“Portraits of the Promised Incarnation: Two Thumbs Up for the Light that the Darkness Cannot Overcome”
Preached by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On December 24th, 2013
Right in the middle of the turbulent 1960’s,
The folk duo Simon and Garfunkel recorded a track
That they called “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.”
The recording begins with their two splendid voices
Combining to sing the lovely strains of Silent Night.
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…
They continue singing, but very soon you begin
To discern the voice of a radio newscaster
dubbed over the song
relating the events of August 8th, 1966.
And the voice gets louder and louder as Silent Night continues.
The newscast begins with the story of an impasse
in the House of Representatives over a civil rights bill.
Then it turns to the death of comedian Lenny Bruce
in Los Angeles from a drug overdose
And moves on to the decision of Martin Luther King, Jr. to go ahead
with an open housing civil rights march in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago,
And plans by the Cicero police to call in the National Guard.
Then you hear of
A grand jury indictment of a man named Richard Speck
for the murder of 9 student nurses;
and anti-war protests
at a House Un-American Activities Committee Hearing;
And reference to a speech by, at that time, former Vice President Richard Nixon,
Urging an increase in the Vietnam War effort.
Now if you lived through that period in history some of those stories might bring back some memories for you.
There is something positively haunting and dissonant
about hearing the news of that troubled day
Juxtaposed with the beautiful music of the carol
And its hailing of that silent, holy night of Incarnation,
Its call to the infant and to us to sleep in heavenly peace.
If you listen to it today, and you can, Simon and Garfunkel’s track
has an all too current feel to it.
Not too much has changed in nearly 50 years since it was recorded.
Bickering in Congress, drug abuse, systemic injustice
Murder, a society polarized, relationships broken.
Then again, I’m not sure there’s ever been a time
From the first Christmas onward
When the song of Christ’s incarnation
God’s intimate involvement with humanity
Hasn’t been sung alongside and against
The all too often dissonant reality of human life.
It was into a world like ours that Christ was born.
Not as technologically advanced, to be sure.
Not as capable of mass destruction.
But nonetheless a place where decision makers squabbled
And wars were fought
And murders were committed
And there was no room for certain people
And others had their places
Poor shepherds and foreigners
Were in their own way redlined
It was into a world like ours, a sometimes dark and disappointing world,
That the Gospel of John says
that the Word who was with God
and was God
came and became flesh and dwelt among us.
John further testifies that the light of that word made flesh
shines in the darkness
But the darkness has not overcome it.
Notice what John doesn’t say.
John doesn’t say that because of the Incarnation
Every human problem will immediately disappear.
John doesn’t say that the darkness will vanish.
John simply says that the light is stronger than the darkness
That the darkness can’t put out the light.
The light shines in the darkness.
I think that’s good news.
Because to say that the light shines in the darkness
takes the way it is with us and with our world seriously.
There is darkness and disappointment
In relationships, in families, and certainly in the larger world around us.
Fear and doubt are real.
As wonderful as life can be—
and as joy-filled as this holiday season of gift-giving
and carol singing and wonder is and has been for me
and I hope for you,
we cannot forget that the promise of this season
is that the light shines
in the darkness.
Some churches have special Blue Christmas services to acknowledge the fact
That the holidays can be particularly hard for some of us.
I appreciate that impulse. But I’m here to tell you
That it is okay to admit the darkness tonight as well.
Acknowledging the darkness
doesn’t stop the power of the songs we sing.
It just makes them deeper and richer
Because it lets them rub up against the real world
In which we live.
Two days ago, at our morning service in this sanctuary,
Elizabeth Gore delivered a marvelous Moment for Young Disciples
To our children.
She spoke of the Christmas lights that we see in this season,
in our houses and yards and our neighborhoods
She talked about the lights on the tree in the sanctuary,
And how Jesus said that he was the light of the World.
But then she told the kids, and us, that we, too, are called to be lights.
To let our lights shine by making the world a better place.
As she spoke, I thought of the Dreamer Christmas Party
I attended the morning before.
And the young men and women from Anacostia
Who were home on break from college or vocational school.
The challenges and struggles
That so many of them grew up with are and were real.
But here they were, stepping into education and preparing for careers.
Not all of the kids have made it. And not all will.
But some, who might not have, have through
The way God has worked in and through us.
And I thought of how later that same day I’d gone over to
Mount Olivet Methodist church in Arlington,
and joined with volunteers from
That congregation and my wife Judith’s church, Trinity in Arlington
To reach out to more than 350 poor and homeless people
Providing a hot meal and clothes and food and bus cards.
Mount Olivet does that once a month, through Grace Ministries.
It’s quite an operation and it takes
150 volunteers to pull it off.
The societal problems they’re trying to address haven’t disappeared,
But somebody is trying to do something about real human need.
And it made me think about all of the other things we do here,
To address human need.
Mehrdad and Mnaz and their daughter Ava and their new baby were in worship
With us the other day, the same day Elizabeth talked about being a light.
And I thought of how that Muslim immigrant family experienced
Human kindness and warmth through our assistance to them
When they came here as refugees from Iran.
In a world full of religious tension—
we were part of the solution.
And the warmth of the greeting that Mehrdad gave me at the back of church
two days ago was testimony to that.
There is plenty of darkness still.
We can name that darkness in our own lives.
But the light of God’s love in Christ keeps shining.
And the song of love being made incarnate
Keeps being sung.
I don’t know if you happened to come across the story in the past day or so.
It’s gone viral on the Internet.
It’s about a little girl named Laney from West Reading, Pennsylvania.
Laney is eight, and she is dying of late stage, inoperable cancer.
I know it is tough to talk about things like that on Christmas Eve.
But sometimes things like that happen. Darkness is real.
Laney is a big fan of Taylor Swift, and Christmas Carols,
and as a last wish she asked that she might be able to
meet Taylor Swift
and to have some people come by her house
to sing carols.
So this past Friday, the 20th, she and Taylor videochatted through FaceTime
And then Saturday night, the 21st, people came to carol.
Not just a few people, either. What started as a trickle, grew to
Nearly 10,000 people, jamming the street in front of her house,
Singing against the darkness.
Laney wasn’t strong enough to welcome them in
Or even to come to the window
But she could hear them. She could hear them.
And her parents sent out a picture
through her Facebook page
Of Laney, with an oxygen cannula in her nose,
Sticking up two thumbs.
The Light shines, and keeps on shining, in the darkness.
And there is no darkness that can or will overcome it.
Two thumbs up for the incarnation!