These readings are traditionally used during the Christmas Eve service in many liturgical churches. They may be used on Christmas Day as well.
Israel had become immersed in darkness, much like it is today. Who would come and save them from the burden of Rome? A prophet of God had not spoken to them in 400 years. Many had lost hope that God would ever deliver them from the tyranny of foreign rule. This was about to change. The Prophet Isaiah had foretold:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Israel was under Roman rule. Rome had laid upon the people a heavy tax. In today’s Gospel we read:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
A far greater tyranny existed than Rome. This tyranny was a spiritual one, imposed by the ruler of darkness. As a result, many Israelites had lost the understanding of God’s great love for them. Perhaps this is still true for many of us today.
Into this darkness a great message of hope was spoken, to shepherds no less:
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:8-14)
The light of Christ had come about which the Prophet Isaiah had spoken:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. (Isaiah (9:2-4)
Satan had blinded the understanding of God’s people. Though Rome was oppressive, the way the Law of Moses was interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees was even more so. Heavy burdens had been placed on the people through numerous religious rules and regulations.
Only the light of Christ could dispel this great darkness. His teachings and his examples clearly demonstrated God’s love for his people. Not only that, but he took on all our burdens by his death on the cross.
Are we still living in darkness today? What about the song: “He is making a list and checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice?” Do we measure up? Can God still love us? Have we done enough?
Jesus has done enough! He is still lifting our burdens if we will allow him. Again, from Isaiah:
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)
We no longer need to live under the tyranny of darkness which tells us that God does not truly love us unless we measure up. God loves us because he has measured up for us. He will establish justice and righteousness for this time onward and forevermore. Human beings cannot do this, though some falsely say that they can.
Under this world’s governmental systems there will always be some form of oppression. However, this world is passing away. The Kingdom of Light is growing and expanding. Do we not see it? Jesus is still calling people into his everlasting kingdom. Everyone is invited. This is the true gift of Christmas. Have we unwrapped?
Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let every heart prepare him room. Amen.