From Darkness to Light: A Reflection for Christmas Eve 2022

The Christian faith is full of paradox and irony, and the Christmas story captures this better than any other. God becomes a human, the virgin becomes a mother, the King is born surrounded by livestock and attended to by shepherds, the Prince of Peace is hunted down by the authorities. But the irony that strikes me today is this: an angelic army appears proclaiming peace:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among people of good will!”

This is a proclamation by a heavenly expeditionary force, and their proclamation is peace, shalom. This is the true hope of Christmas. A new birth of peace for the world. This stood out to me particularly this year because we’ve spent Advent reflecting on Isaiah’s oracles of hope. And tonight too one of our lessons is from Isaiah. And it’s probably the most stirring of them all:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied exultation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
(Isaiah 9.2-3)

What is this great joy that appears to the people like the sunrise at the end of a long, dark night?

For the yoke of their burden
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
(Isaiah 9.4f)

The joy is about freedom from oppression and a restoration of good faith and peace. The yokes on their backs have been taken away, but not only this: the military-issue boots and blood-soaked garments are thrown into the fire. This is reminiscent of the move in Isaiah 2.4, where the prophet describes the Day of the LORD in terms of the people “beat[ing] their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.” What brings this wonderful beginning of peace to pass? (Feel free to sing along.)

For a child has been born for us,
to us a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders,
and he is named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Great will be his authority,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice
and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will do this.

Here we have the vision of a great king, who will lead God’s people in strength and power but also in wisdom and justice for all. In a great connection with Luke’s Gospel (that must have been intentional on Luke’s part), the arrival and reign of this king is described as an action of the LORD of Hosts (tsevaoth, ‘armies’), those same armies we see appear to the shepherds proclaiming the invasion of God’s peace.

And so we have both in this oracle from Isaiah and in Luke’s recounting of the proclamation of Jesus’ birth, a clear message for all of us: the birth of the holy child ushers in a new birth of peace and faithfulness into our world. Let us remind ourselves of what this child would teach when he grew up:

  • The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Jubilee. (Luke 4.18f)
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 4.3-10)
  • You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20.25-28)

What are the ways of peace proclaimed on this Christmas night? Concern for the poor, release for captives, healing for the injured, impaired, or sick, the forgiveness of debts, blessing for the poor and meek, comfort for the grieving, compassion for the merciful, and humble, other-oriented service. These are the ways of our God. This is the hope of this night.

And so, Christmas is an opportunity for us not just to celebrate, but to recommit ourselves to these ways in every facet of our lives.

May we all remember to do just this, and then, join with the angelic army’s battle cry of shalom:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among people of good will!”

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