Sermon and Worship Service Archive

Christmas Day

The Rev. Dr. William Rich
December 25, 2021

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Silent night, holy night.  Son of God.  Love’s pure light. 


The light shines in the 

darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Alleluia!  Amen. 


Where have you seen light, the light of pure Love, shining in the darkness? It was Advent, and I couldn’t have been more than 6, maybe 7. It was early evening, dinnertime, and near the solstice.  Christmas was only a few days away, and my eyes were wide open, with the trusting faith of childhood, and the irrepressible excitement of a young boy looking forward to Christmas morning.  As I was pushing through the line of hedges between our house, and the home of my best friend, my next door neighbor, Tommy Alberico, I happened to look up.  Looking just over the line at the top of the hedges, I was – as the English like to say – gobsmacked.  Lighting up the sapphire darkness was an incredibly bright star – the brightest I had ever seen.  (And in those years, I spent a lot of time looking at the night sky, because I thought I wanted to be an astronomer.)  

My trusting childhood faith and my “It’s almost Christmas” excitement spiraled together, and I thought: “It must be the Christmas star.  The star that appeared over the stable in Bethlehem!”  With my heart beating almost out of my chest, I tore across the lawn to tell Tommy, and raced up the stone steps to his kitchen door.  Or I should say, I raced almost to his kitchen door. Near the top step, I tripped, and fell sideways, gashing the outside edge of my left eye.  The scar is there to this day.   

Seeking the Light of God in this world – trying to find where God’s Light comes down out of heaven to take up residence in this world – takes trust, excitement, and a willingness to get hurt in the process.  That Advent night, the blood streaming into my eye blinded me for a time, and drowned out my excitement and my trust that I had seen the Christmas star.   

Maybe you know what this is like as well, for sometimes the hurts of this life make it hard to see God’s light, and blind us for a time – short or long – challenging our trusting, trying our believing that God’s Light really does still (as so many years ago in Jesus) come into our flesh and walk among us.  When it is hard to see the Light, and trust that the Light is still there, it may help to remember that when the Light of God came into the world 2000 years ago, it came into a world no less troubled than ours: a world in which one people (the rulers of the Roman Empire) held another people (Jesus and his people) in subjugation; the Light came into a world in which a poor and pregnant young woman ended up homeless on the night that she gave birth to her firstborn son, and could find no cradle for her child but an animal’s slop trough.  But God’s Light shone in that darkness then, and it shines on in the dark corners of our world today. 

So if the Light shines in the darkness, as the good news according to St. John says, and the darkness did not then – and does not now – overcome God’s Light, where might we look for that divine light today in our world?  First, I look out at you, and I see the Light shining in you.  I think of the immense courage, creativity, patience, and perseverance each of you has shown to those near to you – at home, at work, at school – over the course of the many darknesses that have shadowed the trying months between March 2020 and today.  To have weathered these months, and despite moments of near desperation, not given up, not turned the pressures you have felt in your individual lives and the horrors of the wider world against those near you, is nothing shy of a miracle.  The Light has shone in the darkness, and you have done your part to carry that Light, to make sure that the darkness has not overcome it.  You have protected it from being blown out by the gusty winds of our world-on-trial.  You have bravely, and at no small cost to yourself, carried on, and carried the Light with you into the darkness.  I have seen you be, quite literally, bearers of grace in midst of this singularly graceless time, and witnesses for truth in the face of the many assaults on truth that blow like a cold and cruel wind trying to douse God’s Light. You have been and continue to bear the divine Christ Light – thanks be to God.  And thank God for you!  Our world is a brighter place because of you, a more grace-filled place because you have incarnated in our own time, the Light that came into the world so many years ago in Jesus the Christ.  When I see you, I see you bearing the Christ Light.   

“Silent night, holy night, Son of God, Love’s pure light!” 

And thanks be to God, you have not been alone in embodying God’s Light, carrying the Christ Light. 

I think of the countless health care workers – researchers, doctors, nurses, orderlies, janitorial staff – who have worked at first feverishly and then on and on: tirelessly, ceaselessly, carrying the Light these past nearly 22 months in the battle against the darkness that is COVID.  In the face of darkness and death, and the challenges of their own fears and exhaustion, they have been a light and a source of hope for us all. Gearing up in PPE, and sweating under all those extra protective layers.  A nurse holding up an Ipad so that someone could say hello or goodbye from an ICU, and hear the hellos and goodbyes from those they loved, but who could not see them face to face in the midst of their struggles.  I remember hearing of 

Jim Cobb, a 54-year-old emergency room nurse who worked on Native American reservations in Arizona and South Dakota.  He was constantly worried that he would get the coronavirus and bring it home to his wife, who is immunocompromised. 

He said: "If I had caved into terror and my thoughts — I'm going to die; I'm going to bring this home — I would not have been able to go to work. I was worried all the time,” Cobb notes. “I had to tell myself, This is what I'm here to do. I prayed about it....” 

Cobb, a Roman Catholic, found that praying the rosary helped to quiet his spinning brain when he needed to sleep. He said of his praying:“It helps get your mind off your last patient that you're worrying about or about another nurse quitting.” 

Jim Cobb, a single candle in the present darkness, but a nonetheless powerful one, working, and praying, and offering his fears to God, and finding in his prayers not only that the Light of Christ still was shining for him, but also that he could carry that Light to and for others.  The Light of God, incarnate in Jesus the Christ so many years ago, now is shining on in Jim.   

“Silent night, holy night, Son of God, loves pure light….”  

In this year we have also seen darkness take over in Afghanistan, with the sudden collapse of the government there, the hasty withdrawal of our military, and the ascent to power of the Taliban.  I have a special care for that land so far away because my godson and namesake, Will Stacy, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, gave his life there late in January 2012, on his fourth tour of duty in that war-torn country.  In his “open this letter in case of my death” Will became well-known, quoted by pundits and politicians across the widest possible socio-political divides.  

In part Will said this in his letter.  “My death did not change the world. It may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all.  But there is greater meaning to it…. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.” 

My heart sank when Afghanistan fell, in part because I thought of Will and his sacrifice, and wondered – the Light seemed to be wavering for me – if his giving of his life really had been worth it. 

But the Light of Christ, born in Jesus so many years ago, didn’t stop shining just because my ability to see it was spotty for a time.  After all, the One who carried the Christ Light two thousand years ago seemed – at first – to die a pointless death, on a Friday that – at first – seemed anything but good.  But the light of God’s pure love kept shining even in the midst of the darkness of that Friday, and by Sunday morning had turned the dark skies of Good Friday into the blazing light of Easter, the revealing of a light that no darkness could overcome, not even the darkness of the grave. 

So where was I to find that kind of light in the wake of the fall of Afghanistan?  A light to redeem Will’s death, and to lighten the darkness of an Afghanistan falling into violent chaos again?  It took a while for the light – Love’s pure light – to appear.  (You know sometimes – often, in fact – it takes longer than the few days for the transformative Light of God’s pure love to turn a death-dealing Friday into a Sunday of wild new life and joy.)  

“Silent Night, holy night, son of God, love’s pure light.” 

But the Light of God’s pure love cannot be extinguished.  It always pushes back the darkness, even if it takes time for our heartbroken eyes, blinking away blood, to see it. 

And so it was just a week ago yesterday that the Light reappeared for me.  A member of a contemplative writing group I’m part of told us that she could not join us for our December gathering because she and her husband, and nine other friends – one number shy of a holy circle of 12 disciples – were working hard to resettle an Afghan family of 6.  That family had arrived in America just three weeks before in the first week of Advent, a husband and wife, their three children, and a nephew.  None of them could speak a word of English.  But this circle of 11managed in the season of Advent to find them housing at a hugely reduced rate through the generosity of a neighbor prompted by a sudden openness to God. The 11 found clothing for all 6, furnishings for the rental house, began registering the children for school, setting up ESL classes for the adults, getting them to medical appointments, and generally helping them to make a new home, and navigate an entirely new country with a decidedly different culture from the one they have known their entire lives.  Who could miss the divine light of God’s pure love shining in all of this?  Instead of no room in the inn, there was room, and clothing, and food, and furnishings.  How stunningly the Light of God’s pure love was shining in all this.  Will had not given his life for naught, I thought!  The fall of Afghanistan and its current darkness were pushed back, just a bit, but nonetheless unmistakably, by this circle of 11 disciples carrying the Light of Christ, and making sure that the present darkness could not overcome that Light.  And then I discovered something else – two of that circle of eleven disciples are members of Trinity, humble servants of the Light, so humble I had not known of their Light-bearing work.  Light dawning from our very midst.  

So on this Christmas morning, celebrate with me the great gift of God’s Light, the Light of Christ, that dawned in our world in Jesus’ birth so many years ago.  But celebrate with me even more that it lives on: in the nurse Jims of our world, and the circles of eleven disciples who refuse to let the darkness win out, but instead carry the Light of God’s pure love into their work with Afghani refugees.  And remember, the scars we all bear, at the corners of our eyes, or in the center of our hearts, need not blind us to this Light alive in the Christ we welcome this morning.  Keep your eyes open, and keep looking in your corner of the world for places where the Incarnation of that Light continues, so that no darkness can ever overcome it.  And when you see that Light, join it!  And keep pushing back the darkness, with Jesus’ help, the help of the Son of God, who is love’s pure light.