"T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." So begins the account of the Christmas story that sadly, will be the only account that far too many children will hear tonight and will be the only Christmas story that far too many children will grow up knowing.
We, however, are here this evening to hear a much different Christmas story than that of ‘dancing sugar plums’ and ‘a right jolly old elf.’ The Christmas story that we have come to hear centers upon the birth of a baby, who is none other than the holy, holy, holy God. The baby, born of Mary and lying in the manger, is the very God who created the world and everything in it, and particularly that man that He made in His image and likeness. Now tonight, we hear the story of this man-making God who is made man – in our likeness.
Like Henry Livingston’s famous Christmas story, this story also opens on the ‘night before Christmas.’ ‘T’was the night before Christmas,’ and there were lots of creatures stirring.
Hungry wolves were prowling the fields outside Bethlehem just as they did every night, because nighttime is prime time for picking off a defenseless lamb that might wander astray from the flock.
Sheep were stirring on that night before Christmas too. Sheep are naturally very nervous creatures, but they are always more nervous at night than during the day because they know that there are predators stirring out there in the darkness.
Shepherds were stirring on that night before Christmas too. Faithful shepherds have to stay awake and keep a sharp eye out for both predators and wanderers.
But wolves, sheep, and shepherds weren't the only creatures stirring on the ‘night before Christmas.’ There were angels stirring too – a multitude of them, stirring in the sky as they took their places for the greatest Christmas concert the world has ever heard. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”
God was breaking into His creation. The light was coming into the darkness, which meant that the night would soon be over. The new day was about to dawn.
But first we need to back up a bit and ask, ‘Where did this ‘darkness’ come from? And how is it that it so covers this world that we all live in darkness?’
Because we’re not really talking about physical darkness here at all. We’re talking about that ‘spiritual’ darkness that has come over this world in which we live.
• This is the darkness where predators prowl in search of the weak and the defenseless to devour them.
• This is the darkness where, even the strongest eventually wear down
• and weariness settles into the most faithful,
• and even the stalwart of heart are seduced and devoured by the craftiness of the wolf from hell. “Did God really say…?”
For we have all been deceived to believe that we are a lot stronger than we really are and a lot more ‘self-confident’ that we should be.
This is the darkness into which we were born and in which we have lived our whole life. And the great danger is that we begin to think that this is ‘NORMAL,’ or as we say around these parts, ‘the way life should be.’
We get nervous if we’re not nervous about something.
We feel that something’s not right if everything’s going too well.
But for some time now, there’s been a word going around that this is not the way life should be. And that one day, the day will come when the all the shades are going to be rolled up and all the curtains pulled back and ‘light’ will stream into the darkness – and what you never knew was right there all the time will be revealed.
How does the familiar Christmas hymn put it? “All you, beneath your heavy load, by care and guilt bent low; who toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow – LOOK UP, for golden is the hour, come swiftly on the wing, The Prince was born to bring you peace; Of Him the angels sing.” (LSB #366:3)
How does the familiar prophet put it? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Jesus Christ, the baby born to the virgin Mary, is the light of the world.
He was the light of the world on the first day of creation
and He is the light of the world on the first Christmas night.
And He has come into this world, not to show us how to cope with the
darkness, but to overcome the darkness.
This was the good news that set all the heavenly hosts STIRRING. Finally, after centuries of prophetic whispering and speaking and shouting and singing in the future tense, “the time had fully come.” And all the heavenly hosts lit up the sky with their sermon and song to announce the good news for the first time, in the PRESENT TENSE.
The shepherds, of course, were overwhelmed – just as we would all be – AND JUST AS WE ALL ONE DAY WILL BE. Luke reports that, "…they filled with fear." And who wouldn't be?
And that’s okay really. Sometimes it’s good to be afraid. More than once, the bible says that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Don’t we just wish that Adam and Eve had more fear of talking serpents than they did? Don’t we just wish that we were more afraid of the darkness than we are?
But before their ‘fear’ takes control of them and cause them to run away, the angel of the Lord says, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all peoples.”
“For all peoples” includes all peoples – red and yellow, black and white, from every nation, every language, every time, all the way back to the first person who brought darkness onto this world. “For all peoples” who “beneath [their] heavy load, by care and guilt bent low; who toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow…”
FOR YOU, ‘the light of the world” is born in the darkness of night. FOR YOU, “a savior is born, who is Christ the Lord.” He is born into the darkness in which we live, not to accommodate it or negotiate with it or compromise with it. He has come to shatter it.
And to that end, He will enter into the deep darkness of our sinful world to get at the root cause of it all. The newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger will be stripped of even these clothes, and the comfortable bed of straw will be replaced by a wooden cross on which He will be nailed. “And when the sixth hour had come there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mark 15:33).
This is the darkness IN WHICH we live, and TO WHICH we have all made our own contributions. But He is the Light of the world, which the darkness has not overcome. Rather, He who overcame the darkness on the 3rd day when the Son rose, to live and reign to all eternity.
And to this day, wherever He comes, and however He comes to those who are living in darkness, it’s a new day and a new life.
For now, the “children of the light” live in the midst of the darkness and every day is a struggle and a battle to “let your light shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
But some time ago, one of us given a glimpse of the world to come and reported on what he saw. “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk…and there will be no night there.” (Rev. 21:22-25)
This is the joy of that we celebrate on this ‘night before Christmas.’
• It’s the surprising joy that the shepherds felt when they “found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger,” just as the angel told them.
• It’s the incredible joy of captives when told that they have been pardoned and free.
• It’s the joyous relief of weary watchmen who, having waited diligently all through the night, see hints in the distant sky that dawn is breaking.
• It’s the joy of the condemned who are pardoned, of the weary and heavy laden who are relieved and refreshed, and of the eternal joy of the dead, who will awake in the presence of the “glory of God in the highest” and hear Him say, ‘welcome home.’
On this ‘night before Christmas’ let it be said that there were many hearts that were stirring at the good news we have herd. And let your heart be one of them. “For unto YOU this day, in the city David, a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord.”