A Service of Lessons and Carols is one of my favorite Christmas worship experiences.
We tell the story of God’s incarnation through seven scripture readings and lots of music.
The first lesson comes from Genesis and describes the fall from grace in Eden.
It tells us why we need a savior.
In Eden, humanity was given the basics of what was needed to thrive.
Life, freedom, food, a place to call home, family, harmony and a stable natural environment.
Most importantly, God was near.
It was not a place without struggle, for, as some say, without some struggle, life is not worth living.
Even in Eden there was loneliness, temptation, anxiety and limits.
But any troubles were eased by the presence of God nearby.
Yet, humanity didn’t really trust God.
And in an attempt to become independent, rejected God.
The natural consequences were that humanity and God became distant.
Then humanity’s struggles became burdensome and painful.
They were at times impossible to bear.
And so, humanity needed a reconciler – a savior.
Someone to ease the pain and reconnect the people to God.
To bring God near again.
Our next texts are from Isaiah.
A bit of context.
It’s been a long time since the fall.
God had been reaching out over the centuries.
God made a covenant with the Patriarchs and with Israel.
They were to bring the people back.
But the Patriarchs have come and gone.
Moses and the Judges have come and gone.
David’s kingdom has split.
The Assyrians are now in the process of completing its destruction.
All because humanity kept God at a distance.
But along comes Isaiah.
Isaiah proclaims there will be at time when the darkness will turn to light.
Depression and death will be replaced by joy and light!
Conflict will end and there will be peace.
And the sign for all this will be the birth of a son – a royal son!
A son who will save God’s people.
A king who will bring people back to God.
A king who is wise, mighty, eternal, and who will bring peace, and justice and righteousness.
And all this will not just be for humanity, it will be for all creation.
This is some pretty good news!
This is the Messiah!
And the people wait!
It was a long wait.
Which brings us to Luke.
Gabriel, a messenger from God, comes to a young woman from Nazareth named Mary.
Mary is told she will give birth to this king anticipated by Isaiah.
He will be great.
He will have the throne of David forever.
He will be the son of God.
The long-awaited Messiah, the one who will reconcile God and humanity.
Mary gives birth to her son, Jesus – God’s son – in Bethlehem.
The announcement of the birth is to the lowly shepherds who come to see this great sight.
Could this be the one Isaiah proclaimed?
This child born in a stable and placed in a feedbox?
Is this the God come near?
That is why we turn to John at the end.
To get some clarification.
John gives us the answer in his Gospel.
John does not have a birth description like Luke.
What John has is a birth explanation!
And his explanation is remarkably similar to the words of Isaiah.
John 1: 1-5; 12-14
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
12… to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The people who walk in darkness see a great light.
On them the light has shined.
And reconciled them to God.
This is the baby.
God come near … just like before, in the garden.
And it is this event that helps us through our struggles.
And makes them bearable.
That is why many of us come here on Christmas Eve.
We want to experience that.
That God came here!
The presence of light in a dark world.
And it does appear dark at times, doesn’t it?
Creation seems unstable.
The races, cultures, nations and religions rage.
Our nation is polarized, angry and anxious.
Humanity fights over land, wealth and power.
And then there are our personal struggles and anxieties.
Food, shelter, security, family, community, the future.
Which is why many of us are here tonight.
We are here looking for some comfort, some light, some joy.
And it is this child, born of Mary, that offers those things.
Because it is this child who will lead us out of this present darkness and into the light of the Kingdom of God and his salvation.
And the child responds:
“I am the light.”
“I am the way out of the darkness.”
“To where you will be near God.”
“To where you will have peace.”
“To where you will find sanctuary.”
“To where I will help you bear the struggles and troubles.”
“I have come to take you there.”
But we still have a question for him.
“Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because I love you.”
“I always have.”
“Since you left me I have been calling you back.”
“And now I have come in person.”
“I have come to you so you can return to Eden.”
So let’s take a moment.
Consider the baby.
The light in the darkness.
The light of the world.
The source of hope.
Born to Mary.
In a stable.
God come near.
A Service of Lessons and Carols.
The word of God and songs of joy.