Summary: Tonight, all is not calm and bright in the city of Bethlehem. We may not be able to actually be there, but we know what it is like to live in darkness. Receive this, therefore, as a message of hope - - for 2000 years ago and for today....
"No Star Tonight" (Christmas Eve)
"No Star Tonight" a Gatlin Brothers song... is sung here
A mother wakes up her son one morning and says, “Honey, it’s time to get ready for church.” The son replies, “But mom, I don’t want to go to church today!” The mother persisted, “But you have to go to church!” The son again responded, “I don’t want to go to church mom!” The mother said…, “You need to get up.” The son said, “Why?” The mother said, “I’ll give you three good reasons….. #1 – you’re always glad you’ve gone once you get there; #2 – you always enjoy the music at church and today will be no exception; and #3 – you’re the pastor and the people need you…..”
Carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve is a night when I never have difficulty being motivated to be here. It is always a blessing to share in this special time of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.
2,000 years ago, a child was born, the shepherds came, wise men followed a brightly-shining star and it all happened in Bethlehem - - a city under Roman occupation and the people there were living in a land of deep, oppressive darkness.
Today, there is no star in Bethlehem, but it is once again a city under occupation.
Here, a picture of The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem - - a brilliant place of light, built over the site of the birth of Jesus, this is one of the holiest places on earth.
This picture was taken as Nativity Square prepared for the “Millennium Celebration” on December 31, 1999 (only 3 years ago), where the festivities reflected the hope of peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and throughout the world.
Last year, Palestinian troops marched on Manger Square as the conflict escalated.
And tonight, Israeli troops occupy that same square - - tonight’s message is not meant as a political statement for either side but simply as an observation of the reality of the situation there…..
I receive regular e-mails from a Palestinian and an Israeli resident of the Holy Land - - each can justify his position intellectually.
This week, however, an e-mail came to me from an American Christian in Bethlehem summarizing the plight of Christians in Bethlehem who simply long for peace….
‘This has been a most difficult Advent season; yet, we have dared to light small candles in the midst of long suffering. In resistance to the renewed military occupation and a growing reality of fear and hate, we have dared to light candles of hope, peace and joy. Long ago, many expected God to send a great warrior to battle the forces of injustice. But God surprised the world by sending a small baby instead. Many expected God to reign down destruction on those opposed to God’s will, but God surprised the world by sending Love. Trusting that God will break forth, then, into our world, we light a candle of love, believing that even a small flame can grow to become the Light of the world.’
‘On Christmas Eve you will sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with the familiar words referring to the “deep and dreamless sleep” of Bethlehem’s inhabitants. Yet, the reality of Bethlehem today is more like the period during Christ’s birth. This year, therefore, please consider these alternative words for, “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”’
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and restless sleep, a missile glideth by.
And over dark streets soundeth the mortar’s deadly roar,
While children weep in shallow sleep for friends who are no more.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Your love bring down on David’s town, drive fear and hate away.
Awake the ire of nations, let justice be restored.
Rebuild the peace in silent streets where once Your love was born.
John 1:4-5 – “In him was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness have not overcome it.”
We gather here tonight, never having lived in the darkness of occupation. Most of us will never even know the darkness of oppression.
But tonight, we do understand darkness…
We know the darkness of loneliness
The darkness of broken relationships
The darkness of shattered dreams
The darkness of addiction
We know the darkness of economic uncertainty
The darkness of wandering aimlessly through life without a sense of purpose or
direction or meaning….
We may not be in Bethlehem today, but we have a sense about what it means to live in darkness…..
2000 years ago, in the midst of the uncertainty of that day, Jesus, the “Light of the World,” was born into the darkness and the world has never been the same.