I beg to differ
Passage: Isaiah 9:2-7 Luke 2:1-20
Date: December 24, 2005
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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Yesterday, I received an email from a friend of long-standing, who lives with his wife and three children in a distant state. As a child, his wife was a victim of a variety of horrible abuses. As an adult, their consequences have not been fully resolved. The unresolution exerts a strong negative influence on their life together. To the relationship, the husband brings his own legacy of woundedness. Both are good people, people of Christian faith. Over the years, he and I have talked, schemed and calculated, even cried for ways toward wholeness for all five of them. They often appear among those for whom I pray.
His email read in part:
Christmas brings us no gaiety... Things continue to be tense and they are getting daily worse....visible signs of disintegration are now more so than ever before. I will continue to hope, but since hope infers confidence in the outcome, maybe it is more wish than hope..... Please keep us in your prayers, especially the children.
How do I respond to that descending darkness this night when we gladly celebrate God's "Joy to the World," and when we genuinely wish people, "Merry Christmas?"
The people of Israel sat in darkness, the darkness of the imposed Roman peace, the darkness of an oppressor's taxation, the darkness of powerlessness. For too long, they had been captive of one nation after another. Where was this God who had chosen them to be great? They seemed to live in a land of deep spiritual and political darkness. God's light seemed not to have shined on them for centuries. They knew of no "Wonderful Counselor" who would establish and uphold justice with righteousness, as Isaiah had foretold. They only knew that they lived under the heavy heel of the world's superpower. The head of that state, Augustus Caesar, begins our reading. But, did you notice, he does not conclude it? Instead, the scripture is all about God, sneaky mysterious God, bringing unexpected holy light in the midst of human darkness.
How simple and bare it all seems in Luke. There are no miracles here. I think that sometimes, we are too familiar with this reading to see it, to hear it deep within us. How spare are Luke's words. His phrases are stripped of any decoration that would make it other than what it is-an event taking place among the poor, the marginalized of the earth. There seems no rush here, no desperate search for shelter because Mary's labor pains have begun. The travelers from Nazareth up north arrive in Joseph's ancestral village, and settle in for a bit. Then, the time comes for the baby to be born, peasant style, complete with all of the unspoken desperate dangers associated with every birth.
A while later, dirty, rough, despised-by-most, some shepherds show up where the baby is. They tell of voices and visions and news from God about a savior being born that night in the village. They just had to find out if what they had heard while watching their flock was actually true. Mary and Joseph had been busy with all that accompanies childbirth and the immediate aftermath. In Luke, they receive no message from God. It is from the lowly shepherds that they are given the holy news, the light. In the peasant baby Jesus, somehow God's glory has been born among us, to dwell with us. Into our darkness, God has chosen to bring astonishing light.
So, here we are this night, in front of this extraordinary text, and the email. More than that, we are wondering if the gifts will all get wrapped, and how many will be returned Monday. Will Aunt Sue be her usual offended self because we are not fixing the sweet potatoes the way she likes them? And just how much time will the kids have to spend with their mother and her family before they get to come to my house? And I wonder how I am ever going to pay for everything I bought? And I will be so glad when this is all over.
And, is not this astounding? In a sense, much of the whole world pauses this night, because a peasant baby was born.
Now, about that email, how would you respond on this joyous Christmas eve to this friend in his darkness? I wrote:
Often, I carry you five in my heart. Your continuing pain and stress, the darkness, must be huge. I cannot imagine. Yet, I dare to pray for God's presence in it, whatever that may be. As I work on tonight's sermon, I remember that Luke proclaims God's grace in the midst of downtrodden lives. I must believe that God cares deeply for you, for your well-being. So, at my best, I hold you five before the One who was born into our darkness as God's light. Again, at my best, I trust you to this God for the future.
What I pray for them is not Merry Christmas and jingle bells, but hope for the future, hope grounded in God's gift of light, of Christ the newborn. Indian theologian Samuel Ryan once said, A candle lit is a protest at midnight.
It is non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,
"I beg to differ!" (Pulpit Resource, vol 33, no 4, p. 56)
Christ's birth is God's protest at the midnight of our lives: economically, politically, personally, spiritually, whatever the midnight. In that peasant baby, born to be the Prince of Peace, God says to all of the darkness: "I beg to differ!" And the darkness has never overcome that light. Thanks be to God. Amen.