One of our family’s regular activities this Christmas season was traveling around and looking at Christmas lights. We’d stop at Starbucks for a holiday brew, and just start driving. Sometimes we would open the NextDoor app and find the local award winners. Other times we would wander almost aimlessly, just following the next bright display we could see in the neighborhood we’d chosen at random. It was a great, safe, socially-distant, pandemic-Christmas activity for 2020.
Those Christmas lights — on our trees, attached to our houses, dancing to music — find their roots in the Bible accounts of Jesus’s birth. Pick one, any one of them, and you will find mention of a light shining in the darkness.
Matthew has the story of the Wise Men following the sign of the star — a light shining in the dark.
Luke tells about the shepherds, “guarding their sheep at night” when, “The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them.”
John doesn’t mince words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
You may have noticed that I skipped Mark. That’s because Mark skips the Christmas story and begins with Jesus’s baptism.
This year was filled with darkness for so many. I won’t recount that — it’s been done.
In a year of darkness, Christmas reminds us there is light.
But let’s remember that the light is not “out there somewhere.” God is not distant from our pain and suffering and does not separate believers from the rest of the world — making us immune to the struggles. Rather, God promises to be with us in all of it. This is the message of Christmas.
There is this fairly well-known quote about Christmas by U2’s lead singer Bono where he talks about God coming to “shit-and-straw poverty” — the language grabs your attention, especially of an American audience.
But later in that same interview, he expresses it in a more personal way.
While attending a Christmas Eve service, where he confesses he was, “just doing this romantic thing, not really thinking about it as an act of worship or anything,” Bono had an epiphany.
it really dawned on me how perfect it was that this thing we call God would choose to express itself as a child ‘born in a barn’, as we say here in Dublin.
That’s the most striking idea we have of God. I think that whatever you look for in God you’ll still have to pass through that door of humility and that door of complete vulnerability that a child has.“Bono sings praises of Jesus” The Irish Times (October 12, 2005)
I love this description of Christmas — humility, vulnerability, a child.
Flipping power on its ear
In a year when much of the church in the culture has contributed to the darkness — somehow justifying all kinds of evil and trying to tell us it is good, focusing on power rather than caring for the powerless — we need to remember the message of Christmas.
The Wise Men go to Jerusalem, the capital, the seat of authority and power for Israel. That makes sense, but that’s not the place to find the “newborn king.” Instead, they are directed to Bethlehem by Herod’s advisors who quote Micah’s prophecy, “You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah.”
Angels tell the shepherds, “Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” That’s the messiah? A baby for whose birth there was no room?
Is it any wonder John tells us so many miss(ed) it? “The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.”
In the words of Bono, God is calling us to pass through the doors of humility and complete vulnerability and meet Jesus there.
Or in the words of Jesus describing his ministry in Luke 4:
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
This is the message of Christmas.
Joining the light
Driving around looking at the lights, it occurred to me how those little LEDs can give off so much light, especially when they join together.
May you and I be those lights shining the light of Christ in a dark world. Not seeking power, but sharing hope together.
May we recognize the light in our neighbors, and join God’s work of preaching good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, and sight to the blind, liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.