Car games are the gift of any driver with children. This time of year, I am reminded of when Alisabeth first really saw “yights”. That is Christmas lights. We would be driving around in the evening when she was two years old, and she would holler out – “yights!” pointing right or left for us to look. Each time we would look and smile, feeling joy in our hearts at the lights. She would find golden trees and red and green shapes. She would point out Christmas wreath and lamp posts. Everywhere we drove, we would look for the “yights.” There must be something instinctive about looking for the “yights.” Felicity did it. Peter is beginning to do it, now. And I have heard of many, many children who have a need to point out the “yights.”
We, too, need to be reminded of God’s presence. It was the Gospel of John that taught us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. Christmas lights remind us that God is not done with the world. Evil will not have the last word. We will not fall into a heap out of exhaustion and fear for ever. Light shines in the darkness. So, I find myself thinking, I understand why people decorate their homes with strings and strings of lights. We all need to be reminded that even we feel alone and abandoned, like no one in the world is with us, how will we ever figure it, when will it ever get better – God sends us Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, in the form of a baby to save and redeem us. So, light up the whole house, make it bring as day, if we can remember that Christ is with us.
Knowing, living, remembering the very presence of Emmanuel is the work of Advent. This Advent, we have turned to the carols in the Gospel of Luke and modern carols as our launching pads for this work. In the Gospel, we have heard the carols of the Angel Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, and now Zechariah. The once silent Zechariah sings out at the birth of his son, John the Baptist. Praising God for what God has already done and leaning on God’s promises as forecast for what God will do in the future. After months and months of silence, he chooses his first words carefully. He needs to remember the character and commitment of God.
To remind himself, Zechariah called upon the traditions of old. Words that he had learned as a priest in the tradition of his father and his father before him. We can imagine that he had hoped against hope to pass that tradition onto his son. As days went by and years piled up, he had given up on the hope of passing that tradition onto his son as he and Elizabeth had no children. He had given up on singing the old songs and praying together before bedtime. He had given up the dream of a child whom he could love and shape, take care of and teach.
It was in that dark place that the God met Zechariah through the Angel Gabriel. It was there that good news was shared and hope offered. It was there that Zechariah began to understand that the God he had served for decades was with him. It was at the birth of his son, that he could articulate praise and lift up accolades. There, when Zechariah felt most vulnerable, God met him.
Through these carols from Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and our modern hymns, we remember that God did not wait for us to find our way to heaven. Instead, God emptied God’s self of all but love to come in the person of Jesus for the sake of us all. Jesus became vulnerable to share love with the vulnerable. 1 However, it is not just the carols in the Bible, we turn to our modern hymns in the same vein.
Unlike the other carols, we have looked at thus far in the series, there is no clear one author of O Come All Ye Faithful. There are some traditions that it might date back as far as the 13th century to St. Bonaventure, but most scholars believe it is a collaboration of monks in the early 1700s in a Cistercian abbey in either France, Germany, England, or Portugal. Abbé Etienne Jean François Borderies (1764-1832), who was inspired upon hearing the hymn, translated three additional stanzas, of which four and five are included in the UM Hymnal, to fill out the Christmas story. 2
What becomes clear is that worshippers inspired other worshippers as they invite one another to join together to sing praises to God. “The invitation to “come, all ye faithful, . . . to Bethlehem” places [us as we sing] both among the shepherds who rushed to see the Christ child, and in the long procession of the “faithful” that have journeyed to Bethlehem in their hearts for over 2,000 years.” 3 They needed one another to remind of the glory of God and the incredible gift of incarnation at Christmas. This classic hymn sung for centuries is the collaborative work of musicians across borders and generations.
Just as we need one another, across divisions and limitations. We need one another to remember. We need to be reminded that God’s incarnational presence with us is an incredible gift, without which the future would be grim. The hope would flicker, and we would not know redemption. God’s presence, Emmanuel, God with us, is the very essence of God’s gift in Jesus Christ.
This is what Francis knew as he developed the Nativity to reflect the context of where he was. His characters were all Italians of the 14th century. Here they are characters of the 21st century, not because we think Mary was actually drinking Starbucks and taking a selfie with Joseph and baby Jesus, but because we can then imagine ourselves in the salvation story. This is what the Germans knew as they decorated evergreens in their homes. Decorations remind us of the great truths of our faith. They are visual reminders of God’s incarnational presence with us through Jesus.
We deck our halls and sing our songs, because we need those reminders. We have forgotten that God will be with us. We have forgotten that are not alone. We have forgotten that God’s time table for figuring out world events is not ours, but God may call even us to take part.
We too, need to be reminded as images from Aleppo come across our view. We too need to be reminded as Advent days as filled with stories of death and violence, painful words and atmospheres that seem far from the kingdom of God for which we are waiting. Many feel vulnerable this Christmas. Some live in Aleppo. Others are right next door. Some don’t have enough to eat, struggle to find clean water, don’t feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods, feel rejected by others, and so much more.
We need to look to the Nativities, the Christmas trees and the ‘yights’ and be reminded that we have a voice to proclaim God’s ways of justice and peace. So, in this week, before Christmas I invite you to join in playing the game of ‘Yights.’ Look for the light of Christ around you. Yes, first look at the Christmas lights. The neighbors and those you drive by have beautiful and intricate light displays. Then, look for how you can be the light of Jesus, reminder for others that Emmanuel is our light in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome him!
This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 146:5-10
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 67-79
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, December 18 ~ Saturday, December 25
Sunday: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever” Psalm 146 :5-6. Where do you find your strength? Where do you find your help?
Monday: “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.” Psalm 146: 7. Prayerfully remember those who are incarcerated this day. Pray for them and their families.
Tuesday: “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” Psalm 146:8-9. Faith and justice are intertwined. God’s way is just and right. Prayerfully ask God how you can be an instrument of justice.
Wednesday: “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord! Psalm 146: 10. On this longest day of year, praise God that even when you feel alone, God reigns and is with you.
Thursday: “Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” Luke 1: 67-68. Where can you praise God today for looking favorably upon you? Where can you sing your story of redemption?
Friday: “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” Luke 1: 69-70. God promises last forever. Praise God for saving forever promises.
Saturday: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Luke 1: 78-79. Our light is Christ. For each light you see, give thanks to God for gift of Christ.