Growing up, I shared a bedroom with my older brothers, Charlie and Chris. This wasn’t a problem, except when it was. On one occasion, they and their friends decided to play parachute, jumping from the top bunk, where Chris slept, down onto my bed. By the time my mother got home and discovered what we had been up to, my bed was a wreck, and my mother was furious. Needless to say, a new mattress and bedspring had to be purchased in order to make my bed usable again.
More problematic, at least for me, was the closet. As the youngest of the three boys, I went to bed earlier than Charlie and Chris. By the time they came to bed an hour or so later then I, it was usually much darker, and the darkest place of all was the closet directly opposite the foot of my bed. Now, I wasn’t afraid of the dark … well, not much at least. What I was certainly afraid of was the darkness of the closet. It seemed like a great gaping black hole, and I was terrified of it. I thought that I could get lost in that darkness forever. I would only be able to fall asleep again if the closet door was closed. And that was the problem. Either on purpose or accidentally Charlie and Chris would frequently leave the door open and I would have to timidly ask them to close it. By then they too were in bed with the lights out, and they would sometimes refuse to get up and do my bidding, so in fear and trepidation I would either whimper until they did so, or steel up my courage and do it myself, scurrying back to bed as quickly as I could, once the dreaded task was completed.
That was a long time ago, and by now, most of us are too old, or too sophisticated to be afraid of the dark. We no longer need big brothers to protect us from whatever is lurking in the back of the dark closet. We no longer dread falling asleep with the closet door open, with that great gaping darkness threatening to swallow us whole. We’re no longer afraid of the dark … well, not much at least.
We may be too old to be afraid of the dark, but we are certainly not too old to be afraid of the darkness of the world and of our own lives, as a prayer we often use at the end of the day here at the monastery, says.
We live in a dark time. The world is full of darkness. I don’t need to tell you that. You already know that. Many people, perhaps you, or someone you love, are going through a dark time right at this moment. Perhaps like that four year old me, huddled, fearful in bed, staring out into the gaping darkness of that open closet, you find yourself once again afraid of the dark, afraid of the darkness of the world and of our own lives. Perhaps you are hoping that someone will close the closet door and shut out the black void, and also the fear that sits in the pit of your stomach. And so we find ourselves once again afraid of the dark, while we are living in the dark, and we scan the horizon of our lives looking for a glimmer of light, a glimmer of hope, or simply for someone to close the closet door, shutting out that dark void.
This has happened before. It has happened to us, and it has happened in the world.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Like us, those shepherds spent a great deal of their lives in the dark. Like now, there was much to be afraid of, both on that hillside outside Bethlehem, and in their own lives. Beyond the circle of their campfire, it was hard to know what was going on. The world was full of darkness, noises, sounds, and terrors. And so they listened, they watched, they waited for the coming dawn, when at last their night fears would be dispelled with the rising sun.
Perhaps you can see yourself, or someone you love, in those shepherds waiting for the fears of the darkness of the world and of [their] own lives to be dispelled by the coming of the dawn. And therein, for me, lies the power of the story of Christmas.
Carl Sandburg, in his poem Star Silver puts it this way:
The silver of one star
plays cross-lights against pine green
And the play of this silver cross-wise against the green is an old story.
Thousands of years.
And sheep grazers on the hills by night
watching the wooly four-footed ramblers
watching a single silver star.
Why does this story never wear out?
In Sandburg’s poem, those sheep grazers look out into the darkness, drawn by the silver of one star. And that for me, is why the story of Christmas never wears out, because no matter where I look, I find myself. I find myself in the face of those sheep grazers watching a single silver star waiting for the coming of the new dawn and the birth of hope.
I find myself in the face of
The vagabond mother of Christ
and the vagabond men of wisdom
all in a barn on a winter night
and a baby there in swaddling clothes on hay
Why does this story never wear out?
For there, huddled with the vagabond mother of Christ, and the vagabond men of wisdom, gazing at the baby in swaddling clothes on hay, I come to see that the night heralds the dawn.
The story of Christmas never wears out, not because it is sweet, or sentimental, or even familiar. The story of Christmas never wears out, even because it fills me with nostalgia of Christmases past. The story of Christmas never wears out, because it is true.
The story of Christmas is true, because from the dawn of time women and men have looked out through the darkness of their own lives, searching for the light of hope. In the birth of the baby in swaddling clothes on hay that we celebrate tonight, we have seen that dawn, that hope, of a new day, new joys, new possibilities,and with it the promise of Isaiah comes true.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.
We live in a particularly dark time right now. The world is full of darkness. Many people, perhaps you, or someone you love, are going through a dark time right at this moment. But the promise of Christmas is that in the midst of so much darkness, light will shine, and that for me is why this story never [wears] out.
The shepherds, on that dark hillside, found the light, not in the campfire, but in the dark sky when the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. There in the light of the glory of the Lord, the angel spoke words of peace and joy: Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
It is no accident that the angel of the Lord speaks those same words to us tonight: do not be afraid. Do NOT be afraid. We may live in dark times. We may be afraid of the dark. We may be afraid of the darkness of the world and of our own lives. But the light of Christ shining forth this night from the manger in Bethlehem promises to banish that darkness with the radiance of God’s glory.
That is the promise of Christmas. It may be dark. You may be afraid. But listen to the angels who say to you: do not be afraid. Do NOT be afraid. The light has come. The babe is born. Christmas is here. God is with you. And the promise of that single silver star shining over that barn on a winter’s night long ago heralds the dawn when all darkness, all fear will be driven away and with the angels we will sing glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth.
And that for me is why this story never wears out.
The story of we celebrate tonight is story of light renewed and hope restored, all because a tiny baby was born long ago in Bethlehem.
Merry Christmas everyone! Our world may be dark at the present moment but Christmas reminds us that the dawn is coming, so let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities, all because Jesus has been born in our hearts, and in our world once more.
BCP, New Zealand
Luke 2: 8
Sandburg, Carl; Star Silver
BCP, New Zealand
Isaiah 9: 2
Luke 2: 9 – 14
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