notre dame montreal

The light has come

Sermon for Christmas Eve by The Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

At Christmas we hear many readings from the Gospel of Luke

Luke contains, the Magnificat, or Mary’s song, the Nunc Dimitis, or Simeon’s song and the reading we had tonight, the Benedictus or Zachariah’s song

They are all mosaics of Old Testament texts which connect the story of Jesus with the established tradition of the Jewish people
The Benedictus even starts off with the opening words of a Jewish blessing, ‘blessed be the Lord God of Israel…’
The Benedictus is an amazing piece of Jewish poetry because in Zachariah’s song in essence we have the last prophecy of the Old Covenant coupled together with the first of the New Covenant.

Tonight, Christmas Eve, we too are on that same cusp between the Old and the New Covenants
As it says in the Benedictus, ‘in the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from above will break upon us’
The night of the Jewish covenant was coming to an end and the dawn of a new era was on the world

Zachariah knew the Old Testament story well. He was a faithful Jew. He knew the Jewish tradition that a Messiah would come, just as today many know the Christmas story that Jesus will come

But not only did Zachariah know the story – in Christ he recognized that this was it, the story becoming truth in front of him. It was no longer just a story, something radically different was happening

The Messiah had indeed come, the new dawn; the light in person had come the dawn (or dayspring) had come and nothing could be the same again. The old world order was changed for good

Just like in Narnia where it was always winter but never Christmas, well now Christmas had come!
We’ve all come here on this cold evening. Scientifically cold doesn’t really exist. Heat exists, objects radiate or absorb heat, and we can measure and describe heat. Cold is just a word we use to describe the absence of heat. Similarly darkness does not exist. Light exists, can be measured quantified and described but darkness is just a word that describes the absence of light

In the same way, evil can be described as the absence of good

When the light of the world came the time of the absence of light was at an end. It was a radically different era. That radical change was that God Himself had become incarnate and through all His incarnation meant, offered humankind the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and to be radically changed into eternal beings

And as we are changed, so we begin to forgive others around us and they become changed too and drawn to the light, the absence of darkness

But to be changed we need to acknowledge that the light has come, to fully acknowledge the reality of the story in our lives, just like Zachariah, otherwise we continue to live our lives, or parts of our lives in the past, the old era, in the absence of the full light of Christ and the Christmas story is just that, the Christmas story, a season of goodwill and a time of being nice to one another but not a lot else

But if we accept the reality of the story in our lives, God offers something far more radical, as the dawn from upon high breaks upon us. The forgiveness of our sins, a new relationship with God and those around us, and the promise of eternal life, an end to the absence of light in our lives.

For Zachariah Christmas would never be the same. How about for us?