I can imagine that you have received some letters recently that begin like this:
“Our year in review”
“2016 was a great year!”
“2016 was a year full of unexpected twists and turns”
“As I sit down to write this annual letter, I remember all of the ups and downs of the last year.”
Maybe you even wrote one yourself. The writer goes onto bring you up to date about the activities and events of the family over the last year. You read of weddings and funerals, births and graduations, sporting victories, and everyday victories. You sometimes read funny anecdotes or tender moments. Sometimes, writers embellish a bit, and others are surprisingly honest. Sometimes, the writer is so close geographically close and familiar that you nod your head along as you, too remember the events. Sometimes, the writer is distant in one way or another and you imagine the events gone by.
For some of us, there are those from whom we wish would receive Christmas letters. Perhaps, they are recently deceased or perhaps, we have missed them for a while. Perhaps, we have fallen out of touch with them or moved out of touch. The Christmas letters are silent, and our hearts carry the heaviness of loss.
For some of us, we may wish that our Christmas letters were different. In the last year, we have lost or changed jobs. We have gone through separations or divorces, changes in family connection. We have received medical diagnoses that change our connection with the world, and perhaps, even bring mortality into view. The Christmas letters are not so much silent as reflecting a different picture than we would have chosen, and our hearts carry the pain of brokenness. Some of our heaviness and brokenness is quite public and others is hidden for only a few, or even just ourselves to see.
During this season of Christmas joy, which for so many also includes connecting with family and friends, we may find ourselves wishing for those silent Christmas letters. We may find ourselves observing those round us in real time and in our memories and wishing that it was all together different.
This evening, I want to share with you a reading from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 verses 67-69. I want you to hear these words as the Christmas letter from a proud Poppa. A father, who never thought he would have the dream of his heart, a child, who has just experienced the birth and circumcision blessing of his son. Zechariah, who was so shocked by the idea of God answering his dearest prayer that he could not believe the blessing before him, was silent for the months of pregnancy until the 8th blessing of his son, John the Baptist. Then, he spoke. His Christmas letter poured forth. His birth announcement was bursting with pride and joy! “Then Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, Just as he promised long ago.”
Zechariah knew silence in a new way after the announcement of his son. He was literally silent for months. He was not able to comment on the weather or reflect aloud on the experience of God with him. In his silence, he found not bitterness or resentment. He found not guilt from punishment or anger. He found praises. He recounted the stories of God whom he knew to be faithful from the stories passed down of God in the days of Abraham and Moses, David, and the prophets. He knew God to be faithful. His silence quieted the noise and reminded him of God’s redemption, both personal and corporate.
Tonight is the longest night of our year. Since before Christian times, people around the world have felt the need to mark this day as sacred, holy. People have the need to speak of hope on this day. Today, we were given approximately 9 hours and 20 minutes of light, more or less, depending on where you were located. A day which was more dark than light, more challenge than joy, more pain and concern, then courage and hope. Whether we realized it or not, we have been preparing for this day all year. We have becoming more familiar with the longer days and the shadows of night for the last 6 months. We have learned how to walk in the darkness, even when we prefer the noonday light.
In the world of the church, we mark this day with worship. We remind one another than while we can not see or feel hope, the Light is not gone. While we walk in the darkness, feeling around for something to hold onto, we are not lost. Henri Nouwen, writer and inspired person of faith, writer it this way: “Christmas is saying yes to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying yes to a hope based on God’s initiative… Christmas is believing the work of salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying. But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most high, Prince of Peace, Savior.”
In our world, that Jesus has come. In our world, that Jesus will come. As we walk in the darkness feeling less holly and jolly and more bleak midwinter, God blesses our journeys. Jan Richardson, one of my favorite United Methodist clergy persons, who is also an artist, writer, and spiritual director, offers this blessing to those of us who walk in the darkness: “This blessing does not mean to take the night away but it knows its hidden roads, knows the resting spots along the path, knows what it means to travel in the company of a friend.
So when this blessing comes, take its hand.
Get up. Set out on the road you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn.”
God is already redeeming our pain and brokenness. God is already urging us to reclaim painful memories as gifts. In the midst of silence, we are offered solitude. In the midst of the longest night of the year, we are offered hope. In the midst of a world of brokenness, we are offered redemption and saving grace. On the longest night of the year, a child will be given to us, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
 Nouwen, Henri. The Road to Daybreak, quoted in Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen, found on page 50.