Lighting the Candle
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord
came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for,
behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is
Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall
find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:8-14 (King James Version)
“Christmas is the day that holds all time together”, wrote Scottish poet Alexander Smith. When I was a boy this long awaited day of Christmas was certainly the most exciting day of the year. My brother and I lay awake half Christmas Eve night watching for the first light of day so we could spring from our beds and open our presents. Then, after we opened our gifts and played with them awhile, my dad would read the Christmas story to us. Dad always read it in his King James Bible, a version for which many have a special fondness on this day.
Growing up on a farm where we had sheep, it was the part in the story about the shepherds that always appealed to me. I thought myself something of a shepherd and felt the story especially meant for me.
The story is old and often repeated, but familiarity must not blind us to its quiet but world upending power. The story happens in the nighttime for the shepherds, and in the nighttime for the nation as darkness covers the land. But suddenly the night around the shepherds is blazing with the dazzling light of heaven. The same Shekinah glory of God that once drove Moses to his knees, now shines before rough and tumble shepherds. The glory that once filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple now bathes ragtag shepherds in God’s light.
I read the story and sense that heaven’s angels can hardly wait to tell the news that the God of Heaven has come to save His people. With supernal joy, the shining ones break forth in song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”.
I often think that we are like the shepherds, keeping watch in the nighttime. People are weeping, hurting, and broken, as God’s light suddenly breaks forth in our lives. We hear again the great story that the Baby who lies in a manger is Immanuel, God-with-us. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, the light has shined.
Some unknown writer rightly said: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent His Son to be our Savior.
Perhaps on this day that holds the whole year together, we do well to focus all gifts and happy celebrations on this one single, particular gift: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Martin Luther’s words are key to this day: “Of what benefit would it be to me if Jesus would have been born a thousand times and it would have been sung daily in my ears that Jesus Christ was born, but that I was never to hear that Jesus was born for me?”
I still think of myself as one of the shepherds and that the story was meant just for me, and meant just for you. Even the stars have colluded to declare His coming, and angels fill the air with the news: For unto you this day is born a Savior which is Christ the Lord!” He is true God from true God, True Light from True Light.
MOMENT OF SILENCE AND REFLECTION
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the special joys and wonders of this season; for friends and family whom we love and love us; for happy celebrations and good memories for years to come. We delight in the wonder of these holy days. But most of all we thank you for your love for us, just as we are. Thank you for coming down into our darkness and lifting us up into your light and life. Amen.