Sermon for the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
December 24, 2014
Livermore, California is a town outside of San Francisco. There is nothing too remarkable about the town of Livermore, except for one thing. What makes Livermore unique, is a single light bulb. This light bulb shines at the Livermore Fire Department. What’s remarkable is that this light bulb has been shining since 1903. This light bulb was manufactured by a rival of Thomas Edison. Back then, these inventors were trying to make light bulbs that would last as long as possible. Shortly after this, all the light bulb makers made an agreement to intentionally manufacture light bulbs that burn out quickly, in order to make consumers buy more of them. But this light bulb was made to last.
Think about what this light bulb has burned through: two world wars, the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the moon landings, September 11th. This light bulb has outlasted nineteen presidents. The Livermore Fire Department set up a webcam of this very extraordinary light bulb. Every thirty seconds, the webcam takes a picture of this light bulb and posts it online. But this very extraordinary light bulb has outlasted two webcams. This light was made to shine.
On this holy night, we gather in darkness to celebrate the true light that was made to shine. We celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, who is the light of the world, the one light which enlightens everyone. On this holy night, billions are gathered around the world to celebrate the light that is made to shine, the light that is the life of all people.
Because we have to admit that this world is shrouded in darkness. If all was merry and bright, then the light would not have to shine. But as it is, we inhabit a dark world indeed. This is a world in which racism and sexism still exist. This is a world in which children are bullied to the point of desperation. This is a world in which people of God are told that they are not people of God, simply because they act differently and love differently and look different. This is a dark world indeed. But this is the world that Jesus is born into. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Each of us deal with our own inner darkness as well. It is not lie, and we should not squirm to say it. The light shines in the darkness, because there is darkness in our lives. Good people, faithful Christian people, struggle with depression, and PTSD, and the pain of lost loved ones. We all bear a load of prejudice in our hearts. This is a dark world indeed. But this is the world that Jesus was born into. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Now, I haven’t forgotten about the shepherds and the angels and Mary and Jesus – all the things that make Christmas into Christmas. But that is how the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Christmas. This poem, this rhapsody on light and darkness is how the Gospel of John tells the story of Christmas. Both ways of telling the story are true. Yes, we all love the quaint image of shepherds and angels and the manger. But I think we connect better with John’s poem on darkness and light. You and I understand darkness. We know that darkness is a school massacre in Pakistan. We know that darkness is torture. We know that darkness is a disease called Ebola. We know that darkness is the festering wound of oppression in our communities. We know that darkness is racism. I’ve never seen shepherds hanging out with babies around a manger, but I’ve seen darkness.
And I’ve also seen light. I’ve seen the light that shines in the darkness. I have seen doctors, making lots and lots of money, go to the impoverished places of the world. I have seen men and women of great courage tearing down the walls of injustice. I have seen and will testify to the light, that the light which enlightens everyone has come into the world, and it is glorious, and that light goes by the name of Jesus. I have seen the light of God shine into the dark places that haunt the corners of our lives. I have seen light of God heal wounds of hatred. I have seen the light of God and the darkness did not overcome it. Even if it may not seem like it now, love will not be overcome by hate. Light will not be overcome by darkness. The light that was made to shine, will shine. There is no stopping it.
One day, that light bulb in Livermore, California will eventually burn out. It’s just got to. And all the other lights will also burn out. The candles that we hold tonight as we sing, “Silent Night,” will go out. The lights that we depend on to see with our earthly eyes will all go dark. But this light, this light that was born on this night will never go out. And our spiritual eyes, the eyes of our hearts, will be opened to see the true light, the light which enlightens the whole world. This light, will give you life. On this most holy night, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome the light.