Readings—Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Tonight, the Light shines in the darkness– Advent wreath and Christmas candles, Window candles, Altar candles, and Star.
The Light of God come into the world in Jesus was addressed by the prophet Simeon. Eight days following his birth Simeon met Mary and Joseph in the temple in Jerusalem. He took Jesus in his arms, he blessed Mary and Joseph, and said:
This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed, and sword will pierce your own soul too.Luke 2: 34b-35
The Light come into the world would be a revealing light. What did it reveal about those who gathered around in Bethlehem of Judea?
It began with Mary. Her response to Gabriel’s words, “Greetings, Favored one! The Lord is with you”, she was “perplexed”, and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be”. The angel continued:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called “Son of God”. Mary responded, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”.Luke 1:28, 35,38
The revealing Light of God shone on Mary, and she offered herself to join in the drama of God.
From the Gospel according to St. Matthew we find Joseph was a bit hesitant at first to accept Mary’s news, and was about to “dismiss her quietly”. Then, he, too, was visited by Gabriel in a dream. The angel declared:
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
When Joseph awakened,
he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.Matthew 1:20,24
The revealing Light of God shone on Joseph, and he joined Mary in the drama of God.
Tradition tells us that the innkeeper and his wife took a bit more persuading. It was on the second ask that she persuaded her husband to provide them shelter in the stable. It was behind the inn, away from the inn filled with paying customers. They could not be disturbed with birthing an infant. The Light come into the world would not impact their cash flow.
The beasts already housed in the cave, they gladly provided warmth, a feed trough, and space away from the drafts. The Light of God revealed that they were “friendly beasts”.
The grungy, fragrant shepherds, when approached by the angels, were addressed as Mary and Joseph with “Fear not”. It was their curiosity that drew them to Bethlehem. They said to one another:
Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. So, they went with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger.
Then, returning to their flocks, these uneducated shepherds, on the lowest level of society, became the first evangelists.
They made know what had been told them about his child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
The Light of God empowered them to proclaim the amazing prophetic news –God had come to dwell among us.
Also, included in the nativity drama were King Herod and the Magi, traditionally three. Arriving two weeks later, the well-traveled Magi had searched the night sky and discovered a shining star that they followed to Bethlehem. They followed their dream, saw the infant, gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then went back home, albeit by a different route. They disappeared into the mists of history, never to be heard from again.
Finally, we come to King Herod, the ruling monarch. Frightened by the Magi’s visit, “and all Jerusalem with him”, he sought the whereabouts of the infant, destined to be the Messiah. When the Magi returned to their homeland without revealing the infant’s location, the furious King Herod had all the children under the age of two living in the vicinity of Bethlehem slaughtered. The Light come into the world revealed the King’s love of power and how it could be brutally used.
On this Holy Night when the Light of God came for us and for our salvation, we recall how it “revealed the inner thoughts of many” long ago—Mary, Joseph, innkeepers, shepherds, Magi, beasts and King Herod.
The same Light of God continues to reveal “the inner thoughts of many” in our own day.
Some offer their lives to the Light come into the world. Some proclaim the Light to all who would listen. Some provide space for the Light to shine forth. Some seek the Light, offer gifts, and then return home. Some violently oppose the Light and seek to destroy it.
As the Gospel according to St. John declares:
Thanks be to God.