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Do you know the definition of darkness? It is the lacking or absence of light. The definition of light isn’t the lacking or absence of darkness though, it is something that makes things visible or affords illumination. What is interesting is that darkness is defined using light but light is not defined by darkness. The same is true with love. We do not define it using its opposite. We don’t say love is the lacking or absence of hate or evil. But we could define hate and evil as the lacking or absence of love. Light and love give purpose to our world and define it.
I was reading one of my favorite blogs this week and the author was talking about how awesome Christmas is. Christmas lights, awesome. Christmas pageants, awesome. Christmas Cantatas, awesome. LED lights set up to dance to Trans Siberian Orchestra, awesome. Christmas Eve services, awesome. But it is very easy to fall into the pitfalls of our modern world and contrast that world with the way Christians are supposed to live. As a preacher it is very easy to turn Advent into a four week nag-fest as I complain about turning this holy time of preparation into a consumerist and materialistic binge.
This time of year it is so easy to get caught up in it all that we miss out on everything. The lists are long this time of year. Christmas cards, parties, decorations, shopping, eating, baking, worshiping, giving, wrapping, eating, the list keeps growing every year. We get mad at ourselves if things are not doing in the certain time that we were hoping they would be done in. We find ourselves disappointed with our circumstances and our timeline. We feel anxious and over worked. But if we concentrate on all the pitfalls we miss out on the promise.
This Advent instead of battling with our culture I challenged myself and all of us to look for signs of God at work in our world. Last Sunday we shared some God moments we have had in this Advent season. We talked about people being willing to share and express love to others. People helping strangers out. Donations being made. The gifts of a warm smile and the hug of friends and family. It seems like the world changes during this time of year and there is more light in our midst than darkness. Is this a sign of people’s hearts changing or is it people simply getting in contact with the side of their humanity that was made in the image of God?
Sometimes we can get so caught up in the darkness that we forget the only way we can see around and through it is because of the light. The idea that there is a War on Christmas looks too long into the darkness. People assume that when the Walmart greeter says “Happy Holidays” that somehow that puts Jesus back into Mary’s womb. There is this notion that our culture is the Grinch and will make off with Christmas if we aren’t focused and vigilant. But no matter what the Grinch does, we Whos in Whoville, can still circle up and sing our praises to God on Christmas morning. We do so because Christmas is not about the tree, the presents, the social greetings, the family meal and parties. It is about what God has done, is doing and will do.
Over 2000 years ago God put another piece of his plan in place by mixing his God DNA with humanity and creating the God-Man we call Jesus in the womb of a virgin. With livestock watching this messiah entered the world. He was greeted by loving parents who were wearing the yoke of social stigmas and gossip since they were not yet married but they were having a child. Royalty did not come to welcome the King of Kings to this earth. Trailer park trash called shepherded wiped sheep dung off their sandals and paid homage to the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a trough. This is what God has done. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
God is still working in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this work we sing our praises as we look around our world and see God still in our midst. We see it in the eyes of the needy who receive food and gifts this Christmas because of generous donations of strangers. It is the smiles on the faces of the family that the youth sponsored. After the serious accident which injured Chris and killed his fiancé, smiles have been few and far between. But we as a church welcomed them during our Chili Cook-Off. Our youth shared love by purchasing gifts for them and possibly making this a Christmas to remember for something good instead of everything that has gone bad. God is still working in our lives if we are willing to have eyes to see. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But that is not where God’s promise stops. It goes on from there. God will do even more for this world in the times to come. But as we look at the Christmas story we have to recognize that God doesn’t do things like we think they should be done. The King of Kings should have been born in a palace but God brought him into the world in a stable. The Lord of Lords should have been welcomed by the famous people of the day not by blue collar workers who smelled and were not even educated. God’s way of doing things is not our way of doing things. If we were God our future would be one of miracles and wonderful signs from heaven. Yet God looks at his creations, you and me, and decides that we are the miracles he would like to perform wonderful signs from heaven through. God chooses to interact with the world through us, fallen, everyday people. We are how the promised future will come to be.
This is how God works. This is the God that we worship. God is a God that doesn’t do things like we think they should be done. But if we try to see the world through God’s eyes it starts to make sense. The way to transform the world is not through a dramatic act of power and strength. The best way is to transform the hearts of individuals by offering them an amazing and free gift. That gift comes to the world tonight, in the form of a baby in a manger. This baby gives the world hope that things will be different in our lives. It gives us joy that can get us through even the roughest times. Peace, everlasting and sustaining peace. And most importantly it give us love; a love that can penetrate the darkest heart with light.
After communion we will do the traditional candlelight part of the Christmas Eve service. What this great tradition reminds us of is that the baby that comes today infects us all with his love. The elements of that love are put on display on the altar tonight in the form of bread and wine. It is this baby that will grow up to be the sacrifice for humanity’s sins. He is the light that will penetrate the darkness. That light lives in each of us. As we light our candles off the Christ candle this evening it is a physical reminder of the light that lives in each of us. We each have it and it our job to share it with the world. People will know what it is because they will feel it reflected in their own lives. Our job is not to light the candles of others but to share our own and let the God who loved the world so much that he sent his only son to it, do the rest.
May you let the light of the Christmas story burn into your soul once again as we stand and listen to it from the Gospel of Luke 2:1-20.