Well, it’s done. The presents, which were so carefully chosen, now lay on a shelf somewhere, none of us want to see turkey again any time soon, the nativity has been taken off the mantel and the decorations packed away. The mall has stopped playing Christmas carols and, as I speak, merchants are preparing to dig into our pockets for Valentine’s day. We are on the cusp of change. Space and time will evaporate and tomorrow we go back to it, back to school, back to regular work routines, back to everyday life. We head back into darkness. The light of Christmas, on homes, on the Christmas tree, the shining star, are gone, or will be soon, and we head into the dreary months of January, February, March. It makes me sad. It makes me sad that this is the way we think about it, that Christmas is over instead of just beginning. It makes me sad to read John’s words this morning and to know they are as true today as when he penned them 1900 years go. “A light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.” We head back into the darkness as if the light never happened.
CBC was doing a program just before Christmas on the traditions of Christmas. People phoned in and told of their family traditions. It was meant to be one of those heart-warming programs promoting those ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ kind of warmth and cosiness. That is, until one woman phoned in and talked about decorating the house, trimming the tree as a family, all the baking she does and even how the family gets together every Christmas Eve, goes to church and how she loves to light the candles and sing Silent Night. Then she quickly corrected herself, “other than that, I try to keep religion out of Christmas.” How can you sing the words “Son of God, love’s pure light” and then say you’re going to keep religion out of Christmas? Yet, it happens all over. If I hear one more pathetic rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ sung by every person and their second cousin, who love to perform but care nothing about the words, I’m going to scream.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
How many of these performers are ready to fall on their knees for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn? How can you utter these words when your weary world is far from rejoicing. It seems that in 1900 years we have learned nothing. John writes, “The Light (Christ) was in the world, and the world was made by him, yet the world knew him not.” The world knew him not. This man who was called to heal a broken world with love, who promoted tolerance as the way to peace, who invited everyone to the table, sinner and the justified alike, the poor and the wealthy and said, “Take, eat, and know that it is through sacrifice to one another this world will know salvation.”
I could go on all morning about the darkness this world lives in, and I am sure many of you could join the recital with me. We just celebrated the light which has come into the world! This is not a myth, not fiction, not a legend. This is a reality that God’s light has been birthed into the world and continues to grow and mature in time. And it is so sadly obvious that the world does not see it but remains in the darkness and does not know the power of this redemptive love. There are, in my opinion, many who profess themselves to be believers, to be Christians, who have lost hope in this own lives, who are so tired and weary, so institutionalized by their religion, they can no longer lift their heads and see a star in the midst of the darkest night.
One of my seminary professors taught that being in ministry means more than being a tourist. Tourists come and visit a place while maintaining their own unique traditions and customs. Tourists buy trinkets and take snapshots and then leave with mementos. Christmas is visited by many tourists. Our truths and faith are visited by many tourists who put up lights, exchange presents, have heart-warming moments, take their pictures and then leave that country of hope and peace, joy and love behind on January 6th. This may even be the way some of us practice our faith, like tourists, like something we visit but never stay. It is a discernment, a truth, Christ calls us to examine by how we live our lives.
My professor continued to say that we Christians need rather to become pilgrims who ‘pitch their tents’ with people. People, who like Jesus, transform people’s worlds with their presence. Who stay with people, live their lives with them, are the light of tolerance, compassion, grace in a dark world. We can preach until we run out of words, we can shout from the mountaintops that Jesus Christ is born, we can write the books we want, sing Christmas carols until we are hoarse but until we pitch our tents in humanity, the world will never be able to see through their darkness to the light, the star. John makes it quite clear. The word, the light, became flesh and dwelt among us. The word ‘incarnation’ literally means the ‘indwelling of God.’ The indwelling of love, and grace and tolerance, and understanding of hope, joy and love in our world today. The great truth is God is here indwelling in our world, we only need to seek this light.
So, when tomorrow comes, let us not wander aimlessly back into the darkness allowing it to envelop us. Let’s intentionally take our tents and pitch them in the world, lighting our lanterns to be seen on the hillside. Let us be the light which is filled with grace; be the hope, the peace and the love.
Where there is hatred, let us show love.
Where there is injury, let us offer grace and pardon.
Where there is doubt, let us offer faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Let this be our prayer:
who loved us enough to pitch your tent
in this land in which we live,
help us to pitch our tents with others.
Help us to console,
instead of seeking our own consolation,
to understand others
instead of trying to get them to understand us,
to offer love
instead of pursuing it for ourselves.
it is by dying to darkness
that we are born to eternal life.
This we believe.
This is our prayer.