Many people enjoy coming to Carols by Candlelight as part of their Christmas celebrations. It’s a great opportunity to help people reflect on the difference that first Christmas can make to our lives.
As well as drawing together all the readings (briefly!), one of the carols that we particularly highlighted was Joy to World, which I also mention in my talk. I think that one of the important things that can be done in this sort of talk is to help people recognise that the Bible (including the Old Testament) speaks into our situations. You can also read a couple of my previous attempts: Carols by Candlelight 2014 and Carols by Candlelight 2012.
Good news! What has been good news for you this year? A new job perhaps, your retirement maybe, a new family member, something good that happened to you or someone close to you. Good news! I hope and pray that you’ve had some good news this year. And there has been good news for the country and world as well, with nations working together, scientific discoveries, the global agreement on climate change.
But, in-amongst the good news, or perhaps overwhelming the good news, there’s probably been bad news as well. Jobs lost, the loss of someone close to you, illness, tragedy. And there has been bad news for the country and world as well, with terror attacks, wars and destruction, global warming.
The prophets we heard in the first two readings, Micah and Isaiah, were both speaking of good news in times of bad news:
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. (Isaiah 60:2)
They both lived in times of difficulty and struggle. Darkness covers the earth. And it can feel like that now as well, can’t it? The darkness of our own struggles, the darkness of the many problems that we see in our country and in the world.
But, Micah and Isaiah didn’t simply focus on the problems that they were experiencing and saw around them. Instead, they were looking forward to the good news that would come:
God’s greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace. (Micah 5:4-5)
And they looked forward to the good news with hope. This wasn’t the hope of escape from the rubbish, the mess, the hurt, but the promise that in the midst of the chaos God would intervene. God would step in and that would make the difference.
I don’t know if you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? It’s probably not what you’re thinking! Because, the most repeated command in the Bible, which we’ve heard a couple of times in our readings tonight, is “Don’t be afraid!”
But, when you hear someone say that, it usually implies that there’s something that you might want to be afraid of! An angel appears to a young woman and she, understandably, is deeply troubled. What is going to happen? Why has this happened to her? God’s good news changes her life, takes her places that she wouldn’t otherwise have gone, and brings her joy that she wouldn’t otherwise have known.
And God’s good news changes the life of her family as well, with Elizabeth rejoicing, and her fiancé Joseph troubled. “Don’t be afraid”! Not because there isn’t difficult stuff happening, not because there aren’t going to be problems and struggles on the way. No, don’t be afraid, because the child who is to be born is Emmanuel, God with us. God with us in all the mess and confusion and pain of this world. God with us in the darkness, giving us fresh joy.
As we were reminded of, that joy is hidden in unexpected and overlooked places. God is with us, has made his dwelling among us in the most unexpected place and shines a light into our darkness. A light in the darkness. Changing things, and changing us too.
We’ve heard and sung the story of the light of God shining into the darkness, of being joy to the world. The light that invites us see and hear things differently, not to overlook things, not to dismiss them just because they’re different to what we expected. Because, the good news of Christmas is that we’re invited to take part in that story, to have the light of God shining into our darkness, and hearing that voice tell us “Don’t be afraid”. Amen.