The Christmas Sermon: The Light Shines in the Darkness

Alleluia, unto us a child is born. Come, let us adore him.

“In the beginning was the Word”.This morning’s reading from John’s Gospel transports us to the realm of the transcendent, the mystical. It stands in contrast to the vivid, real-world story-telling of Luke, that we heard last night, with the manger and the shepherds. And yet the morning light brings this world into sharp relief, even as we meditate on the Word made Flesh, full of Grace and Truth. This is the rhythm of our faith, from poetry to prose, from prophecy to politics, from glorious vision to grim reality and back again.

The world is very present this morning. We know, today, that there are children who didn’t waken this morning to piles of presents and adults who aren’t surrounded by loved ones. We know there are people grieving for those they’ve lost since last Christmas and families in homeless shelters and whole communities displaced from their homes by war or famine or genocidal persecution, and many, many people anxious and afraid of what the year ahead may bring.

As someone has said, each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus. I am grateful every day for this inclusive cathedral community that flings open the doors to all who come. As a congregation we have decided that there will always be room for Jesus here at St Paul’s.

The pictures of Syrian children haunt me today. The darkness that John names is real for them. They are the most tragic victims of our time, slaughtered by a ruthless regime and its allies. The Holy Family image that is most vivid for me this Christmas is the news photo of a Syrian couple, refugees fleeing Aleppo, the woman completely wrapped in her cloak, the man carrying an infant carrier, covered with a blanket, in one hand and an intravenous drip, obviously connected to the unseen baby, in the other. The utter vulnerability of the little family is heartbreaking. I wonder if they found an innkeeper ready to open the door to them. I wonder if that baby is still alive. And I wonder, is that child any less valuable than the child whose birth we celebrate today? If we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, shouldn’t we love that baby as if he were baby Jesus? The sadness is overwhelming.

And yet, in the midst of the sadness, we celebrate. We celebrate the visits of the angels. We celebrate the sharing of the good news with humble shepherds. We celebrate the offer of salvation to all people. We celebrate the coming of a particular child into this dangerous world, because his coming assures us that the light shines still, that the darkness has not and cannot overcome it.

We gather here today and every Sunday to find respite from the world’s disappointment and noise, to take a few moments to listen for God’s voice, to receive a scrap of bread, a sip of wine, as gentle reminders that we are promised a seat at God’s banqueting table. We gather to gain strength from one another in the prayers and the fellowship, to feed our souls with the beauty of music and pageantry.

St Paul’s is good at that, the sacramental nourishing, the respite, the fellowship. But we have so much more to offer. This cathedral community is dedicated to making a difference in the world. Our mission, love Christ, serve others, welcome all, is like a bow on a beautifully wrapped Christmas present. It says that there is something special here, but you have to unwrap the present to learn just how special it is. Just this year we have seen our outreach efforts grow and blossom, as we offered our Showers of Blessing to the homeless every month; as we included support for refugee families in our Advent program; as we provided clothing, shoes and furnishings for the residents of shelters and transitional housing. This year we inaugurated a community garden and an urban bee colony; and we hosted memorial services for victims of gun violence, specifically Orlando and Sandy Hook. This year we stood up with our neighbors of other faiths to call for our city leaders to treat all people with dignity and compassion in a season of hateful and divisive political rhetoric.

We woke up this morning in the light, not only the light of a new day but the light of a new creation. We know that on the other side of the globe it is night, the darkness has temporarily taken charge. But we know that the light will shine there again, because the darkness cannot overcome the light. And the darkness of the sins of humanity cannot overcome the light of God’s love as we know it in Jesus Christ, the Word who has become flesh. And this light shines for all people, no exceptions, for, as Isaiah sings, all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Last night we heard the angel say, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy”. Today that good news is living in our hearts, planted by our experience of warmth, of community, of giving. We share the good news when we share what we have received here: we can offer a welcome, we can provide a family, we can learn to receive and to give with joyful and grateful hearts. Above all, we can share the hope that has been born in us through the incarnation of God’s son on earth. For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he shall reign for ever and ever. This is our Christmas hope.

Alleluia, unto us a child is born. Come, let us adore him.

Christmas Day 2016
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

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