We welcomed all in joining us for our annual Christmas Eve candlelit services.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Christmas can be an incredibly inspiring time to spread peace, joy and love.
Sometime in the next 24 hours, however, many of us will feel inspired to do something we are not especially proud of.
Some of us will walk away from bickering brothers and sisters and houseguests. We will lock ourselves in the bathroom with our phone to check Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat. Others will go low-tech and just read an entire magazine or novel or even the label on hand soap. Our friends and family will wonder if we are having digestive issues from too much eggnog, so they probably won’t ask.
We tend to be pretty good at practicing avoidance and working to create a false peace that is one political comment away from igniting a powder keg of emotion. I am not suggesting that we attempt to solve all of the world’s problems at Christmas dinner. I am advocating that heading into 2017, we intentionally step out of our echo chambers in which we listen exclusively to like-minded friends; that we climb out of the trenches in which we dismiss things we don’t want to hear as too political, or subscribe to the mentality that love is too weak to protect us from terrorists or keep a fear-based peace.
Love’s pure light is anything but weak.
The baby’s birth we commemorate on this night brought about a child who was hunted by King Herod who knew he was a threat, lived as a refugee, and had every reason as an adult to want to use his Jesus powers to zap people.
Can you imagine if you had the power to silence someone with a hand gesture like Darth Vadar, or turn a stone into bread, or cause lighting to strike? Most of us would not use that power for good all of the time.
Yet Jesus pointed to love’s pure light. Not the sort of love that always makes you want to hug a bully or snuggle with a friend who wronged you, but the selfless agape love that only he could reflect.
As Jesus grew, he reminded the world that love’s pure light speaks up when people are excluded or hurt or blocked from receiving necessities. Love’s pure light in Jesus did not avoid difficult conversations or remain silent when encountering injustices.
So where is this light now?
We are inundated with messages telling us to take what is ours at all costs, even as all too many people struggle to find a safe place to sleep tonight.
That “heavenly peace” we sing about can be very difficult to experience in the here and now.
But there are glimpses.
There are moments in history when against all odds, the love foreshadowed by the baby whose birth we celebrate on this night appears.
In the midst of World War I—which tragically resulted in 25 million either killed our wounded–one of the most amazing glimpses of peace ever came 102 years ago tonight.
German and British troops who entered combat in August of 1914 believed the war would be over by Christmas. A Calvary member named Ingeborg had a father who was actually there as a German soldier. As Christmas approached, no end was in sight. Soldiers were in crude trenches on the Western Front. Weeks of rain made conditions in the trenches miserable. Enemies were separated by no man’s land, the space between the two trenches in southern Belgium.
On Christmas Eve of 2014, the rain let up. A miserable weather was replaced by a dusting of ice and snow that made men on both sides feel that something spiritual was taking place.
Though peace wasn’t universal in the war, that something profound happened that night.
One war diary describes a meeting in which a solider entered no man’s land with a glass of whisky, some cigars, and a message for the British: “if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.”
There are other stories of people shouting, “What is there for us to fight about?” Germans placed small makeshift Christmas trees along their side of the trenches. Hundreds from each side literally met in the middle and shook hands. Some soldiers even brought out a ball and held a soccer match. Though the truce lasted for only a few hours and the war raged on for many more years, a glimpse of Christ-like peace came on that Christmas.
And that night, like tonight, featured beautiful music singing of Love’s Pure Light, one of the names of Jesus in the beloved carol, “Silent Night.”
May the music and message of Love’s Pure Light carry forth long after the candles of Christmas Eve have been extinguished.