Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon: Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

24 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:1-20 (Isa 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In these last days, we take light for granted. With the flip of a switch, our formerly dark world is bathed in light. And in that light, we can carry on at night as though it were day. And we don’t even think anything of it.

In this sense, the world of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah was different than ours. He wrote of “walking in darkness,” and people knew exactly what that meant. Walking in the darkness could be annoying, or even dangerous. Darkness hides obstacles that we can trip on, or even bandits and robbers who can do us violence. Darkness symbolizes ignorance, fear, sin, and death itself.

The first thing God created was light, and light is mentioned in the last chapter of the Bible as well – as that new and perfect world will be so glorious and filled with light that there will be no need for sun or moon.

But caught in the middle of the two paradises: the golden age of the past, and the glorious age of the future – we do have to contend with darkness – in this world and in our hearts.

“The people who walked in darkness,” prophesies Isaiah, “have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

The darkness of sin and of a broken world has been interrupted and conquered by the coming of the Light of the World, our Lord Jesus Christ, born under the light of a star that was a sign to the far-flung peoples of this dark world, the Word of God made flesh, whose Word that ordered “Let there be light” brought all things into being.

While the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem went about their routine work in the dark, protecting their sheep from predators and watching over them lest they wander away into the gloom, a light shined on them as well: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” But this angel, bathed in light, bid them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The darkness was obliterated and cast aside by the luminous glory of the Lord. And the angel’s good news was nothing other than this: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And the hosts of heaven gloriously appeared in this heavenly light, singing even with us twenty centuries later, as we join them in their heavenly liturgy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

The coming of Jesus dispelled the darkness of sin and of ignorance, making the glory of the Lord a light to be shared with men and by men, a lamp to be put on a stand, so that all may see and give glory to God! The light of the Gospel enlightens our darkened hearts and dimly burning wicks of faith by bathing us in the glorious light of the good news of the forgiveness of sins, of peace with God, of the restoration of man before His Lord, of God’s image glowing in the face of Jesus, of the coming of the Creator into the fallen world in order to create a new and greater world! And this, dear friends, is all for you – for as the holy prophet proclaims: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given,” and the angel quotes this Word of God to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The darkness of the Old Testament’s waiting for the Savior has been chased away by the light of the New Testament in the blood of this very fleshly Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

This is the Christ, our God most high,
Who hears your sad and bitter cry;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

For this Light of the world doesn’t merely illuminate our lives so that business as usual can go on after hours. Jesus is not simply a light that keeps us from stubbing our toes in the middle of the night. He is the Light that illuminates our sins so that we can repent, whose Light then shines on us the warm glow of the love of God, whose mercy enlightens us and fills us with the Holy Spirit, praying for us and with us, calling us and empowering us to holiness, and using us to share this light with “them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” says the holy apostle, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The Light of Christ is the very source of all light, the Word that first uttered: “Let there be light.” And it is He who implores us to let our light shine before men, that they too might be illuminated by the Gospel. And even as Christians around the world this holy night ignite candles off of the lit candles of their neighbors, whose flame originates from the Christ candle stationed near the baptismal font, we thank and praise God for providing the true Light to us, as a free gift, as an act of mercy and grace.

For to us a child is born, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Dear Christians, you are no longer terrorized by darkness. You are no longer held hostage to evil that lurks in the darkness. For on that silent night, that holy night, God Himself took flesh to redeem you, forgive your sins, enlighten your darkness, and lead you to a bright and shining eternal future.

Silent night. Holy night.
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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