CH (CPT) Mary Baars
Nine Lessons and Carols
We have just heard a remarkable story, a story of unlikely friendship between God and us. It is first a story of our turning away from God, but, more importantly, it is a story of God coming to us and embracing us, nonetheless. This story begins with death, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Yet, it ends with life in Christ, “A life that is the light of all people.”
Our service this evening is not completely unique to Camp Sabalu-Harrison. It is a service that has been celebrated by Christians around the globe for almost a hundred and fifty years. When I decided to plan a service of Lessons and Carols, the first thing I did was look up the traditional scripture readings to see what was in store. When I read over our first lesson, it didn’t really feel like Christmas to me. Were they kidding? The fall of humanity, the origin of sin, and all of this ending with those words which we hear primarily at funerals, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I seriously considered making a game time substitution.
But tonight, hearing all of our scripture read, it is obvious that each verse is an important piece of our whole story. As difficult as it is to be reminded about our turning away from God, it helps us to put in perspective just how astonishing God’s gift of love really is. For God became flesh and lived with us. We turned away, but God loved us and dwelt among us anyway.
This is what tonight is all about, celebrating the fullness of God’s love. On a night, not too different from this one, in a lowly stable, not too far even from where we gather here, the world was forever changed. We heard the state of things in the world after the fall. Pain, terror, unnecessary death and suffering, yet into this darkness, Jesus Christ was born. It is an amazing thing when you consider it. God could have done anything, using immeasurable power and indefatigable resources, but what God chose was to simply be with us-- Emmanuel. God’s answer to a fallen and broken world was to become fully present with us.
So honoring God’s gift of presence, we, in turn, offer this gift of presence to one another. Christmas is a time for being in the presence of those we love because this is what God has done. For those of us who are deployed this year, these may not be the Christmas circumstances that we would hope for. There may be others with whom we would rather share this day. Yet, I can’t help but see the parallels between our Christmas setting and that very first Christmas. Mary and Joseph, far from home and family, shared this most important day, the birth of their son, not with loved ones but with a random assortment of strangers, some high in rank, others dusty from their work in the fields. But on that night, on that most holy night, what mattered most was that they were there together, ready to worship God with us.
In just a few minutes, we will finish lighting the Advent Wreath, proclaiming that Christ has come by singing Silent Night and passing the light around the Chapel. But the Good News we celebrate tonight, the Good News of God’s presence among us, is that this light is not contained in this church or among this people. It is a light given for the whole world. On our final verse of Silent Night, we will take this light of Christ out of this place, sharing this Good News with the whole world. The light, this true light, shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. May it be so. Amen.