light. Humanity could not just try harder to be more moral or more ethical. We can’t outwork sin. It infects all of us. So instead, we needed an outside intervention.
And that’s why we needed light. Light, the goodness and love of God, fills the voids of our lives. Light shows us how to go. Light guides us in our paths. Light reveals what was wrong and gives us the strength to try to fix it.
The candles on the Advent wreath remind us not to avoid the darkness of the sinful world around us. We can look at it honestly, trusting that God has already given us the solution we need. When the Christ Candle is finally lit, Jesus is born to us. God has finally sent the true light into the world. This light is powerful enough to break open our darkness for good.
So on Christmas, we celebrate a God who chose to send Light into the world. God is kind enough to answer our prayers for help. God is kind enough even to show up in the flesh and be with us. God is kind enough to give us a way out of our self-destruction and despair. And so we know that God has answered us when we sing our prayer of the week that I taught you yesterday (Psalm 80:7):
Restore us, O God of hosts
Show us the light of your countenance
And we shall be saved
The light of the world has come. We can see the shining face of God. And his name is Jesus. Amen.
Advent Wreath Lighting Litany: