Sermon for Midnight Mass (Year C), 24 December 2021
Readings: Set I – Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-14
As I revisited our reading from Isaiah in preparation for tonight, I have to admit that I didn’t get much beyond the first sentence before my brain became caught in thought:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.Isaiah 9.2, NRSVA
Quite an apt reading for a midnight service, right?
Now, walking in literal darkness doesn’t need to mean that we are incapacitated – indeed, our eyes adjust to low levels of light, and those among us with vision impairments would be able to tell us about the fullness of their lives while navigating the world in ways other than sight (as well as the difficulties a society that assumes sight imposes upon them).
This is a prophecy – that the people who are covered by a spiritual darkness will encounter a great light of revelation. And this is what happens to those shepherds at watch in the middle of the night – a host of angels appears in the sky and glory shines around. But this isn’t the ‘great light’. No, the ‘great light’ comes later, when they meet a newborn baby hidden in a stable and lying in a manger. In this moment they encounter all the promises of God, the fulness of salvation, and they fall to their knees in worship. Christ, the newborn king. Christ, the promised saviour. And he shall be called Wonderful Councillor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…
Christ, the light of the world.
Christ, who meets us tonight in our own darkness – the confusions of our world, our isolation and division, our limited perception.
So, how might we experience this light in our lives?
It all begins with the seeds of the Good News – the call to the stable, the whisper (or shout, or song) of truth…
Firstly, there is the darkness. Our depth of vision varies and we can learn to navigate despite restricted perception – we might even be able to make out shapes or shades of grey. Yet what we can interpret about the world is limited due to our limited resources.
Then there is, of course, the sudden encounter with a bright light. It is painful- we may even reflexively close ourselves off in an attempt to avoid it. It takes time to adjust, but eventually we begin to perceive a whole technicolour, detailed world that was previously beyond our understanding.
Perhaps our encounter with the light is gradual – small increases in brightness that we may not even notice. Little encounters accumulating to reach the greater whole, each day a new piece to the puzzle of existence. The whole world brighter and brighter each day.
Maybe we experience the light as a nightlight – a constant, comforting presence even when the world seems at its darkest.
Or maybe it’s a torch – a precise, direct beam which shines into the darkest parts of our lives, exposing the truth, helping us to see the path and navigate a way forward.
Or perhaps a beacon (or a lighthouse )- a guide to follow, to walk towards, or to expose the hidden dangers.
Then there’s a candle – a seemingly small light, yet powerful enough to chase away the darkness.
And last but not least there is the spotlight – shining to reveal us to others, to show the beauty, favour and faithfulness of the LORD to all we meet.
And when we encounter the light – however we encounter the light – we eventually become part of it. We become part of the gradual revelation, sharing the good news and singing songs of joy – just like the shepherds and the angels on that most holy night.
Because when we encounter the light, it begins to live in us, and all the knowledge of salvation becomes part of our very being.
And with this knowledge our joy shall be increased:
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
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 onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.Isaiah 9.6-7, NRSVA
This we believe: that the Everlasting God came into the world to live among us, to reveal to us the truth, and to establish his reign of justice and peace for all eternity.
And so, as we prepare for the birth of this child, may we open ourselves to his light of revelation.
May we come to know the fullness of God’s promises
and the completeness of our salvation in him.
May his light live in us, transform us with joy, and send us out rejoicing.