Unexpected Light in darkness

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The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Dec. 25, 2013
Mass during the Night

Isa 9:1-6; Ps 96; Tit 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

When I first arrived at St. Martin’s, back in January, sometimes I would be standing outside in the parking lot, or somewhere else on the property, after dark, talking with someone. And I would notice that, from time to time, a flash of light would light up everything for just a moment, and then it would go dark again. The effect was just like a flash of lightning—except that there was no storm. What was it? Eventually I realized: it was the speed camera!

How fascinating and entertaining that speed camera is, as it takes photos of any cars that pass us going south too fast above the 30 mph speed limit!

But isn’t that just what light can do in darkness? It can momentarily turn night into day—whether it be real lightning or the flash of the speed camera. Or it could be the soft but steady flame of a candle, or of a fire, spreading out into the darkness.

It could be the face of a newborn baby lit by that glow.

How interesting that many of the events we most associate with that first Christmas take place in the darkness of night! And how notable that the people we hear about are just going about their ordinary business, there in the dark.

  • For the shepherds near Bethlehem, it is just one more night keeping watch over their flock: clustered around the fire, talking softly, on the lookout for any predators who might try to approach, but probably wouldn’t.
  • And for the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph themselves, just two more faces in the crowd being moved about by a combination of bureaucratic silliness and military power—so that even a woman 9 months pregnant had to make the bumpy journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And then, when they got there, there was no room for them in the inn.

It’s just another night in the Roman Empire.

But in that ordinary night comes the unexpected. The angel of the Lord—the one creature that those shepherds never expected—appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone out of the night around them. But the news that the angel had to declare was brighter still! Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. At last, the long-awaited Messiah! At last, the fulfillment of the promises! At last, a real change in the everyday darkness! At last, what joy!

And so, let us go to Bethlehem with the shepherds to see this thing that has taken place! Out of the darkness, we see the glow in the small cluster of people and animals around the manger. And in the light of that glow, what do we see?

  • We see, first of all, simple beauty: the newborn baby, the happy young mother, the joyful and protective father. They are beautiful!—simple, peaceful, and so very, very right. It touches and renews the heart.
  • But then we can see more. For this little baby is the Only Begotten Son of the Father, born of the Father before all ages, our Lord Jesus Christ, now born in this world of the Virgin Mary, according to the flesh. And this is a turning point: when darkness begins to recede, and the light begins to grow; not only in natural cycle of December, but in the sweep of cosmic history.

How strange, this contrast! That such a great battle—which Isaiah would speak of as the yoke, the pole, the rod of their taskmaster being smashed, the boots and cloaks of battle being burned—that this battle would be waged by a baby in his first hours out in the world! For the baby is so tender; so helpless; so cute; but so weak! Little Jesus needs to be held; to be warmed; to be fed; to be cleaned and cared for. He asks this of us, of all of us, by his cries and by his very self.

But that is how the battle is waged; that is how salvation will be won! For the battle will be waged within each of our hearts, to win us over from what cripples and enslaves us. To win us over from that first lie told to us by the serpent, that we do not have a loving Heavenly Father! To win us over from fear and lies, accusations and selfishness, violence and cynicism. To win us over by asking us to take him in our arms—as he rekindles love in our hearts by calling it forth from us; as he pours faith and trust back into our hearts as he trusts and believes in us; as he shows us that he, the Almighty God, has always been tender and vulnerable all along, but we just couldn’t see it—until he made himself a baby in our arms.

A recent song written as if sung by the Virgin Mary (“Be Born in Me”) says:

All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?
Be born in me.

And so may the beauty, the tenderness, the loveliness of the light this night touch our hearts, and remake them in his own Image. Thus is the battle waged; thus are our hearts changed; thus is our salvation won.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. For a child is born to us, a son is given us. Be born in me!

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