Christmas Eve; December 24, 2015

Lessons:Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2.1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

[15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Light in Darkness

As is my habit, I started working on this week’s electronic devotional message by opening last year’s message to see what I had written then. (I don’t want to accidentally post the same message two years in a row, right?) Of course the file was there. I had started working on it early last year, actually. But the message was blank. Blank because on December 23, when I had anticipated finalizing the message and posting it on the internet, I was recovering at home after a three-day stay in the intensive care unit at Swedish Hospital, being treated for some circulation troubles.

That was a challenging week for us all. I was weakened by the experience, my family was rattled at the severity of my illness, and my congregation was without my leadership at worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As it turned out, they ended up going without my leadership for the entire Christmas season!

It was, in some ways, a dark Christmas. Uncertainty reigned. We were taking it day-by-day. There was a long road to travel before we could live with some measure of ease and confidence again.

But in the darkness of Christmas, 2014, the light of our faith shone more brightly than it had for some time. I was buoyed by the love I received from my family (their love and care was a lifeline to me), the support I received from this congregation (our staff was amazing, our volunteers did a remarkable job, and the prayers we received were a treasured gift), and the backup that was provided by the Bishop’s office (three members of our Bishop’s staff, including the Bishop himself, took over the preaching duties for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Saint Peter). And the words of Isaiah rung true: “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.” (Isaiah 9:2) Even though the future was uncertain, the love of God never was. It was a beacon of light which shone more brightly last Christmas for me than it has in a long time.

Now, a year later, my health is strong, my surroundings are brighter, and I am looking forward to celebrating Christ’s birth with my congregation in just two days. This year, the words of the angel speaking to the shepherds in the field are speaking to me: “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (St. Luke 2:10b-11)

Our Christian faith is good news. The news that God loves us enough to live among us. The news that God’s love shines in the darkness of our lives in a way that makes a difference. This is the Christmas message, and we are fortunate to have the chance to celebrate it with each other.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope the message of Christ born among us, and God committed to us, is a word of good news to you. Merry Christmas!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What “darkness” did the shepherds experience in their lives?
  2. What concerned Mary and Joseph on that first Christmas Day?
  3. How did God’s promise sustain them and encourage them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced darkness in my own life?
  2. How was my faith instrumental in guiding me through those times?
  3. What will I do in the coming year to draw nearer to God, that my faith in God, and my trust in the Gospel, might grow stronger?