For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men… (Titus 2:11).
It has been said that one of the great mysteries of the incarnation is why God would write Himself into His own story in order to be killed by the living characters He created. This staggering idea always hits me when we solemnly remember the birth and death of the world’s Savior, when we gather together to celebrate the light no darkness can overcome. I think of God creating his betrayer: Judas, God creating the men who forced His pain-soaked mother to put the earth’s only hope in a feeding trough, God creating the tree from which that manger was made or the tree from which His cross was formed. It’s one thing to have something we love so much we would die for it (I pray you do); it’s quite different to create something we know will hurt us, to endure the pain because the glory and love which will win out in the end is worth it all. I suppose it’s imperfectly comparable to having children: bringing a life into this world we know will hurts us, but trusting that the joy will outweigh all the pain. It should not surprise us then when those who don’t believe in a new world to come stop having children or resent the ones they do have; after all, if our lives all lead to the grave, if darkness is our destiny and the light a cruel lie, then who but a monster would dare create, who but a monster would bring life into a world where pain and misery and death win again and again and again.
This view of the world’s history as an empire of misery and waste is somewhat logical and empirically supportable; it can even provide us with the grim, false comfort of a man resigned to suicide, but it tragically fails to consider the possibility of glory. We stare into our own dark, confused hearts like a prisoner in solitary confinement, we run to other confused people and beg them with our eyes to help us, we use all our many legal or illegal addictions to numb us, and then we lay this grid over the universe and say, “Here is how everything works; I know it because it is what I feel.” We trust our feelings, they—in fact—rule us, until the darkness comes and takes them all away. I know not everyone in this room tonight believes in God, but we can all agree that in a world without God darkness is king: everything else is simply sentiment and noise—eventually, the inky blackness always wins.
It is my great privilege and tragic burden to tell men and women again and again that we need not live for the darkness, that we can rage and fight against that inky blackness, we can dare to create and dream and invent because God has revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the blessed assurance that what we do has actual, eternal meaning—a meaning no illness or failure or even death itself can rob from us. Today is not ultimately about presents or family, for all those things are just future food for the darkness unless we have the divine grace which makes our joy something more than a mirage. There is no alternative; there is no third way; there is only death and darkness or resurrection and light; there is only ashes or love.
Love, that is why we are here tonight: alive, breathing, feeling, knowing; we would have none of these attributes of life if not for the love of God, but God’s love is more than even this incredible gift of existence. To give us a gift greater than even all of this, God the Son abandoned the glory and safety of heaven to build and light a path out of the darkness. The incarnation we celebrate tonight surely raises questions in our minds, some I can answer and some I simply cannot, but more important than our questions is the great answer with which God becoming Man forever gifts us: “Yes, life is worth living; yes, love is worth dying for; yes, all the pain and suffering which comes from being alive cannot break the eternal and good purpose of creation.” It is this purpose God the Son has come to bind us into, appearing as a vulnerable child, a broken man, and a resurrected king to show us that human life in this dark world can be redeemed from the tragic pursuit of the darkness; that, in fact, the light is inevitable and darkness will soon be nothing.
Here is why St. Paul can command us tonight to be “a peculiar people zealous of good works,” for to live as a reflection of the light of Christ is to be more than the sum of our consumption or accomplishments, beauty or strength: it is to be a living reflection of God’s inevitable glory; it is to begin immortality tonight—to live in the grace and truth which is remaking this dark world one new, defiant heart at a time. God is not just calling us to this new life; no, He has become Man to show us fear replaced with joy in real time; He has given us His Word and Sacrament to carry us through our own journey from death into life, and He has given us our fellow Christian brothers and sisters with whom we will serve and die and rise.
When you leave Christ’s church tonight, you will be greeted by darkness, and you will be tempted to accept the world outside these walls as the truth, you will be tempted to replace the good news we have heard tonight with the misery which loves your company. When that temptation comes, I beg you to fight it; fight it like nothing you have ever fought before, fight as if your life depends on it. Cherish the hope we have remembered tonight, for when the darkness comes, our assured hope will be the only which can’t be taken from us. This is the gift of Christmas. May God bless you, and may God keep us all in this gift forever.