This sermon, my third ever preached, is also actually the first sermon I ever preached in a real church. This one wasn’t for class. It was for Project Renewal, a Christmas service that happens in November at SPR for people with disabilities.
Why Christmas in early November? Well, most of the people that Project Renewal serves have physical disabilities and some also have mental disabilities. Wheelchairs can be pretty difficult to maneuver around Chicago streets in snow and ice, so Project Renewal has a special agreement with SPR to host a Christmas service in November.
I got a lot of compliments from the congregation on this sermon. I also got some “Amen!” responses, which is pretty rare in an Episcopal church, and–well, I definitely appreciated it. It was really very fulfilling to be able to share this message, even though it wasn’t Christmas yet. I mean, hey, you can celebrate God Born in Darkness anytime you want, as far as I’m concerned.
I really hate it when daylight savings time ends.
Winter is my least favorite season. It’s cold, and it’s dark, and I have to put my bicycle away. I have to wear layers and layers of clothes to keep warm from the wind. When daylight savings time ends, I know, for sure, that winter is here. That first week, when it starts to get dark at 5:00—I feel like my whole day has been taken away from me. It is always so easy to feel sad, frightened, cranky, and lonely. It really feels like that darkness is just taking over everything.
I wonder if maybe, everyone in this Christmas story was feeling the same way.
That night was dark and cold. Mary and Joseph are traveling alone, because their government has commanded it of them. Mary is nine months pregnant—she should not be traveling. It is dangerous. She is about to give birth to a son that God himself has given her. She, I’m sure, is lonely, and confused, and frightened, by what this will mean.
And then, she goes into labor on the road! Joseph, her devoted betrothed, cannot find anywhere for them to stay. Every house has guests; every inn is full. On this cold, dark night, no one has room for these two, lonely, frightened travelers.
I think it would seem to them, that there is darkness everywhere, taking over everything.
But, something changes in this story.
At first, the change is very small. One tiny act of kindness and compassion. One of the innkeepers finds Mary and Joseph a place to stay. It certainly isn’t a glorious place; it certainly isn’t a Hilton Hotel, or even a bedroom. It’s just a stable, but it’s what he has, and he offers it to them.
And then, there is a big change in this story: Mary gives birth to Jesus. Mary gives birth to this tiny little baby, our God in the body of a tiny, vulnerable infant, in this dirty, strange place in the dark.
Then there is such an outpouring of joy and love and happiness that it cannot be contained. Out of all this darkness and loneliness and fearfulness and coldness, the love and joy and delight of God bursts out! That love turns all of Mary and Joseph’s fears into joy. Their new son, this God in the world, he changes all their darkness into happiness.
There are some shepherds, out on hill, on this cold, dark night too. And they are cold and bored and lonely and poor, and they are bombarded by an explosion of joy in the world so great that the angels burst out in the sky to sing praises to God!
At first this scares them. It is such a magnificent happiness that they don’t understand it. But as they listen, they become truly amazed, truly delighted, truly full of the joy of God. And they follow this great joy to its source—a tiny child in a dirty manger behind an inn.
Suddenly, all this darkness is really not frightening at all. With the birth of Jesus, all this darkness is just a great big container for all this joy, delight, and happiness.
Maybe that is why, I also kind of like it when daylight savings time ends.
In the darkness of an early night, there is something expectant in the air. There is something happy, hiding just underneath everything. The air is crisp and excited, because it is getting ready to snow for the first time.
When it gets dark like this, people start to put up Christmas lights on their houses, and so many homes are full of color and beauty. People start to light fires in their fireplaces at home, and when I walk down the street I can smell the pine smoke. This is a season for hot cocoa and pumpkin pie and peppermint mochas and lots, and lots, and lots of chocolate.
People start to sing in the streets. There are bells everywhere: outside of Walgreens and Target and on the corners downtown, everyone ringing bells for joy and charity and love. Then that first snow comes and everything turns white, and it swirls all around my head and I can catch it on my tongue, and on my nose, and on my eyelashes.
Our God has a way of turning the things that we don’t like into good news, a joyful message. Our God transforms frightened new parents, poor shepherds, crowded inns, dirty stables, dark nights, and troublesome duties. Our God even transforms the end of daylight savings time—even the dark, cold winter around us, into a great joyful song of praise.
Everywhere around us, there is an enormous host of angels singing—just like they do in the story. The trees, shedding their golden leaves, are angels singing praises. And the wind, rushing all over the city, and shaking our windowpanes. It is the excitement of God, angels singing praises for the new joy, new life of Christ as a tiny infant near Bethlehem.
If we listen, we can hear it.