Bishop Henderson’s Christmas sermon

January 3, 2008

“The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light”; I speak to you in the name of God who made light to shine in the darkness, and who calls us to live as children of the light: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Beloved, it is dark outside—it is very dark.

Darkness can be a blessing—if one is in love, and walking with one’s beloved under a clear, moonlit, star-bright sky. Or if one is snug and warm—and safe—at one’s fireside hearth or in one’s bed.

But darkness is not always so pleasant. Often it is the very symbol of evil. “In the beginning”—in the very beginning—the “earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep….”

Darkness can be fearful. As a young child, lying in bed in the dark, I was afraid of creatures I knew were under the bed, waiting to “get me”—whatever “get me” might mean to a young mind. Maxfield Parrish, an art deco artist of the last century, caught this common childhood fear illustrating a poem entitled, “Seein’ Things”. In his painting several fearsome specters lurk, suspended in the dark, surrounding a frightened youngster sitting upright and oh so tense in his bed. “Mother tells me ‘Happy dreams!’ and takes away the light, An’ leaves me lyin’ all alone an’ seein’ things at night! …I woke up in the dark an’ saw things standin’ in a row, A-lookin’ at me cross-eyed an’ p’intin’ at me—so! Oh, my! I wuz so skeered that time I never slep’ a mite–…I see things at night!”

Fear of the dark can follow us into adulthood. You know the evil things that happen, so often in the dark: assaults, robberies, in the dark…break-ins, drive-by shootings, in the dark…and for all of us, some place—some place—where we do not want to be in the dark, where we fear evil deeds happen most.

Because we are all human, I’m confident that there have been dark times in the past of each of us. Some of that darkness was due to circumstances beyond our control—some of our own making. There are dark times in our present, in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, in the life of our nation and our world. And there will be dark times in our future. What is it “they” say—“Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes”? To borrow from an obsolete radio serial, “Who knows what evil lurks….” Afraid of the dark—literal darkness, figurative darkness—past, present and future darkness? You bet we are!

But with Christmas we celebrate the light which is Jesus. “In him was life,” St. John writes in the Gospel, “and the life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Is it only irony that many of the significant occasions in our Lord’s life occurred in the dark? Apparently he was born in the dark, while shepherds kept watch over their flock “by night”. On the cross, Jesus died in the dark, for as we are told, “darkness covered the whole earth”. He arose in the dark: “Early in the morning, while it was yet dark, Mary Magdalene came.” Jesus Christ came to us in the dark, gave himself for us in the dark, and arose from the dead in the dark. In his life and in his death, Jesus shared our darkness. Holy Scripture affirms it, and we declare it in faith: He came “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us….” He’s “been there”—in the dark—so he knows our darkness from personal experience. To borrow from Isaiah, he has walked with “the people who walked in darkness….” Darkness in our past, darkness in our present, darkness in our future—Christ has been there, is there, and will be there—for us! “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us….”—again, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us….”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined”. Nevermore need we be afraid of the dark. Oh, there is darkness now, and there will be more darkness—but Christ is in the darkness with us. To borrow—this time not from Isaiah, but from a personal friend, a mentor, a guide[1]: “Christ came in the dark so that we should not fear what is dark to us ever again”. No fear at birth or in life, where he has been, where we have been—and are. No fear in the present or in the future, where he is—and we are. No fear during death, where he has been, and where we will all be, one day. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Let me conclude with a portion of my friend’s sermon, the concept I have borrowed generally, but which I now shamelessly plagiarize, word-for-word: “Says the Bible, in the beginning, darkness covered the whole earth; says the Bible, near the end, Judas went out, and it was night; he went out from the Upper Room; he went out from the last supper; he went out from the lighted table of the Lord. Judas went out ‘and it was night’. For him, night was welcome, because the night covered his dark plans. But it was in that darkness that Judas lost his heart and his life and his soul”

We will not lose our heart or soul in any dark time. For God himself went through the darkest hours of all, for no reason except to help us. Christ is in the dark, any dark, forever, always to be the Light of the World. There can be no real fear in our darkness, past, present or future, because Christ is always in that darkness with us. St. Paul expresses the overwhelming nature of this gift when he writes to the Christians in Corinth that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”—the Lord which is the Light that shines on everyone who walks in darkness. That, Beloved, brings the “endless peace” which Isaiah prophesied—that is the joy which is Christmas—that is the Light that shines on us this night and evermore.

Merry Christmas! During these Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond, may you and your loved ones know joy and share it, find peace and live it, understand love, and give it—in the Name of God who made light to shine in the darkness, so that we might live as children of the Light: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

___________________________________

[1] The Rev’d Dr. Donald O. Wiseman, in my opinion one of the greatest preachers of the Church; who prepared and presented me to receive Holy Confirmation; guided me—with great patience—in a discernment process which led to my ordination—and without whose presence and influence in my life I might not be a Christian at all!

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2 Responses to “Bishop Henderson’s Christmas sermon”

  1. Jim Welsh Says:

    “Beloved, it is dark outside—it is very dark.”

    I am sorry that you chose to begin your sermon in such a negative tone. I think the unstoppable light eventually works it’s way out in the process of the sermon. We have been blessed to see the light, and that is the way I would have begun.

  2. Courtney Tollison Says:

    I love this sermon. I heard a version of this at my confirmation ceremony last week and was moved by it, as were many others present that evening. Thank you Bishop Henderson!


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