Here is the meditation I offered at Northminster’s Christmas Eve worship service.
If you look around the room tonight and see all these different people, you might imagine there are lots of different reasons why we are here. Someone in some family decided that it would be a good idea for the whole family to dress up and sit together in church. A few of you have been attending this Christmas Eve service for as long as I can remember. For some of you, this is your first year. You can look around and imagine lots of different reasons why we have gathered, but I want to be sure you know why we are really here: we are here to celebrate our participation in the great story of the darkness and the light.
The story goes back to the beginning “when God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness God called night. And there was the first day of creation.” We are here to celebrate our participation in the great story of the darkness and the light.
Almost from that first day of creation people have seen darkness and light struggling with each other, the way every evening darkness pushes the sun over the edge of the horizon and takes over.
Last Friday morning at 6:14 AM the Winter Solstice occurred. This is the moment at which the sun has gone as far as it will travel in that direction and it begins to come back, ever so slowly, bringing with it longer days and increasing warmth. The Winter Solstice proclaims that darkness is being banished and light is taking over. This is something citizens of earth have celebrated for a long time.
Hundreds of years ago Christians recognized a marketing opportunity in this Winter Solstice celebration, and they began to explain to neighbors what the light versus darkness story is really about. “The true light that enlightens all people was coming into the world,” they explained. “In him was life and the life was the light of all people. This light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” And so we get Christmas, the great story of the light taking over the darkness. And you are here tonight to participate in this story.
I don’t know about you, but the last 10 days have felt to me like darkness is winning. And I suspect that most of us have dragged the sickening feeling of defeat into this room with us. When twenty children in an elementary school are savagely gunned down, it feels like darkness is winning. When we hear this knucklehead spokesman for the most powerful political lobby in the land say that what we now need is armed guards in every school, it feels like darkness is winning. This morning about 2:00 AM there was a fire in New York state and when the first responders arrived a home-grown terrorist gunned them down (with the same model assault rifle used to kill the first graders). It certainly feels like darkness is winning.
But we are here to celebrate our participation in the great story of light and darkness.
You see, the true light came into the world “and the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” He enlightened the world for about 33 years until the forces of darkness decided to snuff him out. In the words of the creed he was crucified, dead, and buried.
There has never been a darkness on this earth as deep and impenetrable as when the stone was rolled across the opening to his tomb and sealed.
But on the third day, the great story goes, God raised him from the dead, and in doing so the Creator proclaimed this is the true light that enlightens all people, and there is no darkness—not even death—that can extinguish this one true light. And the time will come when darkness will be no more.
In the meantime you and I are living within this story of darkness and light. When it feels like darkness is winning, we hold up our tiny, flickering light. And when we do, we reflect the Light and we become in this often-dark world “lighthouses of sacred light” (to borrow Anne Lamott’s wonderful phrase).
Tonight we sit in this darkened room, candles in our hand, living reminders that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, cannot, will not ever overcome it.