Isaiah 9:1-7
Luke 2:1-20

Receive this blessing:

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.[1]

Amen.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

We’re in negotiation with our three-year old son, Hank, these days. Every night, his litany is the same: “It’s too darrrrk in my room!” And so we figure out how much we can crack the door to his room so that enough light can come in to ease his fear and yet not keep him awake. We negotiate the amount his blinds are closed and whether or not to keep the porch light on. Now, to be sure, this is partly him avoiding bedtime, but I know too well his worry – the darkness can be terrifying. It brings about uncertainty and fearful imagining. So, we soothe him with the promise of small shafts of light and that his eyes will soon adjust.

And yet… I feel I am lying to my sweet boy for my own eyes have yet to adjust to the darkness that surrounds us. The litany is long, isn’t it?

Children go to school hungry.

Cancer keeps coming back.

Shelters are full.

Elderly are abused.

Medical coverage is denied.

Friends are deported.

Drugs are sold like candy.

Women are accused of lying.

Voters are suppressed.

Violence begets violence.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm us, threatens to shut up our voices and numb us into acquiescence. Darkness tries to take our will and bend it. Darkness tries to keep us shrouded, unable to see that God is at work pricking small pins through the veil of darkness, letting the light of heaven shine as stars to guide our way.

Every chance it gets, darkness tries to win. But as we stand on the threshold of Christmas, we stand against the threat of dread and we proclaim that yes – the darkness exists but the darkness is no match for God’s love. What we’re doing here this morning – this gathering, this singing, this praying – what we’re doing is downright defiant! To proclaim that Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness has not,  cannot, will not overcome it is to look darkness in the face and say: you will not win. Love, the Lord, is on the way and not one thing can stop him.

This is the song we have sung since our beginning for God’s people have always been a people of darkness and of light, of people who know oppression and suffering and seek freedom and wholeness. Our story, our shared story, is this waxing and waning from night into day, from death to life, from weeping that lingers in the evening and joy that comes in the morning, of a bloody cross and an empty tomb, of God breaking in to our broken world again and again and again to save us through beautiful acts of love and restoration. This is our story and this morning, we turn to the story that ushered in salvation for all people – the story of the true light, born of flesh and full of glory.

We know that story well. It was night, there was no room at the inn. The cattle were lowing, donkeys braying. But if we pan back, if we take in the whole scene, we remember that the story begins, “In those days…” – a time “shaped by the ‘powers that be.’ The emperor reigns. Time is denoted by who is in power: ‘Quirinius was governor of Syria’ (v.2).” Maybe we know what this looks like, too – “time shaped by business as usual, by the world’s accepted power structures; history defined by those in positions of authority.” But! Then – then light breaks through everything that ever was and changes how we come to know everything that will ever be. Verse 11 says, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” to remind us that in those days is in the past and this day – this light coming in to the world day – is a new day, a new time, a new era. This is the news of great joy: that old life is gone and a new life has begun.[2]

It is the little pin pricks through the veil of darkness that help us see, isn’t it? Those stars that light the way, even though the darkness gathers ‘round…

When the nurse lifts up the blanket and pulls out your beloved’s hand so you can feel her pulse tell you she’s still alive.

When a trio of teenage boys bag up hats and gloves and socks and go down to Urban Ministries to meet new friends and ensure that at least a little warmth may come their way.

When an estranged family member calls you up with no motive except to say, “Hello, again. How are you?”

When a caregiver listens to a rambling, repeating story with avid and pure interest never once saying, “You already said that.”

When a person in power votes in the way of justice and righteousness, even if it means they’ll be smeared and lose the next race.

When CASA builds a safe home a person experiencing homelessness simply because all people deserve the dignity of a roof over their head.

When you entrust your children to someone else’s care and feel not ashamed but blessed that someone has seen your pain and offered her hand.

When that song is sung and you feel the tears well behind your eyes because you miss him with everything you have and you know, for that fleeting instance, that you are not alone.

It is the little pin pricks through the veil of darkness that help us see, isn’t it? Those stars that light the way, even though the darkness gathers ‘round…

My friend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove told me a story recently. He and Reverend William Barber were invited down to El Paso, Texas, to meet with an organization called Border Network for Human Rights.[3] The Network has spent almost twenty years advocating for human rights and immigration reform throughout Texas. For those of you unfamiliar with the landscape of the borderlands in southern Texas, El Paso and Juarez is a binational community, the Rio Grande trickling in between. And while this dual-city has thousands of people who cross the border both ways every day, there are still families who are separated by their immigration status. On the particular day Wilson-Hartgrove and Barber were visiting El Paso, they were invited to take a walk down to the Rio Grande to witness a most piercing proclamation of light shining in the darkness.

Border Patrol was there, too, alongside the Network. In the van with Border Patrol were families who held undocumented status in the United States and whose families still lived in Mexico. And as they pulled up, they could see that across the muddy Rio stood those separated families. Instead of Border Patrol doing what everyone expects them to do, they opened the van doors and watch as the families’ become filled with joy. In a  brief respite from policy and politics, these families hiked up their pants, wrapped plastic around their legs, and waded into the water to embrace for the first time in a long litany of dark nights. No threat of separation. No threat of violence. No threat of deportation. Only people walking in the light, declaring Good News of Great Joy for all the people. Only pin pricks piercing the veil of darkness over and over again declaring that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.[4]

We recall the darkness this morning because it exists. Because it tries to seep into our bones and break us. Because it looms large and persistent. But we defiantly and gratefully proclaim something and someone far more true than anything this world can declare: The Light of the World is coming this day and every day. May we have the courage to walk in his light, piercing the darkness with acts of justice, kindness and humility. All Glory to God. Amen.

[1] Advent 3: Testify to the Light, Jan Richardson. The Advent Door.

[2] Campbell, Charles. Feasting on the Word, 117-119.

[3] About, Border Network for Human Rights.

[4] BNHR faciliates these Hugs Not Walls events