Tuesday, December 24, 2019 – Christmas Eve

December 24, 2019  

Christmas Eve 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 2:1-14


We were standing in total, complete darkness, underground.

Our guide had just turned off the only light—a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling.

We were crowded into a small space, maybe eight feet by twelve. There were 20 or so of us standing. In the dark.

It was the root cellar of a house in Memphis, Tennessee.

The house was built by Jacob Burkle, a white man who operated the stockyards in Memphis. He began harboring runaway slaves in his cellar around 1855, continuing to shelter them until the abolition of slavery. His was one house of many that constituted the Underground Railroad (slavehavenmemphis.com).

As I stood in the darkness I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the people fleeing slavery, what it must have been like to hide in the dark, to move from place to place under cover of darkness. To fear being seen in the light of day.

Darkness is not evil.

During the time of slavery, darkness brought cover, darkness brought safety, darkness led to freedom. It was the light that was feared.

Imagine hiding in a dark cellar—and someone turning on a light. Back then, it would have been someone lighting a candle or a lantern. Imagine the panic that would have ensued. Or, if not panic, imagine the deflating, deafening feeling of defeat.

In that region there were shepherd 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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 2:8-10a).

The shepherds were keeping watch in the dark. Their darkness wasn’t “city-dark,” like what we have at night here in La Crosse. The shepherds worked in the darkness of night without light.

When the angel came, it was the glory of the light that shone around them that the shepherds feared. The angel’s light was sudden. The angel’s light was terrifying.

We use the language of light and dark loosely in our Christian tradition, and in our society. We make darkness evil. We make light good. We fear shadows. We celebrate what is luminous.

Darkness is not evil. What happens in the dark can be. Just as light is not inherently good. What happens in the light can be.

What happens in the dark can be good. What happens in the light can be evil.

In the gospel of John it is written that Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But the good news of his birth, the good news that the angel brought to the shepherds, that good news came in the dark of night.

According to the gospel of Luke, according to our gospel reading tonight, Jesus was born in the light of day. The news of his birth came to the shepherds at night.

In the darkness of the night a message of love came to the world. In the darkness of night a song of peace came—a song of peace on earth. In the darkness of night glory was sung. And that glory shone around the shepherds. And they were afraid. Of the light.

This evening we celebrate the stillness, the darkness of the night. We celebrate the shepherds who, in spite of their fear, traveled to Bethlehem to see the child Jesus, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus, grateful for his love.