Psalm 96 or 96:1-4,11-12
The people have seen a great light--on them light has shined. It's Christmas again--another Christmas is upon us. Since October and November, we have seen stores put up their special displays and begin their Christmas specials beginning with the day after Thanksgiving sales.
This year we have seen prices slashed to absolute rock bottom with stores offering 10, 20, 30, 40 and even 50% discounts. We are encouraged to buy, buy at every turn. Our children have to have the latest electronic gadgets and adults the biggest television sets and the latest DVDs. If we want something our cultural norms tell us, we just go out and buy it. Our lives seem to be on a treadmill of rush, rush, rush and buy, buy, buy! We don't seem to have time for conversation, slower dining room eating or just plain relaxing.
Emotionally, too, many people place all their hopes on this one holiday. We have in our minds an idealized version of a "perfect" family and "perfect" relationships. We are lulled into thinking that this one holiday can make our lives so much happier!!!
No wonder it's so disappointing when we don't feel the wonder and we don't see the light. "Jesus is the reason for the season" and our society focuses on the wrong things--material things, possessions, designer clothes. As Episcopalians though, we have been preparing ourselves for this night through reflection, prayer and preparation for the Christ Child.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, Isiah promises. What brought on the light in darkness? The answer is in the scripture: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
If we place all our hope in material things and fairy tale visions of a perfect Christmas without Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we will be disappointed.
But look at the amazing images we're given in today's readings! First, there is the image of the deep darkness of ignorance. Then we are given the image of the great light for an announcement. Luke's Gospel story has light in it. "The glory of the Lord shone around them," he writes, and we can only picture glory through light. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest."
This is the true meaning of Christmas--"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."
Think for a minute about the multitude of the heavenly host. How does it appear to you tonight?
Christ's birth is a mystery but God became a human being -- he took on human flesh that night so he would live as one of us, be crucified and rise from the dead to save us from our sins.
Christ is the Light of the World! Is he your Light? Do you reflect his light and love in your lives?
This is the true meaning of Christmas--that Christ came into the world for you and me! Whether you come to church frequently or not and especially if you only come on Christmas, pray for faith tonight. Pray that the Christ Child may come into your heart, transform it and give you a new life in Him. Pray for his Light to fill you with peace. Pray for his Light to have you reconcile yourself with estranged relatives, friends and neighbors.
Pray for this light to heal whatever ails you. When you receive Christ in communion tonight, pray for his grace and strength to do whatever he has called you to do. Pray this week that you may bring Christ's light and love into other peoples' lives, that you may reconcile with those you have had differences, that you may help someone through a difficult period in their lives or that you may be a "non anxious" presence for those who worry constantly or are distressed.
Whatever your Christmas is like, Jesus understands it and you fill it with his presence. There is no joy so great that Christ cannot raise it to greater heights, there is no disappointment so bitter or sorry so profound that he cannot come into it with his love right now and the true hope he offers of eternal life and joy beyond all description. This is Christmas, the celebration of the birth of hope and joy in the Savior who is come and no one and nothing can stop. You are seeing and experiencing a great light tonight--let it shine in your heart and free your passion to be a Christian in a very broken world.
Merry or not at Christmas we always get a present: Christ's presence where we really are, and our hope of being where he is.