Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Blue Christmas: Love Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached for our Blue Christmas Service.  The scripture readings were Isaiah 9:2-7 and 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8, 13:

Mourning at Christmas is difficult.  18 years ago I attended the funeral for my uncle on Christmas Eve.  Mourning at Christmas is different than mourning at other times of the year, whether it’s mourning the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, the loss of a job, whatever it might be, it’s hard because we are told that’s it the most wonderful time of the year.  We’re supposed to be holy and jolly and merry, and many of us aren’t. Then people wonder where our Christmas spirit is, wonder why we can’t just get past it, and wonder why we can’t just try to be happy at least for this season.  They ask those questions because unless you’ve been there, unless you’ve been mourning at Christmas, it’s hard to understand.  But it’s also because they don’t understand Christmas that they ask these things of us, because they think that Christmas is supposed to be about the bright and happy things, rather than about the dark and mournful things.  But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Christmas.  If we want to truly seek to keep Christ in Christmas, if Jesus is the reason for the season, then we need to understand that God did not send Jesus because everything was great.  If everything was great we wouldn’t need Christ.  The themes of Advent, which is the season leading up to Christmas, are peace, hope, joy and love.  Again things you don’t need when things are great, but things we need when things are looking dark and bleak.
The first passage we heard from tonight was from the prophet Isaiah, who makes his prophetic statement that “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.”  Isaiah says this because he is prophesying at a time of deep turmoil and conflict for Israel, which leads, eventually, to the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrian Empire.  And so Isaiah tells the people, tells us that a light will come which will shatter the darkness, a child will be born from the line of David who will bring endless peace, not because there is peace, but because we need peace, and we need hope, and we need joy, and we need love, and we need light in our darkness.

We don’t actually know when Jesus was born, and there are lots of reasons why December 25, was chosen, but one of them was because under the Julian calendar, it was the winter solstice, which meant that every night from the celebration of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, would start getting shorter, and every day there would be a little more light, another indication that the darkness could not overcome the light.  That is why we hold this service today, on the longest night of the year, because from here until the middle of June the light will get more and more.  We might go to sleep tonight covered in darkness, maybe even in the dark night of the soul, but the light cannot overcome the darkness, for those who have walked in the darkness have seen a great light.  And here is what those of us who have been in the darkness know, which is something all of us, and that is that light is most necessary in the darkness, and that it only takes a little bit of light to overcome the darkness.  Later when we sing silent night, and light our candles, our light will overcome the darkness that surrounds us.  It might not feel like the darkness will ever dissipate, or that anything can overcome it, but the promise given to us is that we are never alone, that God is always with us, that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, whatever that shadow may represent, that the light of Christ shines for us and God is with us because God loves us.

That is why we have Christmas, because God so loved the world.  Some people say that everything happens for a reason, but I don’t believe that’s the case, nor is that found in scripture.  Instead what we find in scripture is that lots of things happen that God doesn’t want to happen, but what God is can do is to redeem those situations and to let us know that we are not alone, that we are never alone.  Because one of the things that loss and pain do too often is to make us feel isolated, that no one else is with us, that this pain has cut us off, because no one else can understand.  I can’t stand up here and give platitudes that I know exactly what you are feeling because I don’t, because each of us deals with things in different ways.  But here is what I do know, and that is that God knows what we are going through, that God feels our pain and loss, and that God never leaves us alone because God loves us.  And what Paul tells us is that while everything else will come to an end, that love will never end.  Even our pain, loss and sorrow cannot end love, and cannot separate us from God’s love; nothing can separate us from God’s love or God’s hope.  Paul tells us that “in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?” We need hope in times in which we don’t feel it present in our lives.

So tonight we gather tonight to give voice to our pain, sorrow, suffering and our loss and to admit that they are real even in the season of holly, jolly and merry, that our pain, sorrow suffering and loss are real.  But we also give voice to the fact that they do not have the final word.  Our candles of hope, peace, joy and love have already begun to overcome the darkness, that even death has been overcome because God has the final word.  While we go out into the darkness of this longest night, it is not where we stay, because Christ is here, because love is here.  That from this day forward, the darkness will begin to draw back, that each night will be shorter, because God has broken through the chaos and given us the light which shines in our darkness, the hope in the midst of our despair, the peace in a time of discord, the joy to be had even in sadness and the love which shall never end, because faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.  We are beloved children of God my brothers and sisters, loved by God, and love never ends, because God never ends and Christmas, the promise of Christmas, never ends.  My prayer for you on this night and this Christmas is to always remember that God is with us, that God loves us and the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, and on them the light of the promised child, Jesus the Christ, has shined.  I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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