God is with us in Word and Sacrament

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

Luke 2:1—20

+ IN NOMINE IESU +

The eve of the creation, a night of sounds and silences. The earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep. And then God spoke, the silence broken. “Let there be light.” And the light shined in the darkness. And God saw that the light was good. But the darkness comprehended it not.

The eve of the fall into sin, a night of sounds and silences. By stealth and by guile, the enemy invaded the garden. It is a night attack. The serpent deceived them with foreign words to eat from the forbidden tree. And knowing better, Adam was silent. The darkness of that deception enveloped their hearts and through them, ours also. But then God spoke, the silence broken. “Cursed are you . . . I will put enmity between your seed and the woman’s seed. He will crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The deception revealed, and light shined in the darkness once again. But the darkness of their hearts comprehended it not.

The eve of the Lord’s nativity, a night of sounds and silences. In the stable hewn out of the rock, where no babe had been born before, the holy Child is given to us, and no one but the mother and the father knows it yet. And the speechless animals look on with large eyes in wonder, the first of God’s creatures to behold their Creator in the flesh. Travelers are milling about the inn nearby, and the muffled sounds of human voices reaches the mother and the father and the animals. They hear a random word here and there, before it falls, unmeaning, into silence.

From the hills comes the occasional soft bleat of sheep, and something like a far thunder, something like a voice. But they cannot make out its meaning. It is the angels, whose message enlighten the shepherds who watch their sheep in the fields by night. “Do not be afraid,” they say. “For I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The light of the world has come. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not.

For meanwhile, in Jerusalem the world bustles on with all its clatter. Under the cover of darkness, Herod drinks and his flatterers cheer. But in the east, old men, illuminated by the prophet Daniel, prepare their cold and solitary journey as they narrow their eyes to behold something in the night’s sky. A light shines in the darkness, a lamp for their feet and a light for their path.

The eve of the Lord’s nativity, it is a night attack, a first-century Kristallnacht, but smaller. This invasion comes to seize that most pagan of strongholds. It comes to lighten the darkness of our hearts, which makes both God and idol. It comes with something more terrible than deception because it makes its enemy more vulnerable. It comes with light and with love.

He comes like a thief in the night, quietly, noticed only by those with eyes to see and ears to hear, stealing into that cave, into that small manger, to dwell in the darkness of human hearts and to be among its beasts. We gave Him a manger to be born in and a tomb for His death. Such were the lodgings we provided. For the darkness of our hearts provided no room for that word of light and of love, once familiar but now foreign. A word we had forgotten when we ate and were deceived.

The one who invaded our world took up our cause to dwell with us that heaven would be ours: to sweep and to deck our hearts, so that He may dwell in us, and we in Him. The silence broken. The light shining in the darkness of our hearts.

So on this night we may well think of that other darkness, when the powers of the world seemed to triumph in comprehension and the pilgrimage of our Lord seemed to come to an end. And the soldiers were milling about. A word here and there dropping into an abyss of unmeaning, while Mary and John and the holy women wept in silence, and the tomb nearby lay waiting. The light extinguished.

Then a faint rumble, something like a voice, seemed to rise up out of the earth as it quaked and shook. “It is finished. He is not here. He is risen.” Little did the powers know that the wall of the tomb would come down, for its darkness could not hold the Lord of light and love.

And even as we gather by candlelight in the darkness of this silent night to celebrate this invasion, the world is noise, all noise: with war and the rumors of war, and the cheerless laughter of lust, and the insatiable craving for wealth, and the terror of death, the noise of children afraid of the dark. It is buying and selling, eating and drinking, consuming and being consumed, frenzy and boredom, celebration without true joy, anxiety without hope, longing without love, darkness without light; it is the world. It’s what C. S. Lewis called enemy-occupied territory. But it has been invaded. For the Lion of the tribe of Judah is on the move.

Its walls were breached two thousand years ago by the infant warrior, the Lord of light and love. Its walls were battered shorty thereafter, by the warrior at the height of His manhood, the Lord of life and death. Some day its walls will be laid to waste, leveled to the plains, by the warrior in the full array of His divinity come to take us to Himself, the Lord of hosts and the Lord of glory.

No one knows the hour or the day. But we Christians know the day of His birth, and the days of His death and resurrection. We know the days of His coming in Word and Sacrament to take away our sins, to steel our hearts and minds, make our arms and resolve strong, until that day comes. And so we celebrate Christmas with song and cheer. And we huddle in the night and listen to the Word of the invading God who comes with light and with love:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). “For unto you this day is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). “And he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). “Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). And “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow listeners to the Word made flesh, a blessed Christmas to you and your families. For the light of the world has come. And He has come for you, to shine upon the darkness of your hearts with His Word of light and love. Amen.

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