Behold!

I am hoping that you have a plan to worship tonight. There are so many online options! Even with pandemic restrictions, everyone should be able to enter into a place of adoration. The invitation is “O Come, Let Us Adore Him!” And so we do.

For me, there is only one way to tell the Christmas story. It has to be Luke 2. This is a reflection of my childhood, growing up in the Gibbsboro United Methodist church and hearing it read every Christmas Eve. Or it could come from my love of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang’s Christmas special, where Linus solemnly reads it in his pure, innocent voice.

One of my fondest memories of my childhood church is when I was in 5th grade, the pastor asked me to read this scripture on Christmas Eve. I was so honored and humbled. I practiced and practiced, and was ready when the time came. Little did either of us realize in the moment that it would not be my last time in a Methodist pulpit! Thank you, Rev. Davis, for giving me my start.

Luke 2 (New King James Version)

2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Glory in the Highest

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill[e] toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

And on earth, peace.

And on earth, goodwill toward all.

May the Christ Child reign in your heart tonight.

And to All, a Good Night by Karen Warlitner

Darkness into LIGHT

Advent begins in darkness. This is a deliberate thing, meant to bring us back to a time when the prophets declared that the “people were walking in darkness.” That scripture is a word-figure for the reality of the absence of the Light of the World from our lives. Before Jesus arrived, God’s people had descended from the Garden of Eden into deep and hopeless darkness, until it was so ink-black you could not see your soul in front of your face.

We recognize the descent into darkness and Advent’s ascent into light in the things around us. The Advent wreath has four unlit candles on the first day of Advent. Each Sunday we light one, then two, then three, then four, and FINALLY we arrive at Christmas Eve, when the white Christ candle standing at the center is lit. What a joyful moment that is to behold…all the flames dancing at once in the air of anticipation met and expectation unfolded.

Ponder this Christ Candle lighting liturgy from the United Methodist Church:

O Finality.
O final Light.
O luminous One,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

O End of Night.
O Day’s Light without ending.

O Light, all light,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

Break forth, O heavenly Light, and reign to the ages of ages.
Shine forever and let no more greed or hatred near.
Illumine and save all creation,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

O Light, we shall see face to face.
O Radiancy, we shall ever bear upon our foreheads.
O Splendor of Love, the world of greed and hatred ending,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

That is a rich and beautiful series of images, emotions, and ideas. You may want to read it again. But the repetition of “outshining lamp, stars and sun” truly stands out. Jesus is the true light that illumines everything; a light that no one can extinguish.

Maybe this Christmas Eve is still dark for you. Grief, loneliness, illness, separation, missing your family, financial hardship…many things can dull the light. But all these things are worldly. Jesus is the Light of the World, and he longs to shine warmth, joy, and peace into your dark places.

Today is a day to do nothing else but embrace the Light. His light brings healing. His light brings solace. His light shines the way to eternal light, where literally none of those things matter. As much as it matters here and as deeply as you are feeling it, NONE of it will matter in eternity.

John 1 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

No darkness can overcome Jesus. He outshines the lamp. He outshines the stars. He outshines the SUN.

Bask in that light today. If you are headed to a Christmas Eve service, listen for the light, look at the light, and be the light. If you aren’t, ponder these words again just like Mary pondered the angel’s proclamation of Jesus’ birth…in your heart.

Jesus is the Light of the World! A light no one can extinguish.

Becca’s Moon by Becca Ziegler

All is Well

In 1989, Michael W. Smith wrote these amazing lyrics in a hauntingly beautiful Christmas song:

All is well, all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love’s light
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

All is well, all is well
Let there be peace on earth
Christ has come, go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

I learned this chorus many years ago when I sang in a church choir, and every Christmas Eve, the words come back to me with a surge of joyful peace. They remind us that no matter what is going on, no matter what shock you have experienced, what disappointment or life-changing event has just come your way, all is well.

I had an opportunity to live out these lyrics one Christmas Eve when all was not well. Just days before Christmas, the pastor whom I worked with was removed from our church under complaints of misconduct. The congregation did not know. The bishop acted swiftly and appropriately according to our denomination’s well-outlined process, and suddenly I was alone, facing Christmas Eve services. All was not well.

Our District Superintendent came to preach, but as the congregation looked at me, confused, heartbroken, angry, and in shock, I felt God calling me to stand before them and assure them that even in that moment of incredible disruption, all is well…or at least it would be, with the passing of time and the completion of process.

So I sang the first verse to them.

In the face of things not being well by any stretch of the imagination, Smith’s lyrics take us back to the time of Jesus’ birth, when he came to set well all that was not well. We remember that the people had walked in darkness, and then saw his light, just as the prophet had foretold:

Isaiah 9 (NIV)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

We remember that darkness fell when the dawn of love’s light was birthed in the manger. We remember that Jesus came to bring peace on earth, and in the fullness of time, we WILL experience peace. Sing Alleluia, for all is well.

What a shocking revelation. To think that in the midst of cancer, war, terrorism, the abuse and neglect of the poor and the elderly, homelessness, personal tragedy…all is well?

Yet Christmas comes to remind us of just that truth. Christ came in a manger to assure us that all IS well. We would do well to heed that truth. In contrast to earthly problems and crises, heaven stands wide open, proclaiming the hope, love, joy and peace of a future where everything and everyone is well.

So in the midst of your dark place, there is nothing better than to sing. Sing in the hope that it might come true for you. Sing in the expectation of God’s intervention. Sing, knowing that the Lord of the Dance has everything under control. Just sing.

In my situation, it took months of pain before wellness began to return. But it did, and it returned in waves. Take heart: your wellness is coming, so just SING.

All is well, all is well
Lift up your voices and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well!

A Light has Dawned by Mary Anne Mong Cramer