Sermon – Christmas Eve, 2016

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyThe Light

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“The people who walked in darkness / have seen a great light; / upon those who lived in a land of deep shadows— / on them light is shining.” — Isaiah 9:2.

The depth of night had come upon the land. There was no light even though the stars were shining brightly in the sky and the moon was full. Their light was obliterated by a dense fog. Hence, the possibility of natural light illuminating anything was non-existent.

Dense fog was normal for the early Spring. [1] On this night it seemed to course through the hills around Bethlehem with a vengeance— thick, wet, impenetrable. But the fact that there was so little light, that it was so hard to see on this night mattered not to the master carpenter who lived and plied that trade, the trade of shaping, crafting, forming wood in this small, backwater town.

Already a full apprentice by age ten, at that tender age this carpenter somehow instinctively understood the sizing and shaping of tables, chairs. By dint of this early apprenticeship, the youngster learned how one bends wood to one’s own will. By twenty this worker of wood had launched a thriving, prosperous business.

Over the years many helpers were employed in the shop. Over the years those who showed promise, an aptitude, just as he had, also became full apprentices. Eventually, the best of these would work the trade themselves, branch out on their own. (Slight pause.)

The name of this carpenter was Isaiah. He always thought bearing the name of the prophet who spoke so often about light was an odd twist of fate.

That dense fog which coursed through the hills around Bethlehem this night making the world hard to see was meaningless to him. He could not see. This loss of vision happened when he was just thirty. It was no accident.

Isaiah had been standing outside the shop. Five soldiers of the occupying army of Rome chased a beggar up the street. Or was the one being chased a common criminal, or perhaps someone who had simply insulted a Roman official? It did not matter. The soldiers had charged up the street pushing people out of their way, shouting, overturning carts, cursing.

One of these soldiers seemed to think Isaiah got in the way. But the carpenter was simply trying to get out of the way. An unsheathed weapon slashed the air near Isaiah’s head. Trying to duck, he fell to the ground.

When he managed to struggle to his feet, bleeding, he realized… he could no longer see. It was mid-day. The sun was shining brightly. And he could… no… longer… see. And so, the absence of light in the depth of this particular night did not matter to Isaiah one bit. (Slight pause.)

Now— some thirty years after that incident— he still maintained the shop. He still had apprentices. And they loved him. He was kind, gentle, caring. And together, they— Isaiah and all those whom he mentored— produced a well made product.

He relied on those apprentices. After all, he could see only with his hands. Once a piece was made, the rough hewn hands of Isaiah touched every planed surface, every crevice, every angle of everything they made together to make sure it was right.

Only when the hands of the master carpenter said the work was good did it leave the shop. And so, the apprentices loved him not just for his kindness, his gentleness, his caring. They loved him for an ability to perceive.

And indeed, now an old man— in his sixties— he had experienced a lot, been through a lot and tested many, many works of art made of wood using those hands. But perception, his ability to perceive despite not seeing, was unsurpassed.

And yes, he had trained many, many carpenters. But knowing right away which ones would be good— to be able to sense who would do well— that, that is an art in and of itself. He had an ability to perceive despite… not… seeing. (Slight pause.)

Now sometimes, sometimes one of those apprentices would return, sometimes travel many miles, just to feel the warm embrace of this kind, gentle, old, carpenter— their mentor. They would return to be with him just… one… more… time. (Slight pause.)

And so on this dark night there was a knock on the door of the shop. Isaiah went to the door and opened it. A voice spoke out of the gloom. “I’m glad you’re still awake.”

The old man knew who it was right away. “Joseph! Joseph! How many years has it been?” The two men embraced.

“What brings you to Bethlehem?”

“The Romans! This silly, needless census thing. And once I knew I was required to be here I knew I needed to see you. But come,” continued the younger man, “come. You know that stable over by the inn? My wife is there. She has just had a child.”

Knowing full well Isaiah had lost any possibility of sight lo those many years ago but knowing the real vision the old man had was keen, the younger man then said, “Come. Come see the little one.”

Together, they moved as one toward the inn, Joseph holding the hand of his mentor, feeling peculiar that now he was the one guiding. They entered the shed. His wife smiled and held the baby out to Joseph who took the infant.

“The little one is in my arms and sleeping,” he whispered.

Isaiah followed the voice of Joseph. Hence, knowing where to reach was easy. The rough hewn hands of Isaiah, the master carpenter, touched the infant.

“May I take the child?”

Joseph simply reached out his hands. His mentor could not and did not see this action. Joseph knew Isaiah would sense it.

Isaiah took the child. (Slight pause.) With those old, rough hewn hands Isaiah reached toward the brow of the child with a soft caress. (Slight pause.)

Isaiah was, indeed, experienced. Isaiah had been through a lot. The carpenter knew there are many kinds of darkness. The carpenter knew there are many kinds of light.

He was overwhelmed with what he felt. He did not know why or how but he knew there was a sense of joy in this touch. There was a sense of peace in this touch. There was a sense of hope in this touch. There was a sense of love in this touch.

And, as strange as it may sound, there was a sense of light, a feeling of light in this touch. And this carpenter did, indeed, know there are many kinds of darkness, many kinds of night. But, more importantly, this carpenter knew there are many kinds of light.

And, as this carpenter held the child, the words of the prophet for whom he was named kept repeating themselves over and over in his mind: “The people who walked in darkness / have seen a great light; / upon those who lived in a land of deep shadows— / on them light is shining.” Amen.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Response and Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “We live in a very secular world. Hence, I never wish people a ‘Merry Christmas.’ That’s a secular term and as an alternative I’ve often, therefore, suggested that as Christians we wish one another a ‘Happy Christmas.’ But I want to make a different suggestion. If somebody says to you either ‘Merry Christmas,’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ say to them ‘Christ is with us.’ That is the real Christian sentiment expressed in the Feast of the Incarnation— Christ is with us.”

BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing from the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the 60th chapter (Isaiah 60:19-20a). “The sun shall no longer be / your light by day, / nor for / brightness shall the moon / give you light by night; / for Yahweh, God, / will be your everlasting light, / and your glory. / Amen.”

[1] At the beginning of the service and as a way to introduce a Christmas Eve service this was said: “Welcome to this, our service of worship, on the eve of the Feast of the Incarnation, the Feast of the Birth of the Messiah. The Hebrew word Messiah is translated into Greek as ‘The Christ’ and means the Anointed One. So, the term ‘Christ’ is not a name, but an office, the office of Messiah. This feast is more commonly called Christmas. Christmas is an Old English word which means Mass or service of worship celebrated on the day upon which the Messiah’s birth is commemorated. So, the word Christmas actually refers to the service of worship, not to the day itself. Now, ancient Rome had a winter solstice celebration, celebrating the return of the sun. And on the Roman calendar the solstice was on the equivalent of the 25th of December. It’s likely Christians adopted this date to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, as we claim Jesus to be both the Messiah and the Light of God born to our lives. Many scholars think Jesus was born in what we would call the year Four Before the Common Era not in the winter but in the Springtime of that year.”

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