Faith United Methodist Church
December 24, 2015
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Prayer of Illumination
God of mystery, there was no room in the inn that holy night. Yet may there be room in our hearts for your Word. Be with us who celebrate Christ’s birth. Open our ears so we may hear the story anew, that it may touch our hearts and transform our lives. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
Sermon: Half Spent was the Night
Can you hear it?
an expectant silence,
a hushed anticipation,
as if the very galaxy
is holding its breath.
There are some truths
even the stars know,
and how the night
can be a living thing.
And how once, long ago,
the night waited in wonder
along with the darkness
and the loneliness,
for the sound of a baby’s cry,
for the miraculous
to come down
to the earth mundane.
(from Hush by Lucinda Hynett)
I have to be honest with you. I’m not usually up this late. Let me clarify that, I’m not usually up anywhere near this late. But even I have to admit that there is something thrilling, something awe-inspiring about stepping out into the darkness ~ into the waiting night ~ to come and celebrate the birth of the one who brings light to the world.
It kind of makes you think of the shepherds ~ tending their flocks in their usual way, deep in the darkness of the night ~ suddenly confronted with the shining glory of the Lord. It kind of makes you wonder what it was like for young Mary, with faithful Joseph, having all that she was told by the angel come to pass and pondering it in her heart.
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Another reason I was willing to come out so late was to sing my favorite Advent / Christmas carol again. With its three simple verses and haunting melody it is not one often associated with the joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth. Yet it seems to me it is a carol of the darkness, a carol to sing amid the glow of candles, a carol for a time such as this…. When half spent was the night.
Now, we don’t know, historically, if Jesus was actually born at night or even if Jesus was actually born in winter. Traditions have sprung up around our Gospel stories that encourage us to see it this way. Yet, it seems to me, there is something to the Savior of the world coming in the darkest part of the year, when the nights last forever and the cold chills our bones, when all new life has died away, to a world in need of a blossom of hope. Lo, how a rose e’re blooming. The birth of light into a world of darkness. As Isaiah tells us, “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
The truth is, though, that we don’t have to be up until all hours to know something about the darkness. Sometimes our darkest nights happen in the light of day. Sometimes the night seems half-spent before the day has even begun. We all have our stories of darkness. We could talk about job-loss and wars, about struggling families and homelessness, about illness and grief. The list could go on and on. There are some truths we all know ~ like darkness, like loneliness.
But the story already knows all this ~ already is all this ~ and that is the good news. The journey begins amid poverty and unjust rulers in a world of oppression. It continues with a gentle and helpless baby. Yet, to say that our night is half-spent, is to affirm that the dawn is coming. When the rose starts to bloom, when Christ comes, the day is breaking… and suddenly all is hushed and the chaos pauses for a moment and we can see a world where light conquers darkness, where hope overcomes despair, where assurance vanquishes fear, where wholeness triumphs over brokenness.
Our Christmas preparations, with their chaos and clutter, don’t often leave us many opportunities for such reflection. Yet, as Kathleen Norris assures us, “If we feel utterly exhausted, drained of all feeling and weary with worldly chores and concerns, so much the better.” For this night the Light is born. The deepest darkness has come and gone. Our night is more than half spent. “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them, light has shined.”
There are several more verses of my favorite carol that we don’t have in our hymnal. In fact, there were twenty-two in the original German. Here is just one:
O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!
We will soon go back out into the waiting night. We will go to our homes and tuck into bed and, before long, the dawn will break. Ssh… Can you hear it? It is the sound of expectation and anticipation. It is the sound of hope and peace. It is the sound of the Light piercing the darkness. It is the sound of a baby’s cry.
It is Christmas.
Thanks be to God for this half-spent night and may the light of the Christ child shine brightly on us now and evermore! Amen.