The Christmas Eve Sermon: Light, Love, Life

Alleluia. Unto us a child is born. Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Tonight the glory of the Lord shines brightly. We gather with the angels and the shepherds to kneel before the manger, worshipping the child who is God incarnate, love personified, Emmanuel. The light blazes out from the stable, defying the darkness, warming our hearts and lifting our spirits with the conviction that love wins. This is a beautiful moment. Let’s just bask in that beauty for a moment …

You might have seen, somewhere on social media, disturbing images of a manger scene in a cage: a number of churches across the country have created such scenes as a protest against harsh treatment of refugees and immigrants. So now imagine this. Imagine the manger scene surrounded by a fence. Inside is light, warmth, safety. Outside is fear, loneliness, struggle. So far this resembles those protest installations.

But here’s the difference: the gate is open. It is possible to feel like you’re on the outside, in the dark, but there is a way in, and there is an infinite amount of space inside: room for everyone, always. The more people who come in, the further the light extends. Jesus has opened the gate for us. We may go in and out many times in our lives, but the gate is always open and there is always room for us. And we can reach out through that open gate and invite others in. There is no reason for anyone to stay out there in the dark.

So, you have that image before you – the open gate, the light, the welcoming … and now turn your gaze to the darkness. We who know the light and love of Christ may not, we must not ignore the darkness. We are to look directly into it, let our eyes adjust, search out the shadowy forms of the last, the least, the lost. Whom do you see out there? Who is outside? Who is in the park? Who is in a doorway, in a gutter, or sleeping on the beach tonight? How shall we extend the light to those who live in dark places of addiction, despair, and grief?

Last week I was privileged to attend a naturalization ceremony for one of our parishioners. It was a huge event, much bigger than my own naturalization six years ago: over 1300 people from 87 countries took the oath of citizenship. As we were leaving the hall, we made way for a tiny elderly woman, dressed in black, probably from a middle eastern country, using a walker, clutching her naturalization certificate as she navigated the crowd. What had she gone through, in her long life, how many loved ones had she lost, how many years and miles had it taken for her to reach this moment of safety, of being welcomed into the light? The second-largest ethnic group present consisted of Iraqis, once our enemy and now our neighbors. What had they suffered before reaching safety?

The largest group, about 60% of those present, was from Mexico of course. I wondered if any of them had walked across the desert to get here. How many were initially imprisoned when they reached this country? How many had dreamed their whole lives of pursuing opportunity in the US? As residents of San Diego we know the border well. It’s not some exotic destination, reached only after a long flight. It’s just down the road, 20 minutes drive from here, not one but two fences marking off the restricted zone that separates the two nations. Mexico is a proud country with a long and colorful history. It’s not just gangs and drug dealers. But there is a marked difference in the standard of living for most people, and the US has long been the destination for dreamers. Just a few feet, marked by a wall, separate dreams from reality. Those few feet make a huge difference, and it can take a lifetime to cross over from one to the other.

It can take some of us a lifetime, too, to cross over from the darkness to the light, to truly accept that we belong inside, to acknowledge that the barriers in our way are not of God but of human brokenness and sin, to know the embrace of divine love, bringing the hopes and fears of all our years as a gift for the one who is himself the greatest gift of all.

We know that the love of God enfleshed in Jesus can break down every wall, can bust out of any cage to reach those who are in need: the dying man in the ICU up the street; the starving child in a refugee camp in Yemen; the family trudging on bleeding feet through the Mexican desert; the transgender teen shivering in a downtown doorway, the depressed and lonely senior contemplating suicide. Tonight is a celebration of the truth that comes from above: that God loves this world and every creature in it, loves us all so much that the divine child was born, not in luxury and safety but in the midst of the need and pain of the world.

This is a night when we welcome not only Cathedral members but visitors from out of town, family members here for the holiday, and perhaps some who have been feeling like they were out in the dark but have dared to step into the light. The gate is open, all are welcome at God’s table, and there is a place for you here. And because this is a night when anything can happen – limp stockings become mysteriously bulgy, cookies and milk vanish, even, according to legend, animals might sing God’s praise – it seems to me that it might even be possible for Episcopalians to talk to each other during Midnight Mass.

So I invite you now to reach out to someone sitting near you, someone you don’t know well, and take just a minute each to exchange names and share something – the best Christmas present ever, a memorable Christmas of the past, the reason why you are here tonight, whatever is uppermost in your mind. Take just a moment to offer the gift of letting the other know that they are seen, they are encompassed by the light of Christ, that the love that made us and holds us in life is for everyone, whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in the journey of faith. A minute each.


This is how each of us can extend the light from the manger out into the world, by taking the small step of listening to our neighbors’ stories. And when you go out from here, remember how it feels to be heard, and extend that gift to someone else. And one encounter at a time we will push back the darkness, until all people know the light, the love, and the abundance of life that are offered to us tonight.

Alleluia. Unto us a child is born. Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Christmas Eve, Midnight 2018
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

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