Tuesday December 24th, 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
A Night Like Any Other Night
For most of the residents of the sleepy little town of Bethlehem, it was a night not much different from any other night.
True, many of them had out-of-town guests staying with them, so their already cramped and tiny houses were even more crowded than normal. Although it must have been fun to see friends and family that they had not seen in such a long time, the reality is that they were not gathered together for a holiday celebration, but rather because the Emperor had demanded that everyone return to their hometown so that a census could be taken. In other words, they were being taxed. Not exactly a cause for celebration!
And so as they went to bed that night, many sleeping crowded next to each other on the floor on that dark and silent night, their overcrowded homes were a stark reminder that they were not free people. They were a people who lived under the constant threat of violence, constantly under the yoke of oppression. They were a people constantly longing to be set free.
And the worst part about it was their knowledge that it was because of their own sin and guilt that they were in the shape they were in! Their own prophets had predicted that if they turned away from God they would be overtaken by a foreign government, and that was indeed what happened. But after century after century of one oppressive ruler after another, they longed for God to forgive, and to come and make everything right again. They longed for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness so they could finally be free, and so they could finally live in peace.
The prophets had predicted that one would come who would set them free, one who would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. One who would be a shepherd to his people, and rule over them in peace. But when would he come, or would he ever come?
And so the residents of Bethlehem and their out-of-town guests went to sleep that night, longing, hoping, and waiting, just as they did every other night.
A Holy Night
But for Mary and Joseph, it was not a night like any other. For them it was indeed a holy — a sacred — night.
They too had been forced to travel for over a week from their hometown of Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census, and the timing could not have been worse. Mary was about to give birth to their first child, and when they arrived in Bethlehem there wasn’t even room for them to stay in an inn or guest room. And so they gave birth to their firstborn child in a stable, and laid their baby on a bed of fresh hay in a manger — a fancy word for a feeding trough.
But for Mary and Joseph, they knew this was a sacred night. And not just because they had just given birth to their firstborn child — a cause for celebration indeed! But also because an angel had visited Mary and told her that her child was the one the people had been waiting for — the one whom the prophets had predicted would come. The one who would free the people — and not just their people, but All people — from the yoke of tyranny and oppression.
And so on that first Christmas night, as Mary and Joseph looked down at the child in their arms, surrounded by animals, and visited by the unlikeliest of guests — the shepherds from the hillsides of Bethlehem — they wondered at the miracle that had taken place inside Mary’s womb. And as they stared down at the face of their little child, they looked at him with love, joy, peace, hope — and amazement.
The Light of Christ
In truth, this was not the way anyone expected it would take place. Most people expected a conquering military hero who would swoop in and overthrow the Roman Empire and establish himself as king — not a baby born in a stable. They expected a conquering king who would smite their enemies — not a baby laid in a manger.
And yet, the little baby born that night was like a single candle being lit.
When even a candle is lit in a room, that room is no longer completely dark. In fact, it’s been said that on a completely dark and still night, if there were no obstructions in the way, the flame from a single solitary candle could be seen for almost 2 miles in every direction!
And so, that Silent and Holy night, as the Christ child was born, it was as though a single candle had been lit in the darkness. And as Jesus grew older and walked this earth, he spread his message of peace, love, forgiveness and grace, and others began to follow him in that way. Their candles too began to burn bright, and they carried the message of hope, love, peace, and joy with them wherever they went. And that light has been spread on down through the ages, until it has reached even here to us today.
And so this evening we are too are invited to carry forth that light — to spread Christ’s message of peace, hope, and joy to all those in our own world who are longing to be set free. We are invited to be the light of Christ to those who are burdened down by guilt or shame, those who are lonely, marginalized, those who are hungry, poor, homeless, those who are suffering from disease, and all those who are oppressed. But before we can be a light to others, we need to accept the light of Christ in our own lives. We need to allow Christ to be born in us.
Let us invite the light of Christ into our lives, and let us go forth to bear Christ’s light in the world!