Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas Eve Meditation

In part riffing off KidOakland's Christmas Message.

Isaiah 9:1-7

It's been a sad couple of days.  Early Tuesday morning word came that a bomb had killed 22 people, 18 of them Americans, at a mess tent in Mosul.  Later that same day was a phone call from the chaplain at the Brethren Home:   Mrs. Smith was in the last stages of dying.

It's hard, honestly, to be weighed down with thoughts of death and at the same time get oneself into the joy and thanksgiving of Christmas.  Aren't we supposed to be happy this time of year?

I'm not complaining.  Mrs. Smith's family, and the families of those killed in Mosul, have far more on their shoulders this Christmas than you or I.  As if it weren't bad enough that she had to die just four days before Christmas, it was also her grandson's birthday.  Again, I'm not complaining.  There are other people who are far worse off than us.

And yet, what the scriptures tell us is that the joy and relief of Christmas comes about in the midst of--not despite--the all-too-familiar, all-too-routine suffering of the world.

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

God is at work in the midst of the everyday wars, politics, and general mess of life.  He promises to the people of Jerusalem a savior, someone who will rescue them from the armies who occupy their lands.  Another famous section shows how irresistible this liberation will be:

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.

Once the dawn has come, the night is no more.

And lest there be any doubt about what kind of savior this will be, Isaiah spells it out for us.  

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.

The Savior of Israel--the child who has been born to us--will come not just to lift Israel out of its misery, but to fundamentally change the equation that creates oppression and war.

Little wonder then that this Savior--whom we Christians confess to be Jesus, the child of Bethlehem--will be named "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace."

"All the boots of the tramping warriors, and all the garments rolled in blood, shall be burned as fuel for the fire."  Oh my Lord, I pray that that might come true.  I pray that our troops might come home from Mosul, and Iraq, and from around the world.  I pray that they might never need their boots again, that their blood-stained fatigues might as well be pitched in a fire as useless.  I pray that your peace might come and never leave us.  I pray that no more families might weep for the soldiers they have lost.

And what of Mrs. Smith and her family?  Is it too much to ask, Lord, that we might restored to the stature of Adam and Eve before they left your garden?  Is it too much to ask that your light might shine once more in the darkness, that what has come into being in your Son might be life, and that we might become children of God, "born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God"?


In the darkness of this night, we come to testify to the power of the light.  In the midst of war, we come to sing praises to the God of peace.  In the midst of grief, we confess that the Word of God, which is light and life and love, became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, in the midst of and in victory over the sadness of this world.  And in all this, we look forward to the fulfillment of the promises made in the birth of our Savior; to the establishment of his kingdom on earth; to his restoration of the world to right relationship with God and one another; to the promise of the resurrection, when we shall know death and grief no more.

As we prepare to light candles and sing "Silent Night," then, let us pray with assurance and joy that the peace of God might flood our hearts and transform our world, and that the light of God might pierce the darkness we feel around us, taking with it all sadness, all loss, all war, all violence, all oppression.  Amen.


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