Saturday, December 25, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 25

Taking a page from Pastor Kinne’s worship handbook, let me start a phrase and see if you can finish it:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David(a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was(God.)

In Him was life, and the life was the … (light of men.)

Last night we heard the Christmas Eve Gospel from Luke 2. Those words from Luke have been read and shared for nearly 2000 years, especially at times like these when truth, meaning, and hope have been desperately needed.

This morning we hear the Christmas Day Gospel from John 1. To some, it doesn’t sound very “Christmas-sy.” If anything, it sounds old fashioned, even Old “Testament-y” (“In the beginning…).

But the words of John chapter 1 are just as filled with truth, meaning, and hope as the words of Luke chapter 2.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

When I hear the word “light” I think of the sun. The sun is something we haven’t seen for what seems like a long time. But it is still there, right?

My favorite quote about the sun is by C.S. Lewis, who said,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” [“Is Theology Poetry?” (1945)]

Even though we haven’t seen the sun this past week, we know it is there because we see everything else, during the day, by its light.

During the dark nights we can have “little suns” to illuminate our darkness – candles.

Candles are part of the Christmas celebration. We have them in church – altar candles, Advent candles, the Christ Candle, a paschal candle, and a sanctuary candle that forever burns. Their flames represent the light of Christ in our dark world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A long time ago, a pastor sat at his desk getting ready to write his Christmas Day sermon. This was before there were electric lights. As the sun set and the sky turned first cobalt, then black and dotted with the white light of stars, he lit his only candle and tried to begin to write.

He had struggled with that year’s Christmas message. He was a preacher and at Christmas it was expected of the preacher to preach about the birth of Jesus, the coming of our Savior, the angels’ message to the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

But what could he say that was new and hadn’t been said before? Could anything new be said? Should anything new be said?

He looked at his candle. It was one of the old altar candles that had been replaced with new ones for the Christmas service. This one was old and would only provide so much light before it would burn out. By the light of this candle, he would only have a limited time in which to write his message about the coming of the Light of World at Christmas. He felt that it would be a sign from heaven that he had written all he could when the candle burned out. When it did go out, he would stop and write nothing more.

The night that Jesus was born was like that candle and message. There had been thousands of years of waiting in faith and telling each new generation about the Messiah that was to come. But there would be a time when all the words would be said. The candle of time would come to an end and light from somewhere else would be needed.

That was when the night sky over Bethlehem exploded in light and angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

For that is what Christmas is all about. This day is about giving glory to God in the highest – the one and only God who is our King, our Creator, our Warrior, and our Savior. Why do we give Him glory? We give Him glory because He has come to bring peace and goodwill toward men. Not “to” men as if we would have peace and goodwill toward each other in this world. One look at the newspaper or the TV news and you know that there is no such thing as “peace on earth.” Jesus Christ came to bring peace and goodwill – God’s peace and goodwill – toward men. He came to reconcile God to us.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

One of the simplest yet poignant parables of the peace and hope that Christ came to bring is a half-hour television program that first aired December 9, 1965.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas our hero is depressed even though he knows he should be happy with all that the Christmas season brings – presents, parties, decorations, etc. He desperately looks for the meaning of the Christmas season. First he tries involvement. But he fails to control the Christmas play rehearsals. Thinking that the answer lies in getting a tree, he goes on a quest, only to find that all the trees at the Christmas Tree lot are shiny and aluminum. All, that is, except for one little tree. Amongst all the man-made seasonal items, it is a real tree that draws Charlie Brown’s attention. Yet, still, the tree is not the answer to what Charlie Brown is seeking – at least not yet (a tree being the answer to all our problems is a sermon for Holy Week).

Finally, Charlie Brown reaches the breaking point. He cries out in desperations, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus steps forward saying he can tell Charlie Brown – and all of us – what Christmas is all about.

He calls out, “Lights, Please?” and then, in the spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Version.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

There was a famous monastery which had fallen on very hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with young monks, and its huge chapel resounded with the singing of the choir. But now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised God with heavy hearts.

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a tiny hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heart to him. So, after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long-lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.

After a while, the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the Scriptures open on it. They sat there for a moment, in the presence of the Book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry, too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their sobs and moistening the wood of the table with their tears.

After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”

The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you.” For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without ever looking back.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them that he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods, and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.”

The monks were startled by this saying. “What could it mean?” they asked themselves. “Is brother John the Messiah? No, he’s too old and crotchety. Is brother Thomas? No, he’s too stubborn and set in his ways. Am I the Messiah? What could this possibly mean?” They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.

As time went by, though, something unusual began to happen at the monastery. The monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human quality about them now which was hard to describe, but easy to notice. They lived with one another as brothers who had finally found something. And yet, they prayed over the Scriptures together as those who were still looking for something. Visitors found themselves deeply moved by the genuine caring and sharing that went on among the brothers. Before long, people were again coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of these monks. And young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.

In those days, the rabbi no longer walked in the woods. His hut had fallen into ruins. But somehow or other, the older monks who had taken his teaching to heart still felt sustained by his prayerful presence. [ChristianGlobe Illustrations, Adapted from “The Rabbi’s Gift” in Stories for the Journey by William White, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.]

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

There was a news clip which appeared in the papers after blackout in one city. I don’t know if was a misprint, a mistake or if it was true: “During the power failure many people complained of having gotten stuck for hours on escalators.”

Without the light of Christ people are truly lost. They may not even know it. But we do. We have been given the greatest gift at Christmas – the gift of Light. What will we do with it?

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

In the name of Jesus – the Light of the Word come at Christmas – amen.

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