It is said as a matter of historical curiosity that as the foreign secretary was looking out of his office on the evening of August 3rd, 1914, Sir Edward Grey the foreign secretary of Great Britain, uttered these prophetic and frighteningly accurate words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life”. On that day the world was plunged into what we call World War I. My paternal grandfather served as a chauffeur first class in the United States Army in that conflict. There was a battered old mess kit that Philip and I played with during our visits, but it never occurred to us to ask him about his experiences in the great war. Like many veterans, he never told stories about what he had seen during his time of service.
Some might ask, “what does this have to do with the global birthday party that we are celebrating tonight?” Actually, I thought about Sir Edward Grey’s words because it is reductionism, a diminishment of the message of Christmas, to reduce it to a birthday celebration for the Baby Jesus. The message of Christmas is far more powerful than that, especially in the world as we live in it today. We need to think about those powerful words of Saint John who tells us that the message of Christmas is that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not and cannot overcome it.”
We need to get over the notion that the words Isaiah’s prophecy about the people who walked in darkness apply strictly to a bunch of ancient Midianites. They may have walked in great darkness. But as they walked so do we: we live under the cloud of terrorism and we are living in a lengthening shadow of the specter of the byproduct of terrorism because when terrorism gets the upper hand, the opposite reaction is fascism. The people who walked in darkness saw a great light. We need to see again that great light. We need to discover again the great light of God in the love of Jesus Christ.
The reassuring message of Christmas is that while the darkness always tries, but the darkness cannot extinguish the light.
That humans need a savior, no one can doubt in these times. The reassuring message of Christmas is that God sends that savior into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through the loving act of the incarnation.
So we come to Bethlehem tonight, and let us come and worship and adore. But let us not come only with a sense of sentimentality, chasing the ghosts of Christmas past. We are not here to chase the ghosts of Christmas past. We are not celebrating how people once upon a time in a far, distant and forgotten past, all but forgotten in history needed hope. For we are the ones who need hope. We come to this Bethlehem here and now. Let us embrace the hope and the promise that the Savior is in our midst. That his light shone once and it shines still. My plea for you this Christmas is this: Do not succumb to the fact that darkness surrounds us. Look instead to the light that shines.