December 24, 2019
On this holy night, I’m drawn back to all my childhood memories of Christmas. I remember going to church late on Christmas Eve. I remember the darkened church, the wooden pews. I remember tearing into my presents on Christmas morning. I remember the big family dinners on Christmas Day. I also remember how in early December my father would dutifully climb into the attic and pull down all the boxes with the Christmas lights. He struggled with the tangled cords. He tried to remember just how he hung them last year. Then he would gather them all up and climb our rickety wooden ladder onto the roof and set them out along the peaks of the roof.
But there was one year that stands out to me, I must have been six or seven. Because my dad let me go up there with him. I can hardly believe it, I climbed up that rickety ladder and hoisted myself onto the pitched roof the house. I sat right there on the shingles as my dad wrestled and fought and strung up the Christmas lights. Looking back on it, I don’t know what’s more surprising, that my dad let me up there or that my mom didn’t lose her mind.
But to my six or seven year old self, this was a transformative experience. Sitting up there on the roof with a fresh breeze on my face, I had a new vantage point. I can still see it now, how our little street fit into the neighborhood. Above the narrow confines of our little street, I had a new vantage point on both how small I was and how big the world is. I’m sure I could only see a block or two over, but to my mind the horizon seemed endless. I sat there amid those Christmas lights and I saw everything from a new vantage point.
Here, on this Christmas Eve, as we celebrate this new light from God we are given a new vantage point from which to survey the world. We climb out of the narrow confines of our daily routines to come here, and for a moment on this Christmas Eve we see things anew. We see a God who loves us more than we could ever know. We see a world that is desperate to know that love. A new vantage point.
John says that the light of this Christmas, the light of Jesus Christ, is life and gives light to all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. With that light burning in our hears, our eyes are opened to see the world as God sees it. And from this vantage point, on this holy night, we see the light and the dark for what they truly are.
From this new vantage point, we see the darkness all around. And we see that evil, the darkness, is well organized. The light pierces the darkness but does not dispel the darkness. That is because darkness and evil have a bureaucracy, an administrative quality to it. Think of it, King Herod hunts down the children of Bethlehem based on their age. Pharaoh organized the Hebrew slaves based on his blueprints for buildings. There were timetables for the trains running to the concentration camps. All too often evil masquerades as efficiency so as to veil its true intent, in the darkness. The evil of this world is run by spreadsheets and algorithms. From our vantage point on this holy night, we see that the darkness all around us.
And the light? Well, the light is a mess. The light of God is an unruly tangle of Christmas lights. The light is born this night as a little child, and you know that children are anything but organized. That child is laid to rest in the manger because the innkeeper ran out space, the height of hotel mismanagement. Magi from the east, following the light, come to bring gifts to Jesus but they’re not sure exactly where to go. As a man, Jesus wanders around from village to village, picking up a ragtag crew of tax collectors and fishermen. In a hectic, frazzled, confused scene up on a hilltop in Jerusalem, Jesus is crucified by a well organized company of Roman soldiers while his friends and companions run away. Compared to the darkness it’s up against, the light is a mess.
Because love is a hot mess. You cannot put down on a spreadsheet why you love who you love. I cannot stand here tonight with a bullet point, quantitative list of all the ways that God loves you. That’s what the darkness does, darkness traffics in the brutality of data. But love, the love of God bursts our hearts wide open and we sing and we pray and we give gifts not counting the cost. Because the only way to stand out against the organized darkness of the world is to revel in a light that doesn’t quite add up. No, it doesn’t make any sense to drive to a darkened church in the middle of December. No, it doesn’t make any sense to sing some old songs people wrote hundreds of years ago. No, it doesn’t make any sense that the Lord God Almighty who created the heavens and the earth would come to us as a baby. It’s all so disorganized and unruly and beautiful. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
On this most holy night, we glory in the mystery that God loves us beyond all calculation. That love and grace of Jesus Christ is for each of you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done or left undone. The love of Jesus Christ brings together all types and kinds of varieties of people into one disorganized mess called the Church. Compared to the formulaic evil of the darkness, we are a hot mess. But most importantly, we burn bright with the love and mercy and grace of God. On this night we see it all spread before for us – we see the immeasurable, incalculable grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the vantage point of Christmas.
Now, all those years ago I climbed down that rickety ladder after my dad was done with the Christmas lights, much to my mom’s great relief. And I went back to seeing the world from my old vantage point. Back to the narrow confines of our little street. That will be the temptation for you, too. The carols will stop playing, the family will go home, you’ll return that awful sweater that you got. The lights will go back in the attic and you might just forget this vantage point. You might forget you ever climbed that ladder in your souls to see the light of Jesus on Christmas. In those moments, when you are frustrated by the darkness, when the world is doing its best to bring you down, come back in your heart and mind to this place. A place of light and warmth and the love of God. Remember that you have seen the whole world stretched out before you from this new vantage point, remember that you have seen the unruly, unbounded, overflowing abundant love of God in Jesus Christ. A love, a light, that pierces the darkness. For Jesus Christ shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome you.