By Rev. William Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship, International Center Chaplain
In the darkness, a light shines. Isaiah says that the light is the Lord and that it is His glory that arises and beckons nations and kings to Its rising. And the picture is truly beautiful.
A people that had been huddling in the darkness and in fear, are suddenly drawn. They all head to the light. A big homecoming feast — sons and daughters and abundance all stream toward the light, camels from Arabia, and mysterious visitors bearing gold and frankincense, all proclaiming the praises of God, the God who comes among us to shine His light in our darkness.
In the darkness, a light shines. They look up and ponder. They’d never seen such a star as this before. They discuss what it could mean and finally decide that it can only mean one thing: the long-awaited, long-promised, long-storied King of the Jews has finally been born. And so they prepare their presents and begin their journey. Only when they arrived, it’s as though no one had noticed. No big celebrations. No national joy. Just business as usual. Darkness as usual. In perplexity they inquire where the newborn King can be found. And so their question stirs the ancient darkness. For Herod’s heart is dark, make no mistake about it. He’s a murderer and has already murdered close kin for fear they were after his throne. Now news of a newborn King?
The darkness stirred in his wicked heart and the people’s hearts were darkened by fear of the mad man who was their ruler. Perhaps darkness also crept into the hearts of the wise men as they stood before the creepy king.
Could they have been wrong? Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Christ, so long foretold, was to be born. He tells the wise men: “You’ve got the wrong city. He’s in Bethlehem. Down south. You go find Him and then bring me back word so that I too may come and worship Him.”
And with hearts hopeful and still battling the dark they set out and there it was again: the mighty light, the star they had seen at its rising, shining through the darkness and leading their way until they saw at last its beams bathing one house in celestial light.
Led by the light, they enter into a humble house and find another Light. Light brighter than any star. They see the Child in His mother Mary’s lap and they fall down before Him. They worship Him, this little Child, who is Light of Light and very God of very God made human flesh, and they offer their gifts and head back home away from the mad man, their hearts changed forever by what they had seen.
Into the very heart of darkness, where the ruthless kill their rivals and where people of common sense fear the ruthless and tremble, into the darkness of hate and violence, fear and despair. In that darkness, a light had been kindled that would never go out.
Like Herod of old, Saul of Tarsus was once a man of darkness. It filled his heart and he raged against the light that shone from the Child grown to manhood. He wasn’t afraid to use violence and intimidation, persecution and suffering, to try and stamp it out. “It’s a LIE!” he insisted to the people. “It’s a bloody lie. Don’t speak of Him. He’s nothing but a fraud and these lunatic followers of His are sweeping you away with their foolish story.”
But then the day came when he literally saw the light. The light that the Child is and which He shines into this world. The light of Divinity shining through conjoined humanity. It knocked him from his horse, turned his life upside down and inside out, and set him on a new course. The darkness was driven from his heart that day by that shining light on Damascus’ road. Light that embraced him, forgave him, loved him, gave him the promise of a life never to end and sent him as its messenger.
And Saul the persecutor became Paul the humble apostle. He was given a mystery to proclaim: the light that shines in the darkness? It’s not a light for only this or that people, or this or that person. It’s a light for all — even those with hearts as dark as Herod or Saul of Tarsus. That light shines to make all together heirs of God, members of one body, partakers of this great promise.
What is that promise? That the light has come. That the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not, cannot and will not overcome it. No matter how terrifying the darkness may be for you at this moment, no matter what beasts lurk in the shadows and rage and seek to destroy it. The light has come, and the light that is in Jesus Christ is simply a love that no hatred, divisions or fear will ever be able to snuff out. It is a light that reveals God’s plan and gift in Jesus: one family gathered around one table celebrating one feast in a joy that never ends and where there is no more fear, darkness, tears, death, suffering, pain. All the old things, passed away. The new things, here. Here and present now, shining in His light. And you, you are welcomed and summoned into that light.
Here is the mystery of the Church! As through a door open from heaven (Revelation 4!), her light streams out into the dark and cold night of this world and shows the lost the way home.
So the Church shines the light of eternity, the light that is her secret joy and inner life, the light that is fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit into the darkness. That light summons all to arise and come home. It draws them.
Epiphany light — the light that is for all — the Christ who is Savior of all men.
The light who went into our deepest darkness, who knew our suffering, who cried our tears, who died our death in darkness upon His cross to forgive all our sin. He is the light that could not be snuffed out. Risen, glorified, seated at His Father’s right hand, the very promise that light triumphs and that the love of the age to come will be the final word in this world.
So Saul of Tarsus learned. So Isaiah foresaw. So the wise men were brought to believe. So we proclaim until the day when what we believe in a mystery is manifest for all to see — the day when the light of Christ shines visibly upon this world and transfigures us all.
Today we worship Him with Isaiah and the wise men and St. Paul. Today we bow before Him and let Him feed into us in the Eucharist His light, His all-encompassing love and forgiveness, so that our lives too may shine and bear this witness: “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler has come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” [Introit] Come, let us worship Him, the Light who shines in the darkness. Amen.
The following were anciently read on Christmas Day in the Daily Office, but they may also serve as an introduction to the Divine Service on Christmas Day,
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