Draw Near … to the Light of the World
by Louise Westfall
Our lives are a complex web of stories: stories that tell us who we are. There’s the story of our first family, a story that once provided the strongest clues to our identity (and perhaps even to our destiny) — part DNA and part experience — nature and nurture — a dance of contradictions and clashes and harmony and health. There are stories of our national origin; the tribe or clan or country that is our checkered heritage. There are stories of the way we live now, in the families we’ve created, the communities where we live and work and make a life. Stories locate us in time and anchor us in place at the same time they allow us to transcend both. Tonight in Scripture and carol we remember a particular story, one that is ancient yet somehow contemporary.
On the night before Christmas …
It came upon the midnight clear …
Once in royal David’s city …
In the bleak midwinter …
We know this story so well, and every year delight in its mysterious and marvelous details: star and angel song, awe-struck shepherds and worshipful wise men, no room in the inn, a laboring mother, and at last, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The Christmas Story we retell year after year is tender and endearing. Its familiarity comforts us when life seems chaotic and dark, foreboding.
Yet like all stories, it is but part of a larger one. Its power to transform the night of war and worry and woundedness into the daybreak of peace springs from the story of God and God’s connection to humanity.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, God created humans, to be in relationship together. The readings tonight reflect that Divine origin, but also the ways we’ve distorted it. The human rebellion, a decision to go our own way, come Hell or high water (and there has been plenty of both). Our collective story, told via the bloodshed and violence that is so prevalent. Injustice. Starvation. Death. Our alienation from the land, and willful ignorance about the destruction of our earth-home.
This story tells of a God who chooses to enter the world the way we all did: as a baby; vulnerable and utterly dependent on the care of others.
Yet running through these stories is a persistent thread, a God who will not give up on humanity. A God who embedded us with Divine light, essential god-ness. A God whose presence is never completely obliterated but shows up in the voice of prophets … in a vision of restored creation … at the sight of old enemies embracing and estranged people enjoying a family meal … in a single candle flame illumining the darkness.
This story tells of a God who chooses to enter the world the way we all did: as a baby; vulnerable and utterly dependent on the care of others. It’s a sign that the story goes on, grows and morphs, the last page still to be written.
So we tell the Christmas story to find light for our own stories. We tell the story to renew our faith, lift our sights, and clarify our purpose. The story offers an antidote to restlessness and regret, by rekindling hope in the promise that God has come to us; God is with us.
The power of story lies in its ability to draw us in, and move us from passive observers to active participants. Dear Friends, draw near to the Author of Love who invites us — each one — into the story. You have a word, a verse that only you can write. You have a part to play in the way this all works out. The story doesn’t end tonight, with flickering flames held high to push back the darkness. The candles will be extinguished. But the light? It is yours and mine to carry into the world … and make it bright with justice, peace, and love: a whole new page upon which to write the next chapter.