December 16, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
“Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light, Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth” – vs. 3
We gather today on this third Sunday in Advent as we move ever closer to the beauty and the joy of Christmas. In the lovely hymn Silent Night, it is the presence of God in human form that is the “dawn” of redeeming grace, as we hear today in that third verse. God felt such a profound wish to be “up close and personal” that God came to live, breathe, feel, teach, touch, and love. And we, each of us made in the image of God, we are called to nurture relationships that birth, multiply and radiate grace in the world. What would the world be like if “love’s pure light” was at the center? Let us pray, O God, you chose to come among us as one of us to know the fullness of human life and to teach us how to be your love, your light for the world. We ask that you fill us with a light heartedness as we embrace this season of waiting, of Advent. Amen.
We return to the symbolism of light in this season of darkness. The radiant beams of light now come from the newborn infant in the third verse of “Silent Night.” This verse contains these precious words, “love’s pure light.” So, of course, Love is the word for the week. Love and grace are absolutely connected, and the Gospel of John begins with four mentions of that word, grace, and then doesn’t mention it again the entire rest of the book. As one commentator put it, “the entirety of the Gospel will show what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like. For John, God in Jesus as fully human, has committed God’s self not only to revealing what God’s grace looks like, but that God wants to know it and feel it as well.”
The face of God in this newborn Jesus comes into the world where he will be kissed by his own mother Mary, held in Joseph’s rough carpenter-hands, and washed after the feeding and burping. This is real human life, full humanity wrapped around love’s pure light that will shine in a way remembered ever since. It is a love that “redeems” us–makes good on God’s promise to be with us always. For many of us, a belief that God is found in so many parts of our created world, in the beauty of a sunset, the companionship of a special pet, new life springing forth in the tulips and crocuses at Easter is all part of our spiritual life , but the idea that God would come to us in human form, in the face of a vulnerable newborn child, born out in the cold and under the stars; this child who would come to us in a way that would help us to best understand God’s love and hopes for us, that too is an amazing thing.
Love’s Pure Light, such a beautiful image. As I reflected on this phrase, I thought about the way love is made manifest in our human relationships. I thought of my friends who waited years for a child, who went through all of the hoops and interviews to welcome a child of any age into their home, and who finally traveled all the way to Africa to meet their precious son and welcome him into their home. When they first met him and held him in their arms, it was a powerful love that connected them from the start. Love’s pure light.
Often when we are out walking near our home, we cross paths with a family who lives nearby. They have a child with severe special needs and we often see him out and about with one of his parents or a grandparent, whatever the weather. His mom will be holding his hand so gently as they walk through the snow. His father walks beside him as they make their way to some trails nearby. His grandmother gets down on her hands and knees as they draw with sidewalk chalk. Love’s pure light.
Last week, I mentioned my time as a hospital chaplain. One of the images that I will carry always is that of a Somali mother, noticeably pregnant, wearing her head scarf and long robes and standing vigil with her 12-year old son, hour after hour, as his life drew near to a close. She would hold out her hand and place it on his shoulder or hold his hand to accompany him in his final hours. Love’s pure light.
And I think of the love I felt when I had the privilege of visiting our dear friend Laura as she too neared the end. Her family gathered around her, taking turns holding her hand and speaking to her in hushed tones as they said their goodbyes. Love’s pure light.
The beauty of the poetry in this verse speaks of light as “dawning” as well. Dawn rises up, dawn breaks through the dark night, transforming it. From the earliest ones who walked the earth, dawn has truly been a source of great reassurance that life continues. The light at the break of day reminds us that the cycle of life continues with night into day and we have arisen to see a new day. In John’s opening lines, we hear of the presence of Christ from the beginning of time when “let there be light” spoke of the ﬁrst dawn in our faith story. Coupled with the idea of Jesus as a human baby, this is the most poignant melding of the birth of the cosmos and birth from a womb. Divinity and humanity as one.
We witness this light and “we have seen his glory.” There it is again… “glory” and the outpouring of light. This is “true light” that en-lightens us. Through the in-breaking of this light, we receive light and are inspired by it. We might ask ourselves this important question, “what would the world be like if ‘love’s pure light’ was at the center” of all we do, of all we create. As we are made in the image of this one who is grace upon grace, how are we to nurture relationships that help create, extend and radiate grace in the world? A grace-full existence. What would that look like? Well it would be incredible, but we also know that it is not without pain. Each of the stories I shared was of the beauty of a love shared despite the struggle, despite the journey or perhaps exactly because of it. It was the love of Christ for the oppressed that got him in trouble and then cruciﬁed. It is this “sacriﬁce of love” that compels us to do what is sometimes diﬃcult… get out of our comfort zones and risk extending the fullness of grace and love to all we encounter. “Fullness” means “complete” or “superabundant.” The incarnation of God, love incarnate, meant taking on all parts of what it means to be fully including the suffering, the pain, and rejection. This is life. This is love. We need to carve out times of “silence;” we need to be quiet long enough to listen to the stories of our own lives and others we meet to hear about the continued promise of Love’s Pure Light that radiates forth in our world. How may we be the bearers of that light to our families, our friends, to those we meet as we move into these days of Christmas and beyond?