Christmas Eve, 2015.
While I may not have seen the long awaited, much hyped, most recently released installment in the Star Wars, I have seen the previous films. Whether or not you are a Star Wars fan or have seen each of the episodes in the franchise a hundred times, you probably recognize words from the opening crawl that set the story in time. Each one of the movies begins with a prologue. Those words let the audience in on what has led up to the point where the action begins as the start of the movie.
In the very first Star Wars movie we read the words rapidly crawling up the screen, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, …” as John Williams’ famous Star Wars theme plays in the background; and each movie afterward starts with the same music and a scrolling prologue that adds to the story and says in a few words what has happened leading up to the start of this particular movie.
With each Star Wars installment, we remember the origins of the story. We remember the characters that have come and gone and the ones who have been central to the story. And we remember that at its core this is a story about the age-old forces of good resisting and rebelling against, the forces of evil.
We witness the struggle between these forces in the movies. We root for the good guys who, at the end of each movie have gained the upper hand, yet we know that the struggle between the imperial forces (those are the bad guys) and the rebellion (the good guys) is not over. Far from it. [After all, there is another sequel or prequel to come.]
At the conclusion of each of these movies, even as the x-wing fighters make their victory laps, we know that the evil still exists and will once again raise its ugly head, but we also revel in the fact that the Good guys continue to resist, that the rebellion continues to grow, and that good does triumph; and one day, hopefully, will overcome all evil. Despite the twists and turns in the plot, we can believe that it will ultimately win not just the hour or the day, but the whole shebang.
Tonight we gather as we do each year on Christmas Eve, and sing our beloved Christmas carols and hear again the now-familiar biblical texts telling the story of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus.
We rejoice in the fact that God’s love is so strong and God’s mercy is so broad that God came to earth as a little child. We revel in the birth of this tiny baby, which is just the beginning of that episode in which the grand story of our redemption is revealed.
As we do every Christmas Eve, we hear the familiar words from Isaiah, our own prologue to the story: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them a light has shined.”
And then, we hear the words we long to hear, the words we have been waiting to hear. We hear the words of hope: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Did you hear the wondrous, good news? “A child has been born.” And then, the words that tell us why this is good news: This child has been born For us. This child has been born for you and for me.
This is our prologue. This is our song, and it sets the stage for the glorious story that brings us to this night. But this prologue also reminds us of the stark reality of our world. It reminds us of what is at stake. People walk in darkness. There is darkness in the world. Unlike the movies, this is not fiction. This is real. While good and evil still battle in the world, we rejoice tonight because God is the ultimate victor, for our sake.
The truth is that God has reached out to humanity before – freeing Israel from slavery, giving us the law to guide our ways, sending the prophets to warn us of the danger we risked because we rebelled not against evil, but against the ways of God.
Through it all, God’s love for humankind persisted. God’s desire for us grew ever greater. God’s determination that we should not perish but should enjoy an everlasting relationship with God was firmly rooted in God’s endless love. In the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, God sent God’s own eternal light and life to the world.
We gather this Christmas Eve surrounded by the beauty of the night, sharing the story, singing hymns and carols because with the birth of Jesus God has inaugurated a new age. It is the age of hope. It is the age of our salvation. We sing our beloved carols, our own songs of rebellion against the evil and tyranny of the world:
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, to Bethlehem, and behold him, our newborn king. He is the highest most holy, light of light eternal…Jesus…and to him we give all glory and praise.
We sing our victory songs, acknowledging that God’s goodness reaches down to earth in this babe born in Bethlehem, and is the only power strong enough conquer the sinful forces that seek to claim us. And so, on this night, we are encouraged to shout out the good news:
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that down, in a lonely manger the humble Christ was born, as God sent us salvation this blessed Christmas morn.
The history of the liberation of humankind from the evil forces of sin and death reads a little bit like the saga of the Imperial Forces and the Rebellion of the Star Wars movies.
“In those days a decree went out…” and suddenly we attach a chronological time to God’s advent into the world through Jesus Christ. The mystery of the ages is that this miraculous birth then becomes kairos time – God’s time – the time when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted, and God descends to earth and enters our humanity in the birth of the Messiah.
In this humble birth God stands against the powers of the world, the evil that lurks around us. God faces down sin and death. Through this birth, God came to tell us that we are deeply, truly and eternally loved and desired by God, and that nothing in the world can keep us from God’s love and grace and blessing.
God’s message to us tonight is that God’s love is for all, and that God’s love not only wins the day but wins every day forever and ever. God’s love is for everyone, for you, and you, and me; whether we feel lovable or not; whether we feel we are worthy or not; whether we feel we are strong enough to resist the forces all around us or not. God’s love is for each and every one of us.
In a few moments, we will sing out our battle cry against all the forces that would seek to deny God’s love, God’s power or God’s very existence. We will sing out a song of rebellion full of the blessed assurance of God’s eternal victory:
Love has come—a light in the darkness! Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies. Love is born! Come share in the wonder. Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free. Love is Jesus within and among us. Love is Jesus, Immanuel.
Glory be to God, on high.