Living in Love
What a glorious night, what a precious moment, when we gather as a family in the darkness of the world to sing and to remember and hold our candles up into the night as we celebrate the light. Whatever else happens on Christmas Eve, whatever traditions or re-enactments or performances or liturgy, at some point, usually a climactic and final one, we raise our lights into the darkness to proclaim our belief in the way of Christ.
Consider that act for a moment. Why? What? How? Not the logistics of passing the flame, though that is sometimes complicated. But what are you doing in that ritual? Is it a declaration, a shout into the darkness? Is it a promise, a pledge to live by the light and not succumb to the darkness? It is defiance, or pride, or hope? Does your arm shake? Does the light seem heavy? Or do you feel small in the face of the overpowering denial of the world?
Or maybe it’s just a candle, used many times, held by many hands, then stored in a box until next Christmas Eve service. Just a candle, just a light, just a simple thing. Try not doing it this year. See how that goes over. There is something going on here.
Isaiah says that what makes the people of God stand out is that they have seen a light. Where did they see it? When did they see it? Isaiah doesn’t say. But they saw it. It shined on them, even though they lived in deep darkness. Now, like an after image from a bright flash, they see things that aren’t there yet. They see an end to war; they see joy in the people; and they see the one who loves them like no other has before. They see this, even though it isn’t there—or not completely there yet. They see it because they can choose to live it; they choose to live in love, even though others do not. They can choose to believe in and follow the one who hasn’t come yet, or the one who hasn’t returned.
We gather in the darkness of this night to worship the light. Just as the shepherds made their way from the countryside around Bethlehem in the dark of night to worship the one whose birth lit up the sky. Luke’s beautiful Christmas story is seared into our hearts by the startling appearance of the angels to the unsuspecting shepherds, filling them with fear. (Someone said, many years ago, when reading from the older versions, that “sore afraid” meant that they were so scared it hurt!) But out of fear came hope, and when the glory shone around them, they felt included, invited, part of something so much bigger than themselves that they couldn’t help but go and see.
We gather, not just to be warmed by a familiar story and much-loved rituals, but to bear witness to the light. And our witness is to live a life of love inside the community of faith and outside in the world that God loved so much that the Child was born here to live among us.
Our journey is not complete, however. Our question still begs for an answer, even tonight. “Are we there yet?” Because it is all too painfully obvious that we are not there, not living in the light, not enjoying the reign of God, not living in the vision of peace that we cling to in the darkness of a divided and hate-filled world. But we can create that space, that place, that peace when we choose to live in love. Christmas is an invitation to choose to live in love.