Christmas Eve Message, 2012
A young man had a dream. In his dream he was holding a candle and he was surrounded by darkness. Jesus lit his candle and sent him into the darkness. After a little while, his candle went out and he had to go back to Jesus to light his candle. This happened several times. He started to apologize to Jesus for not keeping his candle lit. Jesus said, “Please notice that each time you were able to go a little farther into the darkness before your candle went out.”
Jesus sends us into the darkness of this world bearing good news. We are invited to return to the source of light when the darkness overwhelms us. The light we carry is the news that God loves us unconditionally, patiently, and persistently, and we carry this light out into the world as our unconditional love. This is the light Isaiah described for those who walked in darkness. In a world where most relationships are conditional, and those conditions can weigh on us, God offers us unconditional love. In relationship with God, there is nothing in this world that can truly overwhelm us.
Our story from Luke assures us that the good news is for everyone, even those who live on the margins of society, like shepherds. All of us are invited to bearers of the light, no matter what our social status is.
Our reading from Matthew includes a result of unconditional love: forgiveness. Joseph was a righteous man, someone who tried to live in right relationship with God. While he was deeply hurt on learning Mary was pregnant, he loved her enough to plan on quietly canceling their wedding plans. He loved God enough to go through with the wedding anyway. A similar challenge is told in Tales of Gletha, the Goat Lady, by Roger Robbenholt, in the chapter titled Hosea.
The setting for the stories in this book are a village in a mixed faming and forestry landscape. The people include teachers, storekeepers, a pastor, farmers, mill-owners, and Gletha, a wise woman knowledgeable about people, animals, herbs, and many other things including the Bible.
This story begins with the decision to have a village Bible study on the book of Hosea.
Israel’s pursuits of other gods, and of actions that oppose God’s will, disturbs God. God orders Hosea to marry a common prostitute making Hosea a living parable. His wife is treated as an object in this story which bothers me. Hosea repeatedly condemns the people of Israel for their turning away from God and God’s ways, and repeatedly proclaims God’s love for the people of Israel anyway, pleading with them to change and go back to being faithful to God.
The Bible study group includes Gletha and others including a niece of a storekeeper whose family lives elsewhere. She is a beautiful, graceful, and kind young woman. Another participant is a tall, young farmer who is quiet, shy and gentle. They fall in love and decide to get married. A custom in the community for Christmas was a pageant retelling the Christmas story, and the couple with the youngest child would take on the role of Joseph and Mary. The Christmas before their wedding, the couple were looking forward to the year they would be Joseph and Mary.
Before their wedding, he went to work in a logging camp as he did every winter. While he was there, an epidemic of mumps swept through the camp and he became very sick, ending up sterile.
They married, and each Christmas became more painful as they were unable to have any children, even though they loved each other dearly.
An evangelist came to the nearby city for a week-long crusade, and she went every evening to listen to him. On the last night, she did not return, having gone on the road with him. She came back close to a year later in the late fall with a new baby. Her husband avoided her. On Christmas Eve, everyone in the village gathered for the traditional pageant. The next youngest child was 3 years old, and his parents, for the 3rd Christmas in a row, put on the robes for Joseph and Mary, with Mary sitting down on the traditional chair. The young woman, carrying her child, went over to the chair, and was given the robe and the place. There was silence for a few minutes. Then her husband walked over, took the Joseph robe and stood by his wife. As much as he was hurt by her decision, he loved her and he understood her pain, and loving her became more important than his pride.
God loves us, loves us enough to meet us through Jesus of Nazareth. No matter what we do, God is prepared to offer forgiveness and healing. According to Jesus in his parable of the prodigal father, God is completely shameless in wanting us to know God’s love. A sign for us of God’s love is the meal we are about to share. Out of his intense relationship with God, Jesus was prepared to give anything necessary to open a way for us to God, even dying on a cross. We are invited by God to accept God’s forgiveness, healing and love, and to share these with others as we learn to love unconditionally. Take some time to consider how God’s love has been part of your life, and how you might share that love.