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How to disappoint people on Christmas Eve.

Updated: Jan 17

The family service was over, the next two services had a different tone and a different sermon. The windows next to the parking lot were blocked out with black paper.  The ushers knew the plan.

When it came time for the sermon I talked about the oppression of the Romans over the Jews in the time of Jesus birth, and then segued to the oppressions in the world today.  As I moved to the center of the sanctuary, I asked everyone to close their eyes, which they did. The ushers heard their cue and turned off the lights off. No light came in from the parking lot. Nothing. 

“The shepherds were surrounded by the night sky, unaware of what God was up to, until the angels appeared.”

I lit the small candle in my hand.

“The star the magi followed was only visible at night. They followed it in darkness to where Jesus lived. Jesus, born in the night, as gift to those of us who cannot see what God is up to in the dark.

But this little candle flame of mine - isn’t enough.  

Or is it?  I can see the outline of your heads. I can see a few feet in front of me. But there is still so much I can’t make out – shadows around the edges of the room. 

When we are in the dark together, we search for one another and take hold.  We lean into the flicker of a single flame.  The light isn’t much, but it’s enough to birth hope, enough to support courage, enough to take a first faithful step, and then another.” 

The sermon went on in that vein. Ed hated it. He told me so at the end of the service. The man I’d known for years as quiet and gentle, was puffed up and red faced. His daughter and son-in-law were coming to the next service, he didn’t want them to hear what he’d heard—he wanted something upbeat!  

I didn’t change it.  Even today, I’m pretty sure Ed wasn’t mad. I think he was afraid. Fear often triggers anger, and we tend to fear what we can’t see. Ed didn’t want to hear that God didn’t light up our paths and make our steps certain and easy. He didn’t want to have to trust that God was working in the dark and leading him through. I suspect Ed put words to what a lot of folks were feeling, including me. But I didn’t change it.

I couldn’t because it was, and is, the truth.

Jesus is the flame that leads us through our lives. Our Creator is working in the shadows, but we don’t trust what we can’t see clearly.  Our mind’s eye turns the shadows into scary things that make our hearts race. And to be honest, some of what we have given the Creator to work with; our abuse of power, our insistence that some people are disposable, our need to call others “sinners” in order to see ourselves as “saints”---all of that shadow behavior IS horrific.  We have valid reasons to be afraid of each other, but not of God. The birth of Jesus, God incarnate, is the hope that can birth courage in us –enough for us to walk in faith. 

If we don’t move, if we stand still. If we just keep doing the comfortable things which we’ve always done, we won’t be able to see and take part in what God is doing in the dark. This is my Christmas prayer for Ed, for me and for all of us who are afraid.

Creator of Universe and all that it contains, Guide us by the flame of your son. Let your Spirit fill us with hope and give us courage. Show us how we can take part in your work, even though we can barely glimpse what you’re up to. In the name of your Son, born long ago in the middle of the night, and on this night.  Amen


Free Resources on this theme:

  1. Bias And Defense Mechanisms: Theory and Practice

  2. A meditation adapted from Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. You can find it at the bottom of the free resource on Channeling Emotions Toward Constructive Outcomes.


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