Christmas Eve 24 December 2017
(Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20)
“Poking Holes in the Dark!”
The film, Christmas with the Kranks, has made a real comeback this holiday season. In many ways this story is a contemporary adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is the story of Luther and Nora Krank, an American couple whose daughter, Blaire, leaves home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps. On the way home from taking Blaire to the airport, Nora and Luther stop at a grocery store to pick up white chocolate and pistachios to make Christmas cookies. It turns out to be a long, frustrating experience; the holiday crowds have already made parking difficult and shopping impossible. Luther can’t find the pistachios; a harsh-looking woman snatches the last bar of white chocolate just as Luther spots it on the shelf; an endless line to pay for the over-priced pistachios. Walking back to the car in the rain, Luther’s left foot sinks into a pothole filled with icy slush.
Cold and exasperated, Luther thinks about how nice it would be to skip Christmas entirely. “No tree, no shopping, no meaningless gifts, no wrapping, no crowds, no fruitcakes, no ham, no turkey, no Rudolph, no Frosty.”
Luther proposes they skip Christmas and puts it up for a vote to his co-workers. But like his alter ego Ebenezer Scrooge, Luther is given the chance to revisit his decision.
It occurs to me that if something is worthwhile it will either cost something or it will most often not come easy. Also, some of the most important events in our lives feel like intrusions.
I suspect the shepherds felt that immediately when they saw/heard that angel standing before them. I guarantee Joseph and Mary felt that sense of intrusion when shepherds show up unannounced quite too soon after a new baby is born. In fact, if Christmas requires a lot of effort, this might precisely be a sign that something rather important lies at the heart of what Christmas is truly all about, if we are willing to go deep enough.
The prophet Isaiah offers a profound hope that rivets our attention to the wondrous nature of God and salvation, when he says “…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” [Is. 9:2].
I know that for many people the world today seems a little darker than sometimes. There seems to be a cloud that comes from the continued violence throughout the world; maybe the number of “hot spots” in the Middle East; or maybe the natural disasters that have claimed so many lives and caused so much damage. Maybe just the statistic that we had 40 funerals here at St. James in the last year, and that doesn’t count many other family members whom we have lost who are not members here. This all means there is a gaping hole on this Christmas Eve in so many lives right around us for a loved one no longer here.
So I wonder what this Christmas feels like when the angels’ cry of “peace on earth” seems more like an empty wish than a blessing; and when we sing carols, light our candles and hear the Christmas story against the backdrop of our lives–what does it feel like deep within to have experienced so many different emotions too recently.
I don’t have any simple answer, but I do have a story, this one absolutely true that took place two months ago when my wife, Lois, and I were visiting Scotland. One morning, we began a tour in the neighborhood of Edinburgh called Charlotte Square. The guide began with a story of a small boy who would often sit in his bedroom at night staring out the window, watching the lamplighter light the streetlights around the Square. One evening his mother came up to his room, sat down on his bed next to him and asked him what he was looking at. The boy smiled and said to his mother: “I’m watching that man poke holes in the darkness!” Wow! “I’m watching that man poke holes in the darkness!”
I don’t know if this is a good enough story for those of you feeling overwhelmed by darkness in your lives, but I love the story of this young boy mesmerized by this man lighting the lampposts and seeing it in an entirely different /deeper way. That is the story of Christmas, if I ever heard one! The boy was Robert Louis Stevenson, who later wrote a poem entitled, “The Lamplighter,” dreaming of helping that man light those lamps.1
We hear Luke’s assurance: “I bring you good news of great joy. . .to you is born this day a savior” [Lk. 2:11].
So if it comes up for a vote, even on my darkest days, or maybe especially on my darkest days, I’m voting never to skip Christmas, regardless of how bothersome and busy it makes my life. I’m voting to never skip Christmas no matter how dark the world sometimes feels. I’m voting to never skip Christmas regardless of how many Luther Krank’s and Ebenezer Scrooges there might be in our lives.
Rather, I vote to be like that little boy sitting on his bed watching and wanting to be that man poking holes in the darkness, because I believe that is what the hope of the Child in the Manger is all about!
And I vote for us to believe and trust and live Christmas because I want us to keep poking holes in the darkness of our lives and in our world regardless of how deep that darkness might sometimes feel.
I vote to keep Christmas because without it all the lamps will go out and there will be no one to re-light them. . . . .and, without Christmas, the Light will be overcome by the darkness, and then there certainly can be no forgiveness. . . no hope…no love…no joy….no peace.
I’m voting “yes” to keep Christmas now and forever! Amen.
1 The Lamplighter
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take to the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
Oh, Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!
Robert Louis Stevenson (Scottish Poetry Library)