The Solemnity of Christmas at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
December 25, 2002
Most of what goes on in this Gospel story happens at night. So, there is good reason for us to gather here in the night, while it is dark. As the Gospel unfolds the story, night is best time to find Christ the Lord. The darkness is where he is to be found. The darkness is the best time to see. It would seem that our God prefers the night. While thinking of this and praying about it this week, I recalled what we are told happened when Christ died: how the day became as night, how the sun was darkened at the third hour. It would seem that our God is comfortable in the shadows and prefers the night.
But you and I….We like the light and prefer the day. We like the light so we can see in the mirror. We like the lights on so we can be seen. We like the lights on so we can shop, so we can drive, so we can know what’s going on and see what lies ahead. We just feel safer in the day or at least with the lights on. But God still prefers the night. Somehow in God’s plan, it takes short days and long nights for seeds to sprout. Lovers seem to prefer the night with its moon and stars. It’s in the night that we hold hands and reach for another.
Less confident of ourselves, in the night we welcome a companion, a love, a presence. And so it is with our God who comes in the night. The darker the night, the more joyful the dawn. It doesn’t seem too odd that the first to hear the news, the first to make their way are the ones awake in the night, the ones at watch while others sleep, the ones outside while the others take comfort and safety inside.
It’s almost as though you have to be outside, in the dark, to hear this news. Even the ones from the East have to stay up – wait for the night – to see a star. The night and its darkness in which we find this God-made-man, this God, Immanuel, is of course not exactly the night of time. It is the night of our darkness in sin, the night of our darkness in fear, the night of our darkness in loneliness, the night of our darkness in loss and helplessness. As those who survive addictions know, it is not until you hit bottom and have nothing left that you have a future and any hope. Until we get out of the light, we will never find our way to Bethlehem. Until we put out the lights of all the “would be” god’s of pleasure and success, pride and power, we will never find the way to Bethlehem.
We have to get into the darkness. We have to remember that we don’t know the way. We have to reach out for another – grasp a hand in the darkness. We have to trust that it is better not to go alone. The shadows of our lives with the good and the bad, the stuff we would rather hide from the glare of day and the gaze of others, and the past with its sin looks all the same in the dark, and that’s where God waits for us.
The prophet insists that only a people who have walked in the darkness can ever really see. This Bethlehem scene told in the night becomes a story of lovers who meet in the darkness where the eye only sees what one loves and what one hopes for in the deepest part of the heart. Blemishes, imperfections, scars of the past; make no difference in the dark. Like parents waiting and watching for the return of a child who is late in the night, our God waits and watches for us to come home in the night. And so we assemble here in the night just as we shall do in the spring before Easter. It is the best time for those who live by hope for the dawn of life itself. Hope stirs here. The word is out that the Bridegroom has come, as always, in the night.
Be watchful, my friends. Take courage. The darkest of days and night will not swallow us up. There is someone in the darkness, in the shadows. That is the news we share and the truth that gives us Joy. The dawn is coming, the promise of glory is announced. Only one light is needed and it comes from the Creator of all light. Go to Bethlehem – there is no power there, there is no wealth, there is no success nor fame.
Your companions will be suspicious night folk – shepherds. Go while it is dark or when you feel it is night.
This Gospel suggests that if we do, we shall see as if it were the day and call it “Glory.”