Summary: When Christmas is past - the joy and the glory of it - what do we have left? This sermon tells us what remains after the strains of "Silent Night, Holy Night" have ceased.
The miraculous, glorious birth is over. The shepherds have probably left the birth-place to return to their keeping watch over their flocks. The friendly beasts that attended this birth, feeling the stir of excitement that animals feel when something is very different, fell back into their normal animal routines, knowing through pure animal instinct that whatever it was that caused their internal stir was complete.
The very pregnant mother is more comfortable now, her months of expectation finally ended. The anxious father who had so much trouble finding a safe, warm place for the birth feels more relaxed. Things worked out after all, and even the stable-place and the rough-hewn manger proved adequate for the birth of this baby.
The angels sang well of the miracle, clear, bell-like voices filling the air with the thrill of hope for a weary world that could now rejoice at the coming of the savior. Even God, I suppose, felt a divine kind of gladness that the savior of the world was safely born and now the plan of the ages would begin to unfold so that all people who had walked in darkness could finally see a brilliant light that meant salvation and hope, joy . . . and finally, a peace on the earth like no peace they had ever known before.
But this morning in churches all over the world, songs are softer, numbers are smaller, candles and carol-books are packed away. Today, when all things wondrous are over, our faith in Christmas is tried and tested and made true by the serious stuff of the world. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Just a few short days ago, the earth sang that melody. But today, the noise of traffic and storm, wind and wailing, dying children and raging soldiers and devastated parents breaks in on our worship and threatens to overcome us.
It may help us to meet a little girl named Lucy, a character in the delightful story by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy found herself in the magical land of Narnia in the company of a Faun named Mr. Tumnus, who told her about the White Witch.
"The White Witch? Who is she?" Lucy asked.
And Mr. Tumnus answered, "Why, it’s she that makes it always winter . . ."
"How awful!" said Lucy, who became quite troubled and distressed about this White Witch. Later in the story, Lucy described the dreadful White Witch to her brother Edmund.
"She is a perfecty terrible person," Lucy told Edmund. "And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia -- always winter and never Christmas."
Young Lucy was understandably disturbed! Can you blame her? You and I would probably be just as disturbed if our land was in danger of losing Christmas and being stuck forever in frigid winter. Maybe that’s exactly our predicament! Maybe we live in a world more like the land of Narnia than we want to admit. Maybe, like Narnia, our world has a "White Witch" or two just waiting end our Christmas joy and leave us in perpetual winter. It may well be a kind of "White Witch" who robs us of our vision of a velvet, starry night in Bethlehem where a Holy Child was born, and leaves us with only frigid, dark, starless, winter nights.
The lessons from Scripture for this First Sunday after Christmas acknowledge the reality that we face when Chrsitmas is past: that a world of sadness and woe surrounds and envelopes us just as surely as the clouds of winter envelop our spirits and our souls. Isaiah recounts for us and for all people at all times “the gracious deeds of the Lord,” telling us that the presence of this Bethlehem Babe has saved us, and that the God who sent this baby to us is persistent and patient and persevering, calling us out of the darkness and difficulty of our lives and our world into the light of grace.
Matthew’s Gospel proclaims “a voice heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” And on the television news, we hear mothers wailing over their little ones. Christmas celebrations have come and gone, and still the world presses in. Still, tyrants reign and try to force their murderous agendas on the peoples of the world. Still, tragedies occur, children die, tears are shed, and prayers are lifted up . . .
It was a holy night, the songwriter tells us, that night in Bethlehem. There was “a thrill of hope,” and the weary world rejoiced because a new and glorious morn had broken. It was, indeed, a night divine . . . a holy night when all anyone could do in response was fall to their knees and listen to the music of angels.