But then the Ancient One’s messenger declared a word of promise to a courageous and graceful virgin. A husband forsook tradition and custom as he too heeded the angel’s words. A cousin’s voice rang out, ‘Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?’ And a child danced within his mother’s womb. A whisper here, a glimmer there, a rising tide of exuberance and joy, and it culminated with the piercing but luminously beautiful cry of a newborn child, whose untested vocal chords carried out to world the cry of God’s coming into the world.
The darkness, once thick, was pierced by the light of his birth. The silence, once oppressive, was beaten back by the voice of the newborn son of Mary, the child of God. And the emptiness…the emptiness that shut out hope became filled with the promises of deliverance, liberation, and salvation. This, my friends, is why we gather on a cold winter’s night. To remember what happened so long ago. To sing with joy at God’s union with humanity. To be transformed and renewed by the grace of God imparted through the Incarnation. To have our eyes opened as we receive the light of God’s grace.
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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Like the blazing fury of a thousand suns beating back the darkness, the birth of Jesus leaves no shadow untouched, no darkened corner of the world unlit. It leaves, in the words of Robert Hovda, “no land in the shadows.” God’s coming into the world in the flesh is the fulcrum point of history, when God plays all the cards in his deck, and reveals to us that there is no chasm so wide that it cannot be crossed by God’s inexhaustible love for us and God’s insatiable desire to be united to us in a way that would put even the most passionate lovers to shame. To quote again Fr. Robert Hovda, “God has touched human life, has assumed human life, has planted the seed of a new and glorious spiritual development. The eternal Spirit has penetrated in a new way this world of matter, has laid His hands on it, has possessed it, has informed it. Love seeks union, and the love of God has united human nature to himself…Nothing can be the same any more. These bodies of ours have been touched by divinity. They have felt the breath of Life.” When we fix our gaze upon the glorious birth of Jesus, upon the willingness of the God of Israel to enter this world as a helpless child, the scales fall from our eyes and we see, as if for the first time, that the world is filled with God’s glorious light and there is genuine hope for humanity’s redemption from the nightmares of our own designs, and the possibility that we ourselves might become vessels of divine grace. For that which Christ assumed, namely our human nature, is precisely that which he has redeemed.
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
We are lifted up, the yoke of our burden is removed. We are remade, sanctified, filled with light and life. We are freed!
So now, let us with great joy heed the words of St. John Chrysostom: “Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been in planted on the earth, angels communicate with people without fear, and people now hold speech with angels.”
There once was darkness, but it was beaten back by the light. There once was silence, but it was filled with the cry of a newborn child, the cry of God’s love for us. There once was emptiness, but it has been filled with hope incarnate. And we, dear friends, are redeemed.
*A sermon preached on Christmas Eve 2015 at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM. The texts were Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14.