Message Manuscript for “Christmas Contrasts”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Christmas Eve, 2015
I wasn’t sure what to wear today. In Christmases past, I have typically worn a bright red Christmas sweater, wool pants, and a thick cotton shirt to combat the winter chill. This year, however, I had to look through my summer and spring clothes to find something that isn’t a bright Easter pastel or a light shade to provide relief from long, hot days of August. What crazy weather for Christmas! And its not just here in Shreveport; people throughout the nation are experiencing the same kind of temperature abnormality. A New York Times article this week reported how unseasonably warm it is there, where “the average temperature for the month will be 51.6 degrees — 14.1 degrees above the normal of 37.5.” There hasn’t even been one day this month below freezing. “It feels like Easter, not Christmas,” said Mike Hartel, a Queens native who lives in South Carolina but brings his family up every year for a taste of real winter. It does seem like another season entirely, with crowds dressed in shirt sleeves or open coats outside Macy’s in Herald Square this week. They posed and craned in front of the Peanuts window displays: Snoopy snowboarding down a hill, Peppermint Patty and her sled, Schroeder stockpiling snowballs.” This is turning out to be a Christmas of contrast.
This, however, is not the first Christmas contrast. We just heard of one that occurred long ago. We see it in the nativity scene. We hear it in the words of Luke’s description of what took place that night. God’s Son born not into a palace but a manger. Bright light of angels appearing against the darkness. Voices and great commotion in the quiet of a shepherd’s typical night in the fields. The glory of the Lord visible out where no one had ever expected God to be. Paul understood the contrast Jesus brought into the world, as he described it throughout his writings, as with his words to the Galatian church, writing of how “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus was born in the “fullness of time,” to provide a contrast at a particular time in history.
This contrast of Christmas was spoken of long before it would come to be. You can’t miss it in Isaiah, especially in our reading tonight, where Isaiah announces, 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. This was a light for his people, one they could know in their darkness; one that was certainly to shine fully one day soon. He mentions other contrasts: despair and joy, burdens and relief; captivity and freedom, war and peace, oppression and justice. Even though Isaiah was speaking of things more yet to be than then and now, his words provided his people with the blessing of a contrast to their present circumstances.
Charles Dickens is still popular, even if it is just during this time of year when we think about Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas. One reason he is still popular is that he remains as one of the greatest writers of all time, one with the ability to address the ills of society as well as the deepest places in the human heart. One way he did this was with contrasts, like in his beginning of A Tale of Two Cities,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Dickens had a brilliant way of making a point just by drawing these contrasts.
We live in a time of great contrasts, don’t we? Security in our homeland contrasted with fears of terror, chronic poverty contrasted with extreme wealth of 1%, education contrasted with dropout rates, family cohesion contrasted with divorce rates, emotional well being contrasted with mental illness, haves contrasted with have nots, peace with God contrasted with sinful nature, extreme conservatism contrasted with extreme liberalism, equality with inequality, Beloved Community with institutional racism, freedom for all contrasted with freedom for only some, homelessness contrasted with McMansions, insured contrasted with uninsured, ability contrasted with disability, healthy contrasted with sick, and civility contrasted with hostility.
Even as we know of these contrasts, what we are to recognize tonight is that, in the midst of the darkness of our world, a great light has shone upon us, for a child has been born to us. We are to see that this child born long ago continues to shine light for us to see, down from God in heaven who still desires that we see it and the change it brings to our lives and to our world. What we are to see this Christmas is that this child has come to us just as Isaiah prophesied, and with titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We are to see in this child of light that he also has authority to execute justice and righteousness. This is what was told of long ago. This is what was carried by Mary for nine months. This is what was born into the world when the world needed it the most. This is what lived, died, and was resurrected. This is what we come here tonight to remember and celebrate once again.
Maybe the weather isn’t the only thing that’s different about Christmas this year. Maybe we are too, as we see this light of Jesus shine on us, as we allow this child to be born unto us.