From the Letter to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”
The grace of God has appeared. The Creator of the universe, the source of our life and our being, has come into the world. It is Christmas, again.
All over the world, Christians are gathering to welcome the Christ child. They are gathering in places of great opulence and majesty worthy of a Messiah who is King of King and Lord of Lords. They are gathering in run-down churches in drug invested neighborhoods, celebrating a Messiah who came to this world in poverty and left by way of cross and tomb. They are gathering in refugee camps and hospitals, in war zones and in places where it is not safe for Christians to gather, to welcome a Messiah who came helpless into a world his parents could not make secure. From our perspective of warmth and privilege, we sense the awesomeness of this night as we look around us, and see the great need this Child came to fill, not only in our land, but in the world; not only in our small lives, but in every human heart.
Our scriptures this night flood us with images of light and release. Light and release! We come to this night not realizing how much we’ve needed both, not realizing what an incredible gift this Child is. With every verse of every Christmas hymn, our hearts open wider, and as they do, the Child we adore this night enters in. He comes to us in our poverty, our grief, our anxiety, our need to find a place in the world or just to keep the one we have found. He comes to the places of our hearts we’ve prepared for him, the small places we’ve made for his visit, and then he slips discreetly behind the doors we’ve kept locked and shut. How can we refuse him this, now that He is here?
Every Christmas our breaths catch and our hearts swell as we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The pace of our lives means that many of us run more than we walk. We move so fast that we don’t always notice the darkness that crowds our lives. But on a night like this, when we gaze on the little One who loves us wholly and purely, and without reserve, we know these words are meant for us. They remind us that we don’t just cast around in the darkness we’ve inherited. We are also purveyors of darkness. The latest family drama, the breaking news, the impulse to critique and judge—how easy it is to cultivate the shadow, to manipulate it to our own purposes, to use it to sell ourselves or to advance an agenda. We all play in the darkness, and some of us find our comfort there.
The angels tell us, as they did the shepherds that night, that it is into the darkness of our lives, the darkness that is both personal and cosmic, that Christ is born this night. We need Christmas, to see by its light how much we need the Christ Child to draw us out of ourselves, away from the things that diminish us, and to bring us back into the light.
We are like the shepherds in so many ways. We have been sitting in darkness, guided only by the night skies, resigning ourselves to the lot we have been given, never expecting such a great light. It is for us, too, that the angels say, do not be afraid. For once the light shines in darkness, darkness will never be the same. It will take some adjusting. We are more used to darkness than to light. We need time to take it all in, time to recalibrate our lives, to decide what to do now that we have seen the grace of God’s appearing in his Son Jesus Christ.
There is a line in a novel that came out not too many years ago called The Kite Runner. The main character has made some terrible mistakes, mistakes from which conventional wisdom would say there is no possible recovery. And then comes this line, which drives the rest of the story: “We can be good again.”
We can be good again because God has come to be with us. God has come to be with us in all of our humanity, the good and the bad. God has come to affirm the goodness God put in us from the beginning, and to call us to a better life. There are no unrecoverable mistakes, no lives or situations beyond redemption, if not in this life, then in the next. We know, even now, where this story will take us: to Good Friday and Easter, to death’s defeat and to a time the Spirit will entrust us to continue God’s work in the world. Even now, it is clear that our purpose and destiny begin here, with this Child.
And so we look on this Child, lying in a manger, and we want to believe in the hope He brings. The world can be different. We can be good again. This is the grace of Christmas, that we can begin again.