A Sermon for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2023 at Holy Communion
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
This service has lasted so far less than half an hour, and already we have referred to God as “Light” in five different parts of the service. We gathered while singing “O come, all ye faithful.” The second verse starts by quoting the Nicene Creed, and we call the newborn Jesus, “God of God, Light of Light.” When we lit the wreath, we sang the ancient candle-lighting hymn *Phos Hilaron,* and say, “O gracious Light, Lord Jesus Christ, in you the Father’s glory shone.” Our first reading opens with the magnificent words, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Our second reading called Jesus “the radiance of the glory of God.” And more than all the rest put together, our Gospel reading called Jesus a light no less than seven times.
We get the metaphor, of course. Jesus is the Light of the World. To know Jesus is to have a light in your life, someone to drive away your darkness.
But “Light” is more than just a metaphor for what happens when Jesus comes into your life. Light is a name for God. Jesus is the Light of the World because he is true God from true God, a Light that comes to us from the Light of God the Father.
As St John says, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” That means that in God there is perfect truth, perfect goodness, and perfect beauty. Light brings truth because it is what allows us to see, to perceive the world and ourselves clearly. Light brings goodness because of its total purity, and because it reveals what is hidden. And light brings beauty, showing us the splendor of creation.
Without God, there is no truth, no beauty, no goodness. That is what we mean when we hear in our Gospel reading that that true Light “gives light to everyone,” and that “the world was made through him.” Everything true, and beautiful, and good, is so because when God created it he gave it some small share of his original light. We understand the world best when we see in it the traces of the pure glory from which it came.
But what does this have to do with Christmas? We are not here to celebrate a birthday, not really. We won’t read the Christmas story this evening—although we will tomorrow morning. We are here to celebrate the Light of God drawing near to us, becoming a human being, living and dying as one of us. The babe in the manger is the eternal God. The Light of God chose to enter human darkness.
Where is there darkness? Where is there hurt? Where is there confusion and distrust? Where are there destructive habits? Where is there darkness? That is where God went when he came, and that is where God goes now—into the heart of your darkness. God is with you there.
If anyone here thinks that there is no darkness in your life, you can stay silent—you’re good. But everyone else, everyone who knows where the darkness is, can I get an alleluia? Alleluia! In God there is no darkness at all. Alleluia! God knows where your darkness is. Alleluia! God came into the world to be a light. Alleluia! That light is with us now, shining in our darkness. Alleluia! Amen.
Today, tomorrow we celebrate Light from Light, God from God, casting out darkness. Alleluia indeed. But what about December 26? The Light doesn’t go out. The Light never goes out. So why do we still have darkness? Christmas came last year too.
So before be close, let’s go back to John’s Gospel that heard earlier. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. … He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The Christmas message of light isn’t magic. The Light of the World doesn’t dispel darkness unless you receive it. Your role in chasing away the darkness of your own heart and the darkness of your circumstances is not to pull your life together, not to grit your teeth and be perfect. You have to let the Light make a home in you. Bear the Light. Carry it around. You can let it do the work of driving back the darkness. But you have to keep it close. Prayer keeps the Light close. The Bible keeps the Light close. The sacrament of this altar keeps the Light close.
So draw near. Receive the Light of God, and celebrate that it came to overcome the darkness.