Sunday, December 24, 2017

“O Holy Night: The Space Between”

Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
First Congregational UCC of Manhattan, KS
Luke 2:1-20, Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017

The darkness is holy.

Darkness is quiet, stillness, rest. Darkness is anticipation, wonder, growth.

Theologian and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, [life] starts in the dark.” [1]

Darkness is where we find room to search, expand, take risks, change.

None of this is easy, of course. Anyone who has ever lay awake at night, worrying about some major decision knows that growing in the darkness can be exhausting and fearful work. Anyone who has spent the night sitting up with a loved one who is sick knows what it is to crave the light of the morning. The sounds of the birds singing, the familiar hum of the teakettle.

The thing is: darkness and light are both holy. I think this is part of what the Psalmist was trying to say when they prayed, “Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as day. For darkness is as light to you.”

God moves and lives and breathes effortlessly beyond concepts like night and day, dark and light. And on this holiest of nights, we are invited to move and live and breathe in the midst of the tension between it all.

The season of Christmas marks a hinge point in the Church year. We begin each year anew in a season of darkness - as the days in our part of the world grow shorter - the season of Advent arrives. We enter into a time of contemplation, quiet, stillness, waiting. It is a time for the nurturing of new life as, once again, we strive with Mary and Joseph to protect and nurture the infant Jesus whose birth we remember.

After the Season of Christmas, we move into Epiphany. A time of welcoming the light as it returns. A time of shining a light on ourselves and our world. Another time of growth as we make new observations and connections.

And in between these two seasons we have Christmas - that hinge point that connects the light and dark. The shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. We sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” We gather in a hush around the manger - shhhh! Don’t wake the baby or his exhausted parents. Christmas is darkness.

Christmas is also light. Overhead the Star of David shines brightly and the magi begin their journey - painstakingly following the light, carefully sidestepping the Empire, daring to hope that the One who has come to set the captives free has been born in Judea.

With the angels, we bend near the earth. A sharp intake of breath  - - - - -  and then a sigh of peace, exhaustion, trembling, contentment.

Christmas is the place where the breath meets itself. The space of exquisite tension.

The already and not yet. The dark streets shining with the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years….they all meet here, this night.

Christmas Eve reminds us that there is something breathtakingly holy about honoring the in-between. God is found in the space where darkness meets light, where divinity touches humanity, where hope and fear mingle together. We are so often in a rush to get from one place to another. Let’s be done with this so we can move on to the next thing. This moment is a bit uncomfortable so I want to move on.  

But what if we followed God’s lead and made ourselves fully manifest in each and every moment? What if we sat in the moments of joy, discomfort, anxiety, ecstasy and simply noticed it all? What is we learned to honor the light, the dark, and every single graduation between?

What if we were to focus our attention on the inhale - the exhale - and the space between the two, simply saying, “There is Immanuel. God with us”?

God with us in the gathering and the releasing. God with us in the darkness and the light. God with us in the rejoicing and the ‘do not fear.’


God with us the shepherds and the magi. God with us the children and the elders. God with us the uncertain and the over-confident. God with us the downtrodden, the left-out, the reviled. God with us the comfortable, the celebrated, the admired. God with us the grieving, the angry, the depressed. God with us the content, the peace-filled, the elated.


God with us in a stable in Bethlehem. God with us in a yet-imagined future that you and I may not see. God with us in ever-circling years, every single one infused with gold.


God with us. God with us. God with us.

Merry Christmas.

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. Learning to Walk in the Dark.

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