This week I heard a story on the BBC News that put theses traditional Christmas Eve texts in perspective for me. It is a story that has not been prominent in the news in the U.S. for some reason. We have become all too familiar with the terrorists that call themselves ISIS or ISL. They were responsible for the beheadings of American reporters and they have taken control of parts of Iraq and Syria. They have particularly targeted girls, kidnapping somewhere between 5 – 7,000 girls from the mountainous region of northern Iraq. These girls have then been auctioned to soldiers as servants and sex slaves for a few dollars each. Many of the girls have committed suicide and others have been killed by their captors, only a few have escaped to tell their stories.
As I listened to the voice of one of the Yazidi girls who escaped, I thought “Prince of Peace? – what peace?” In just this year we have seen uprisings in the Ukraine and Iraq and Syria, the kidnapping of girls: Yazidi girls in northern Iraq and hundreds of Christian girls in Nigeria. There has been war in Gaza which has taken over 2,200 lives. A school bombing in Pakistan killed 136 school children and some teachers. There has been racial violence in the U.S., the Ebola outbreak, and violence in our own community and state. Peace – what Peace?
It sure does not feel like the Messiah has come and brought salvation to the world. If peace in the world was our measure, I am pretty sure Christ would receive a failing grade. I can understand why people do not come to church anymore. The whole saving the world idea obviously did not take, the lion did not lie down with the lamb. There is no peace on earth or even peace in Central Kentucky.
Isaiah 9, verse 5 says, “all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire,” to celebrate that the war is over. This year is the 100th Anniversary of start of WWI. And the sad thing is that the Great War was only the beginning: WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and so many “conflicts” have resulted in millions and millions of deaths and serious injuries. Burning all the boots and garments of war rolled in blood does not even seem possible, let alone hopeful.
And yet here we are, Christmas Eve 2014, singing carols and lighting candles in celebration of the birth of our Savior, the Prince of Peace. If you look at Isaiah 9, you find there is not much participation by humanity in Isaiah’s vision. But, the one thing humans DO in the Isaiah 9 vision is see a Great light. —“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,” it says. We sit here in KY in the midst of news from all over the world of great darkness, of violence and corruption and chaos. And yet, WE can see Light.
The Light does not do away with the darkness – but it shines so brightly that the darkness cannot overcome it. War and violence do not end but they cannot take away the vision of peace given to us by Isaiah. Violence cannot take away the hope that we have in Christ. Violence cannot take away the love that came to us in the Christ Child.
We see the light, we have felt its warmth. We can choose to walk toward it and we can choose to stand in the light but the darkness is still present and at times, very tempting. Many people in the world today want a Savior with superpowers who will rule with a mighty arm bringing justice and peace. Some Americans want a powerful, good looking leader, who in the name of God, will solve all the world’s problems. Many Kentuckians go to church wanting to receive all the answers to make life nice and easy and if the church does not provide that, they go home.
But Jesus did not come to solve all the world’s problems. Jesus did not swoop down out of heaven with a cape to end all violence, war and injustice. Jesus was not a conqueror of all evil – but a victim to it when he was arrested, beaten and executed on a cross. Jesus is not the kind of Savior people were looking for 2,000 years ago and truth be told he is not the kind of Savior many people want today.
Christmas Eve 100 years ago gives us a glimpse to what IS possible in Christ. December 1914, two great armies faced each other across a front that extended along the French-Belgian border. Troops crouched in muddy trenches with 50-100 yards of “no man’s land” between the enemies. Snipers were posted on each side and were ordered to shoot anything that moved. As Christmas approached, troops on both sides received some Christmas packages from and the shooting began to slow down, and then, at some point on Christmas Eve the shooting stopped altogether. No orders had been given. They simply stopped shooting at the enemy. In the early evening British troops saw Christmas trees with lighted candles on the parapets of the German trench and a voice called out, “a package is coming now,” as a boot filled with sausages was launched to British. Plum pudding was the return fire. Then the singing started on one side and the other followed by applause. As the night wore on, the Germans began to sing, “Stille Nacht,” and the British joined, “Silent Night.” The next morning, opposing troops ventured into “no man’s land” to shake hands and exchange small gifts, and several games of soccer were played all in the spirit of the birth of a baby who brought light to the world.
Tonight we pause to celebrate that birth, a baby born in a stable to two ordinary and probably very frightened people; a Savior not born in the comfort and peace of a palace to royalty with power and wealth, but into the poverty of a very violent world. The Christ child’s life was not painted with pastels or oils but with dirt and blood.
And so we sit here tonight acknowledging the darkness of the world. And soon we will lift our candles and sing Silent Night in honor of the light that shines in the darkness, a light that unflinchingly shows us the world as it is while offering us a vision of what can be. In the space between what is and what can be, it is our work to move always toward the light, to point to the light with our lives and to share that light with all who are in darkness.