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The Glory of God Shone All Around

December 25, 2015

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015

Isaiah 9:2-7         Psalm 96         Luke 2:1-12

In the middle of the night, in an open field, Luke says that a light shone round some shepherds who lived outside and were keeping watch, by turns, over their flocks. Angels announced the glory of God, a gospel, the good news of peace and justice.[1]

We are here tonight because we need this good news. For we are, as Isaiah says, a people who walk in great darkness. Many of us know the grief of loved ones lost, the struggle to find and keep a job, the suffering from chronic health problems, the anxiety and uncertainty of how to meet all the bills that are coming due. We know the darkness of our own self-hatred, of our retreat to alcohol or drugs, of our capacity to lash out at even the ones we love.  There is the darkness of terror and war in the Middle East, in Syria, in Nigeria. And in our own cities and on our own streets, there is the darkness of gun violence that has killed or injured nearly 40,000 people this year and the great darkness of racism that infects everything from policing to education to national policies on immigration. And the darkness seems to multiply when presidential candidates outdo one another in fear-mongering and extremist proposals to secure “us” from “them” and are rewarded by vast media coverage and swelling crowds.

Oh yes. The darkness is real. God, at times it seems all there is. But just as real, insists Isaiah, is the light.

Think about it. Jesus was born at night, when darkness ruled the earth, yet the light of Christ still shines from the heart of Palestine giving Christians everywhere hope and strength. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

Jesus himself will later compare the faithful life to a kind of shining, an echo of the light that shone around the shepherds and the star that Matthew says shone above Bethlehem. Jesus instructs us, “you are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that [the world] may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.” In his 1994 inauguration speech as president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said, “We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not only in some chosen ones: it is in each one of us, and in the measure we let our own light shine, without knowing it, we let others do the same.”[2]

young-girl-held-up-candle-during-South-Africa-national-day

This is a meaningful and challenging invitation, for Mandela invites us to begin with what each one of us is able to do ourselves, no matter who we are. Oftentimes we think we must be powerful in society in order to effect change. But change comes from actions that ordinary people like you and I can take each day. To be honest, to be compassionate, to be respectful of those with whom we disagree, to not be intimidated by hate but to confront it clearly and peacefully with our words and actions. It means rising to the occasion at work or at school or around the family dining room table, rather than staying quiet when someone says something we believe is not right. To have the courage of our convictions to simply say, I must disagree with you…I believe… For we are not called to “keep the peace” but to follow the Prince of Peace. And that means making ourselves as vulnerable as God was in him, and locating ourselves among those made vulnerable by this world as the angels did with the shepherds.

On Monday, a group of Kenyan Muslims traveling on a bus from capital city of Nairobi to the small town of Mandera put their lives on the line to protect Christian passengers when the bus was stopped by al-Shabaab militants. The gunman sprayed the bus with bullets, killing two, and then asked the 62 Muslim passengers to help them identify the Christians. There were over 100 people on the bus. This has become a standard method with the Somali militants: launch a raid, ask their Muslim sisters and brothers – who they’ve just terrified with violence – to single out Christians, and then kill all those identified as Christian. The idea is to pit Muslims and Christians against one another in a spiral of violence that benefits the extremists and radicals. But on Monday, things didn’t go according to plan.[3]

Instead, the Muslim passengers, who were mostly women, shielded the Christian passengers by telling their attackers that they were prepared to died together; that the militants must either kill them all or leave them alone.

Abdi Mohamud Abdi, a Muslim who was among the passengers, said that [a dozen] al-Shabab militants had boarded the bus and ordered the Muslim passengers to split away from the Christians, but that they had refused. “We even gave some non-Muslims our religious attire (our hijabs) to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily,” he said. “We stuck together tightly. The militants threatened to shoot us, but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters.”[4]

We protected our vulnerable brothers and sisters… These Muslim women put their own lives on the line for the Christians – standing up to extremists who also claim to be Muslim. Thus defeated, the militants left.

Rev. Dr. King said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.[5]

“God’s answer to a broken world was to send us the light of Jesus Christ. Therefore we do not preach darkness, we do not give in to revenge or despair, we do not resort to extremism, we do not teach a xenophobia to other religions or peoples, we are witnesses to the light of love shining from Bethlehem to all the world.”[6]

Friends, the good news in this dark night is that our God has come to us, has dwelt among us, has known and loved us in the flesh, hallowing this flesh of which we are made.  And it is through flesh, through the decisions and actions, not of angels but of the great choir of humanity, that God’s love is shown. A love that surpasses ties of family, nation, and even religion to construct, through deliberate, courageous, and caring actions, the world of justice and peace of which the angels sing. So let your light shine in the darkness, that God’s glory may be revealed and God’s good news be known to all people.

candles

[1] Else Tamez, “A Star Illuminates the Darkness” in The Bible in a World Context: An Experiment in Contextual Hermeneutics, edited by Walter Dietrich and Ulrich Luz. (Eerdmans, 2002). p. 8.

[2] Cited in Elsa Tamez, “Reading the Bible under a Sky without Stars.” In The Bible in a World Context. p. 8.

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/22/africa/kenya-bus-attack-al-shabaab-muslim-christians/index.html

[4] http://nyti.ms/1Ok1BN8

[5] Martin Luther King Jr. Strength to Love, 1963.

[6] From his Christmas Message from Bethlehem 2015. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

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