For the last month or more Lite Mix 99.9 and My 107.3 have been battling for our listening ears by playing nothing but Christmas music. If you are anything like the Pankey household, your family has no doubt heard the 1984 BandAID classic “Do they know its Christmas Time?” about 1000 times already. I'd guess that every listening area in the country has at least one radio station that goes “all Christmas all the time” beginning on Thanksgiving, (or maybe Halloween or in some cases July 4ht) and I think it has to be because, for many of us, it is the music that makes Christmas Christmas. Even tonight we gathered 30 minutes early to sing the great Christmas Hymns because, quite frankly, we don't get to sing them for very long.
And so tonight we sing out and we sing loudly as we give thanks for the birth of Jesus Christ, the king of kings, the light of the world, the bringer of peace. We join with Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, and a choir of angels to sing out for joy because of the hope that is present in the birth of the Son of God. We fulfill the obligation laid out by David in our Psalm for tonight and we sing a new song to proclaim the good news of salvation.
But, despite all the carols we've had the chance to sing tonight, I think we're still missing one. For my taste, there isn't a better Christmas Carol than the Vacation Bible School classic, "This little light of mine." It is the second most requested song during our Sunday school song time, a childhood favorite. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine. Even when I'm afraid, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Our light shines in the daytime when things are good. It shines in the nighttime when things are scary. It shines in and through us every moment of everyday, but no more so than tonight as we celebrate the light that came into a very dark world in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
"In those days a decree went our from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin'i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city." Luke sets the familiar Christmas scene by pointing his readers to just how dark the world was for God's chosen people in the first century. They were, once again, being ruled by an outside, pagan worshiping, super powerful dictator who moved them around at his whim like pawns on a chess board. They paid taxes upon taxes so that they remained poor and powerless. And to top it off, it had been hundreds of years since the great prophets like Isaiah had promised that God's favor would return to Israel. The people of Israel had all but forgotten the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations. Their candle of hope was dim and fading fast. It was a very dark time.
It isn't hard to relate to the darkness felt by the people of Israel. As 2009 draws to a close, it does so leaving a heavy burden on our shoulders and a fog that is increasingly hard to see through. We worry about two wars and a never ending threat of terrorist attack. We carry the weight of continued economic uncertainty and a polarized nation represented in a bitterly disagreeing congress. As individuals we struggle with health problems, addictions, and depression. We can't forget this Christmas season those who are in poverty, who don't have homes, who have no clue where their next meal will come from. The list goes on and on. Even tonight, this dreary, rainy Christmas Eve leaves us feeling like things are, in fact, pretty dark. In the midst of our gloominess, however, a familiar story rings out, the story of Christmas, the birth of our savior, Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger.
"In that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid..."
As dark as our world might feel, there was perhaps no place darker than the fields outside Bethlehem where the shepherds tended their flocks that fateful night. Considered unclean by their own people, the outcast shepherds tended sheep so that others could make offerings to God. In a society where very few had much of anything, shepherds had the very least. And it is to them that God decides to share what was up until now Mary and Joseph's little secret. In the midst of deep darkness God shines the light of his glory. To the lowly and the outcast God shares the good news of salvation for all flesh. And it all begins with three simple words, "be not afraid." As the angel of the Lord filled the nighttime sky with the brightness of God's glory, the shepherds trembled in fear which threatened to send them into an even deeper darkness, but God's light is not about fear and trembling, but about refreshment and renewal.
"Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people, for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
The prophet Isaiah had promised that those in darkness would see a great light and that was indeed the case on that first Christmas night. An outcast, oppressed, and lonely people were for the first time in hundreds of years given a ray of hope - good news of great joy meant for all people. Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, lying in a feed trough is the redeemer of the world, and it was the task of the shepherds to carry the light of the good news and tell the story to everyone they saw. And tell the story they did. They went to find the baby Jesus and told Mary and Joseph all that they had heard. Then they left, returning to the hard work of the dark night, but now they carried the light of the gospel with them, "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen."
2000 years later, God continues to use regular people in regular places to carry the light of Christ into the darkness of the world. He worked in and through the unclean shepherds to pass on the light from generation to generation and now he shines his light in and through you and me. Little by little one light meets another and they meet a third until, on an evening like tonight, hundreds gather to shine the bright light of God's glory in the midst of great darkness. And, as much as we'd like all the darkness of our fear and worry to go away in a flash, it is God's slow and methodical plan to make his light shine brighter and brighter in our lives and in this world. The light born of a young virgin girl, spread to the shepherds outside Bethlehem and then to a rag-tag group of 12 fishers of men, tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman soldiers, orphans, widows, and perhaps most surprisingly you and me.
Tonight, as we sit on the other side of the story of Jesus, 2000 years after his life, death, resurrection and ascension, we await his return by continuing the work of the shepherds. We let our light shine in the darkness and tell the story of hope that was born in the baby called Jesus. We glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen. For unto us, is born this night, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
As 2009 draws to a close there may be much that appears to be dark, but the light of Christ is alive and well here at St. Paul's. Be it in the hallways of Foley Elementary School or the cot filled education building while we host Family Promise or the laughter around a supper club table, this community works continuously to shine the light of good news for all people. And on this dark and dreary Christmas Eve, I give thanks for your shining the light of Christ in my life. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine. Even when I'm afraid I'm gonna let it shine. May God bless you this Christmas with the bright light of his glory that you can shine in the world of darkness. Amen.