Sermon by Rev. KJ Norris for Christmas Eve, 2020 based on Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20.
Let us pray:
the shepherds of old were full of your praises,
saying that all they had seen and heard
was mirrored by what they had been told
in angel song.
Move among us now with your Holy Spirit,
that we too might hear and experience
wonder and joy as we seek to welcome the one who is the
Light of the World into our lives.
In Jesus’ name, Amen (Sourcebook 477, adapted).
Have you ever watched for the morning?
Here in Pennsylvania where Kerr Presbyterian Church is rooted, it is the darkest part of the year. The sun rose through a rainy wintry mix this morning at 7:41, and it already set tonight—the night sky settling in just before 5 o’clock.
Have you ever watched for the morning?
Perhaps you are a kid planning to watch for the morning tomorrow. Maybe the adults in your house, your mom or dad or grandma told you that tomorrow morning although you may wake up really early, full of excitement, you have to wait to come downstairs until the sun is up. You will find yourself lying in bed, waiting for the morning.
Or maybe you are one who works the third shift at work. You spend the long nights caring for those who are ill or preparing a space for those who will come in the morning. You watch daily for the morning light to peak through the windows, knowing the day always dawns.
I have fond memories of watching for the morning light. My dad would drive my sister and I to school most mornings, and we would watch the sun shimmer over the horizon as we road up over the hillside.
Our Scripture speaks tonight of those who have waited for the morning.
Sometimes we wait for the morning in joy, but for those whom our Scripture speaks, the waiting has been long and hard.
Isaiah speaks of those who walked in darkness. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness. We can think of those in Plato’s Cave, the well-known allegory of people trapped in a cave of their minds, seeing only shadows. We can think of those who were born into slavery, forced to wake every morning before the light, having no will of their own. We can think of those who are incarcerated, awaiting for trial away from their families, watching for a moment when they can prove their innocence. We can think of those who spend their nights in fox holes, praying that this night will not be their last as they fight to earn peace in the world. We can think of those who stand by the bedside of the dying, praying for one more day.
Those who walk in darkness. Those who live in a land of deep darkness. Those who know the heaviness of the night.
To them, our Scripture proclaims, they have seen a great light! On them a light has shined! God has multiplied the nation, God has increased its joy, and they rejoice before God as with joy at the harvest.
Into the darkest of all nights, into the shadows of our minds and hearts. Into the bleakest hour we have ever know, God’s light shines.
It’s an odd kind of shining here in Isaiah 9. In English we say “we have seen a great light” as if it happened in the past, but in Hebrew it’s not understood to be an action of the past. Instead, Isaiah is proclaiming a completed act of God into all time at once. The Hebrew Perfect Verb expresses that the light comes from God into the past and the present and the future. Those of the past, us in the present, the generations of faithful at Kerr and around the world in the future encounter the revolutionizing Light of the World (see Reid, 69, in Connnections).
And what is this Light? It is a child. One born in the humblest of circumstances. In the darkness of the animal pen. In the silence of the night.
Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. Authority rests upon his shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6, pastor’s paraphrase).
The great and wonderful truth of God is that into our loneliness, into our brokenness, into our sin and pain and suffering, true light has come.
God breaks in like a flash light illuminating the path to a tent pitched in the wilderness, like laser beam cutting away the foggy tissue of the cataract so one can see again, like the sun breaking through the clouds, melting away the snow. God breaks in.
By all accounts 2020 has been a difficult year. Around the world, the pandemic has taken over 1.7 million lives to date and infected countless more. Millions have faced economic hardship. All of us hunger and thirst for a way of life which simply cannot exist in these days.
Some seek comfort from the changes of life in ways that only destroy ourselves and others—through addictions and sinful acts which turn us from the good path we know God has for us.
Some feel exhausted from the loneliness of staying apart. We long for the embrace of our loved ones and mourn the changes in our traditions.
Some, like those who lived through the Holocaust, or the Black Plague, or the 30-Years War, wonder if these are the end times. If Christ will soon come again to wipe away every tear from our eyes.
A people who walked in darkness. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness.
Tonight, on this holiest of nights, we are reminded that while the shepherd kept watch for the morning light to break through another light came amongst them—the glory of the Lord shown around them. The angels brought good news of great joy for all the people.
And their hearts stirred within them as the angels sang out “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace!”
The shepherds couldn’t wait for the morning light. They jumped from their places and made haste to see this sight that God had promised—the child—the Messiah—God with us, Emmanuel—the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloth, lying in a manger.
Friends, the good news of the gospel is: Light has come. Hope has come. Peace has come. Joy has come. Love has come.
Like the dawning of creation when God said, “let there be light,” a new light broke through the darkness, alighting the path of the Shepherds, calling them to bow down and worship, putting new words in their mouths.
And God still does that today. God is renewing us day by day. Creating in us new hope, new joy, new love.
God is known for showing up in unlikely places: in an animal pen and an open field. And this night God is doing it again. God is showing up in unlikely place, a digital space.
God’s Holy Spirit is here. God’s Spirit is opening us up again. God’s love is healing our hearts. God’s joy is leading us to rejoice. God’s Shalom is speaking peace. God’s mighty acts are giving us new hope.
Join your voice with the choir of angels: Sing out “Glory to God in the highest!”
After we pray, I am going to invite you to light a candle tonight. We light these candles all across the area knowing that God’s light can never be contained. That God’s light is in us and through us and that in every kind word we say, in every act of service, in every gift of charity given, God’s light pours through.
Friends, let us rejoice this night, knowing that Jesus is the Light of the World, and God’s light has come.
Let us pray:
Emmanuel, God with us,
you are our heart’s delight.
Because of your amazing love, you came to earth,
you became one of us,
you reached out to us while we were lost,
you rescued us from death,
you brought us salvation.
Your love is so high and wide and deep
that it, and only it, could reach this suffering world.
You came to bring an end to our sadness,
to dry our tears, to still our fears, to give us hope.
In deep gratitude we praise you.
We worship you for dwelling among us.
This night, O Lord, we lift to you the suffering of the world.
We think of those who are sick this night.
Be with them. Keep them. Heal them.
We think of those who are mourning this night.
Grant them your comfort and peace.
We think of those who are lonely this night.
Help them know you are with them and send love into their lives.
We thank you, O Lord for those who help and protect and heal.
Grant them renewed strength.
We desire peace on earth as the angels proclaimed so
we pray for the restoration of this world,
for the growth of your kingdom,
for reconciliation, healing, and renewal.
May your Holy Spirit move in us
that we may be your hands and feet in this world.
Give us hope, peace, joy, and love
as we live our lives to honor of you.
We pray all these things through the name of Jesus
who taught us when we gather to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
The worship sourcebook. (2013). Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
Green, J. B., Long, T. G., Powery, L. A., Rigby, C. L., & Sharp, C. J. (2020). Connections: Year B, Volume 1: Advent Through Epiphany (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worsh). Westminster John Knox Press.