Piercing the Darkness – Br. James Koester

Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20)

I want to begin this evening by acknowledging all who are watching this livestreamed Christmas Eve Eucharist, either in real time, or in virtual time. Your prayers, your support, your friendship have been important sources of strength and grace for us Brothers over these last 10 months. We miss your physical presence here in the chapel. We long for the day when we will be able to reopen and greet you in person. At the same time, we are excited that the wonders of technology have enabled many, who for whatever reason are not able to be here in person, and are now able to join us, from next door and across the world.

I also want to assure you that we are all well and safe, and that we pray for your health and safety on a regular basis. We are especially praying for medical professionals who are working hard to bring the vaccine to as many as possible, as quickly as possible. We also hold in our prayers the various essential workers who ensure that life can carry on despite this pandemic. Please know that we value your service and dedication.

Later in this service we Brothers will be dimming the lights and singing Silent Night in a chapel lit only by candlelight. Those of you who are joining us from home may want to do the same.

Earlier this week I received a Christmas card from a longtime friend. As she has done for the last 20 years, she included her usual Christmas letter, bringing me, and her other friends, up to date on her comings and goings over the year. At the beginning of the letter, she confessed that she had no intention of sending out her usual letter this year. After 20 years, she thought last Christmas was a good time to stop that particular tradition. However, as the year unfolded, she realized that rather than stopping familiar and comfortable traditions, she needed to maintain them, to give a sense of connectedness with her friends, and stability to her life, in an otherwise tumultuous and chaotic year, filled with uncertainty.

Another friend wrote to say that for the first time in her life she would be spending Christmas alone. Being alone at Christmas was always something she feared. When it came clear however that would be the case this year, she made the decision to maintain her Christmas traditions: she has put up a tree; decorated her house; baked some Christmas cookies; and is set to celebrate Christmas.

Even we Brothers here at the monastery, while we have scaled back some things we normally do, have carried on keeping a full liturgical schedule; we have decorated the enclosure; and are looking forward to our annual gift exchange.

For all of us, this is not the Christmas any of us would ever have planned. Yet it is the Christmas we have been given. In the same way, none of us would have chosen 2020 to unfold as it did, yet it has, and we have responded as best we could.

In the same way, Mary and Joseph did not choose to travel, as they did, in the last days of Mary’s pregnancy. Clearly it would have better to stay in Nazareth. But imperial edicts don’t care about pregnant women. So, travel they did, because travel they must. It was I am sure, not how she wanted to spend the last days of her pregnancy. Like us however, she had no choice.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered… All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth… to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.[1]

One thing that has become painfully obvious this year, is that decisions made hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, have a direct and immediate impact on our life. In the same way, an official in imperial Rome decided to hold a census, and thousands of miles away, the life of a recently engaged couple was thrown into turmoil and chaos. Suddenly the roads and inns of Palestine were jammed with people on the move. Suddenly the hospitals and emergency rooms around the world were full of the sick and dying. For Mary and Joseph, as for us, those were, and these are, dark days.

Gripped by uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps fear, Mary and Joseph set out on a journey that would have taken about 7 days. I cannot imagine Mary’s discomfort. I can however imagine Joseph’s anxiety, perhaps resentment, and his valiant attempt to keep calm for Mary’s sake.

Then like now, the world was filled with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment, with a dose of stoic calm for the sake of another. Those were, these are, dark days.

It should come as no surprise to us however, that into those dark days of uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment, a beam of light, as precise as a laser, pierced the darkness of the world, and illuminated the face of a tiny, helpless baby.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.[2]

It is no accident that we celebrate the birth of Jesus in these dark days of December, when nights are long, and days are short. It is no accident that the birth of the One who is the Light of the World[3] is celebrated when there is so much night, so much darkness.

Like Mary and Joseph, we live in a particularly dark world, filled with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment. Decisions made hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, have a direct and immediate impact on our lives. Suddenly, a decision made far away, throws our life into turmoil and chaos, and we find ourselves where we would never have imagined, less than 12 months ago.

And into the darkness of our life comes a beam of light, as precise as a laser, piercing the darkness of the world, and illuminating the face of a tiny, helpless baby.

Mary and Joseph would never have chosen to travel 90 miles, during the last days of her pregnancy. You and I would never have chosen the road we have been on since last March. Yet travel they, and we, must and have, because it is the road which is before us.

But their road, like ours, though dark, precarious, and perhaps even dangerous, is not without its assurance.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God…, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph…. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he… said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed… and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be… called Son of God.[4]

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him… Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’[5]

The promise of God to Mary and Joseph, is the same promise which God makes to us, you shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’

The journey Mary and Joseph took was one filled with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment. Yet they went with the assurance that God was with them. Perhaps in the moment it did not always feel that way. Yet every step they took, was a step of faith, which led them at last to the stable in Bethlehem and to that moment where the light of God’s love pierced the darkness of the world.

It is that promise of God’s eternal, abiding presence with us, in the person of Jesus – Emmanuel that gives us the same assurance to embark on our road, even when filled with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment, so that we too will arrive at that moment when the light of God’s love will pierce the darkness of our world.

Like Mary and Joseph, the road before us, is the road we must walk. Like them, we do so in faith that God will not fail us, and will indeed be with us as promised. And so, in a dark world filled with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and even resentment we step out in the assurance that God is with us. Sometimes that means decorating a tree, baking some Christmas cookies, writing a letter to friends, and celebrating the fact that the light of God has pierced through our dark work like a laser and illumines the face of a tiny, helpless baby.

This is not the year any of us planned. It is not the Christmas we wanted. Yet it is the year, the Christmas, and the road we have been given. And the promise of God given to Mary and Joseph has been given to us as well, for in Jesus, God has pierced the darkness of the world and of our lives with the light of his love. The promise that God is with us, is a promise for us, as well as for Mary and Joseph. And it is as true today as it was when the light of God first pierced through our dark work like a laser and illumined the face of a tiny, helpless baby.

This may not be the Christmas we wanted, but it is still Christmas, because God is with us, and always will be, no matter how dark we think it is.

Merry Christmas everyone, and may God be with you tonight and always.

[1] Luke 2: 1 – 7

[2] Luke 2: 8 – 9

[3] John 8: 12

[4] Luke 1: 26 – 36

[5] Matthew 1: 18 – 23

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  1. Alan Cairnie on December 26, 2021 at 12:06

    Thank you, Brother James, for a homily which is as appropriate in 2021 as it was in 2020. The Lord will honour your faithful service.

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