It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold . . . . In the name of the One whose birth we remember so richly this night, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.
Friends, grace and peace, and always, always to wish you a Merry Christmas. May this Holy Night, as we remember the birth of the Savior, be a sign for you of all joy, healing, renewal of life: turning a corner, a new page, fresh beginning. To strengthen you in all goodness.
In our reading from the Old Testament, Isaiah the Prophet. Standing in a moment of crisis and conflict, looking forward to a certain future of defeat, devastation, exile. Enemies from beyond the borders pressing down with relentless ferocity. And a corruption eating away from within. The ancient heritage of God’s chosen people, the memories and values and loyalties of the Patriarchs, of Moses and Joshua, of Samuel and David, passing away. Greed, deceit, false-dealing, in the highest places, and in the hearts and minds of men and women of every station of life. Every false god. Moral failure. Loss of faith. Sin is a condition, but it is also a choice, and with consequences, and those consequences now about to cascade upon them. A massive implosion. The falling of the House of David not simply a political disaster, though it is that, a national catastrophe, defeat, slavery and exile. But a catastrophe for thousands upon thousands, home by home, family by family. The end of every hope and plan and dream. The Holy City in flames. All in ruins.
And yet even as the darkness gathers, for Isaiah, looking far ahead with confidence in God’s goodness and God’s faithfulness, there is hope. Hope. So the vision of the prophet. Beyond the catastrophe. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation. Even as the darkness gathers, he can see them. The early Sentinels, the dawn of the new day and the Dayspring from on High, the return of the Lord to Zion. Who would have dared to hope such a thing? God himself entering his throne room. Ascending in glory. Restoring the ruins of Jerusalem, raising them to a new magnificence. And not just that Holy City. All creation. Time and space. Eternity itself.
And this is where it happened. This holy night. In the city of David. Mary and Joseph. An improvisational innkeeper. Shepherds abiding in the fields. Angels singing. A Savior who is Christ the Lord. The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks; when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes.
And here he is. As Isaiah said, foretelling. Tonight. In majesty. Ruling heaven and earth from his manger throne. His royal court, the rustic shepherds. His palace a stable. Turning upside down and inside out all our expectations. Power in weakness. To win victory by forgiveness. To rule by blessing. To govern in love.
The Law and the Prophets in grand procession all shown this night to be true and reliable and given for us, for our encouragement and our benefit. The word to Eve in the Garden. The promise to Abraham. That through his seed all nations would be blessed. In fact, every word of Scripture pointing us to this hour. In all truth. To guide our lives and to fill our vision. When darkness gathers, hope. Fulfilled on this bed of straw. Wrapped in swaddling cloth. The ancient story not distant anymore, but now perfectly relevant. Not about people long ago and far away, but about us, about the world we live in. Who came for us, to die on the Cross, taking in himself our brokenness, our sin, and then to rise from death. In the mystery of this midnight hour: the fullness of Easter. For us, for our salvation, he came down from heaven.
St. John: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to come children of God . . . .
An invitation, then. Not a children’s story, though it is the story of a child. Encountering and mastering every hard reality of our lives and of our world. Bending back the darkness, overcoming the force of evil that rides so high in the world around us and in the secret corners of our hearts. Forgiving sin, bringing peace and reconciliation.
Come: bow down and bend the knee and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
The question before us, in the midst of holiday parties, in restaurants and shopping malls, clearing snow from the sidewalks, wrapping the last few gifts by flickering candlelight. Who is our king? To whom do we owe our allegiance? Whose story is our story? To know who we are by knowing first whose we are. To live in the ruined city of our own making, or to open our hearts and our minds and our lives to his rule.
An invitation. If we've never heard it before, we would hear it now. For each one of us. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.”
Blessings this night. Peace in Bethlehem and in all the world. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast. Peace, in the Bleak midwinter. Let this invitation be fresh and new for each of us this evening. He comes to us so that we might come to him. Come let us adore him, Lord and Savior. Christ the Lord, the Newborn King.