By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 24, 2009 – Christmas Eve
A student at The University of Georgia got a job as a disc jockey at a little radio station in commerce, Georgia. He also got a room at a hotel in town and commuted to school, which was not far away. Sometimes at night, he would crawl out of his window and sit on the roof of the hotel. He would look out over that little town. One night when he was up there, he wrote a song called “City Lights”. The rest is country music history. His name was Bill Anderson.
An Episcopalian minister in Boston worked himself to near exhaustion. He was on the verge of a complete breakdown. He was greatly depressed and almost gave up in despair. But, he took some time off and went away on a trip. He traveled to a place where he had never been before. He saw the lights of a small town, walked along its streets, and in those lights he found hope again. He wrote a song which has in it these words:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
The rest is church history. His name was Phillips Brooks.
The light of Bethlehem still shines. The child that was born to us, Jesus Christ, is the true light of the world. It is tonight, Christmas Eve, that we are so strongly reminded of the gift of Jesus in our lives – the gift that is born in us over and over and over again. It is a season that has no end, if only we could keep ourselves open to seeing the wonder of the light that shines in our midst each and every day. Every ordinary day.
Our scripture tonight from the book of Isaiah was written during a dark and dangerous time. During a period of 150 years, both the northern and southern kingdoms were threatened by their enemies. Both kingdoms fell and the people suffered the worst kind of defeat and agony. Eventually, even Jerusalem was overrun, the walls torn down, and the temple destroyed, but in the midst of those years of darkness, even before the worst had come, the people were offered hope. A singer, a preacher, gave them words of hope. Here are the words he gave them:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.
The rest is Bible history. His name was Isaiah.
The people who heard those words of God from that preacher needed to hear them because there was darkness all around them. Powerful enemies had been trying to destroy them for centuries, and they were on the verge of destruction, but in the darkness of despair, words of hope came to them.
We can still relate to the concept of darkness in our world today. We can relate to feelings of despair, hopelessness, hostility, etc. But the light shines on. The light of hope still shines on us all. The light of hope shines brightest in despair. It really does not take much light to shine in the darkness. A little light goes a long way.
A friend relates an Army story. When he was in night training they stood on a little hill there in the darkness, looking far down into the valley below. Suddenly, a person out there struck a match. They could see clearly that little light shining far away in the darkness.
Whatever is facing you, and whatever darkness surrounds you, there is a light that shines in the darkness, and that light shines on you. That light enables you to find your way.
Virginia Law told of her experience as a missionary in the Congo. She said that at their mission station, there were men who served as night sentries. They carried oil lanterns. One night, one of them brought her a message. She noticed his lantern and said, “That lamp doesn’t give much light does it?” He replied, “No. It doesn’t. But, it shines as far as I can step.”
We can find our way, as far as we can step, to wherever we need to go, in the light of hope which shines on us.
And we can share the light of the hope, and increase joy, and break yokes of despair. We can be a witness of this light by living the meaning of it, by being a person of hope, by reflecting the light of Christ, by sharing the warmth of it in our daily lives.
Brita Gill-Austern, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School tells this story:
One Sunday I was on my way to church in the subway in Philadelphia reading and editing my sermon that I was to give that morning. I was wrapped up in my world, my worry, my self-preoccupation about how it would go. Yet I was forced to look up from my manuscript when a man walked in the subway at the next stop. He was very grubby, dirty, and had at least a three-day-old beard and generally the appearance of one you hoped would sit elsewhere. As he entered he said, “Good morning, Sally and John. Good morning.” People gave him a quick glance, but no one spoke to him. At the next stop as people got on, he called out again in a most cheerful voice, “Hi, Robert and Janne, Peter and Diane.” Still, no one looked. At the next stop, same thing. Again silence. Then all of a sudden he plopped himself down in front of me and said, “I recognize everybody, but no one recognizes me.”
Finally, I got it, and I put my sermon down to turn to this man and began by asking him his name. “Bernie” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Brita”. “Brita”, he said, “do you know what?” “What, Bernie?” I said.
“Do you know that you and I are twins? Yes, you and I are twins.” A bit taken back I said, “Twins?” I did not exactly see that there was a great similarity between us and obviously had been more tuned to the difference than similarity. Then he looked at me and said with a big smile, “Yes, twins. You see both have two eyes, two ears, and a mouth. That makes us twins.”
Brita concludes, “Bernie was the one who shifted the perception for me to see that only those who see their unity with all, truly see. It is hard for me now to meet any stranger, to be in the face of otherness, and not see Bernie’s face reflected there.”
And so, tonight, we creep up to the manger at Bethlehem, peering over the edge, anxiously wondering what is born among us, and there we see, to our never-ending surprise and eternal delight, the Friend. “I know you and you know me,” (Barth) we hear the little one say as we come face to face. His face is our face and the future is His—and so the hope is ours. Amen.
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