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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Nochebuena is what Christmas Eve is called in the Spanish speaking world. Literally the good night. It’s a big deal. Families get together. Lechon is eaten. Someone has described it like “waiting for a treat, a surprise, a gathering where everyone is loved, accompanied, and no one knows for sure when the gathering will be over.”
How wonderful. La Nochebuena. The good night. Now you may be saying it’s not really a good night for everyone. There are people without homes. People on their own. People in the midst of war and strife. People caught up in battles between countries and empires even. People who have been left by economic systems at the bottom of the heap, wondering if anyone even cares. It may be easy for all of us here to talk about a good night but is it really? What makes it good? What would make it truly good for us gathered here tonight?
For a child has been born to us. A son given to us. These words had been spoken to the people of Israel in ancient times. A people whose kingdom had been divided. A people for whom the promises of God might have seemed far away. A people whose land had been fought over as competing empires rolled through. And would continue to roll through.
A child has been born to us. A son given to us.
The thing about the arrival of a baby is, they tend to change things. One might even say disrupt things in the best possible way. Life is changed irrevocably with the arrival of a baby or babies as we have witnessed firsthand over this past year at Blythwood. Sure we know due dates but we’re not sure exactly when the child will arrive (outside of a scheduled cesarean). We prepare ourselves as best we can and then.
When the time comes we say welcome to the world. Welcome to your life baby. Welcome to our lives. Everything changes.
Everything has changed. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
The time came and when it’s time, it’s time. Call the midwife! These words are not generally spoken with a great deal of calmness. When the midwife is called things are going down. Things are happening. There’s no stopping the plan. This was the plan. God would work through a nation he chose to effect a plan that would save the world – that would bring peace and justice and righteousness – living rightly before God and before one another. We’ve looked for this in other places. We look for it in other places. In Empire or country or ourselves or wealth or property or income. In those days a decree went out from the ruler of the Empire. It was a decree about taxes. A census. In other words, let us figure out who lives where and what they’re worth. Because they say that there are two things in this world that are inevitable. Tax is one. The other is this. As surely as a baby is born, one day they’re going to die.
And there’s nothing unusual about a couple having a baby. There’s nothing unusual about people not finding a welcome or there not being room for travellers or migrants. There’s nothing unusual about finding a newborn at the time of this birth of which we read wrapped in bands of cloth – it was how they made sure the child’s limb would be straight. You’ll find the baby wrapped in bands of cloth. It was so common that it would be like saying you will find the baby lying in his car seat. I’m sure it was not unusual for those without means to have to resort to using a feeding trough as a crib because, after all, they had to put him somewhere.
There’s nothing unusual about candles or grape juice or bread or putting musical notes together with words. There’s nothing unusual about this birth scene as it is described by Luke. No angel glow or halos.
Except. Everything has changed. For a child has been born to us. He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
There’s a glow but it’s appearing in nearby fields. Shepherds receive the news. People who slept rough out with the sheep. Low class. Light-fingered even. Everything has changed you see. This baby will usher in a kingdom in which it’s not about how much we make or what part of town we live in or how much our property is worth or how much we buy or fill in the blank for the things that the messages with which we are assailed day after day tell us are of ultimate importance. In fact, this baby would grow up and teach that he could be found in those that society considers the least – the hungry, the prisoner, the stranger, the migrant.
This is not just any baby. This is the one long promised who would enable humanity to live in loving relationship with its creator – and indeed all of creation. The one to save us, the Christ, the chosen one, the Son of God, the Lord. The one whom we are invited to call our Lord. The one to whom to pledge our allegiance. The one to whom to pledge our lives.
This is our invitation. To welcome this child. To welcome this child for whom we’ve been waiting throughout these weeks of Advent the same way a midwife welcomes a baby into the world. With open arms. The shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger. To welcome Jesus is to realize that this is not just another baby. The carols we sing are not just a combination of music and lyrics. They speak to the truth about who this child is just as the angels sang the truth of who this child is. The candles that we light are not just a collection of wax and wick, but point toward the one known as the light of the world.
The cup and bread which we will soon share are not grape juice and the results of baking. They point to something else. They point to a great mystery which we are invited to step into in faith. I asked earlier how we can call this night good. The same way in which we call a certain Friday good. As surely as a baby is born, a baby is going to die (and you might be thinking “Merry Christmas to you too buddy!” at this point) but the death of this baby, as horrible as it was, is something his followers are able to call good because it was not the end of his story. The wood of the manger points toward the wood of the cross, and on the cross Christ would show that there is no suffering, no grief, no sorrow from which God cannot bring life – not even death – because the Son dealt death and the powers of death and darkness that would keep us from God a resounding defeat when three days later he rose to life.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. This is why we call this night good. This baby who would die and be raised to life and return to his Father has promised to come back and establish justice and righteousness for all. He has promised the end of mourning and crying and tears and the renewal of all things. We’re invited to welcome him this night. To welcome him every day. To put him over and above the things we would call “Lord” – the things that enslave us – and to say along with his mother “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your will.”
This is a good night because he is here. The only qualification we need to welcome him is to say “I need you.” Someone has said, “Humble self-abandonment is quite enough to give us God.” This is a good night because God is with us. In the midst of all our rushing around and preparations, and stressing about the perfect Christmas or pining for Christmases of old or wondering what the big deal is Christ was born. Someone greater and wiser and kinder than we has arrived, and it is right and good and proper and fitting for us to stand or sit or kneel before the one who is God’s love for us in flesh. As we gather around this table, may this be the response of each and every one. Beloved, a good night to all of you, and a Merry Christmas.