Sermon (A Homily), December 24, 2022

A Homily
The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

December 24, 2022

“The Darkness Has Not Overcome It”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:5[i]

I’m going to ask you to do something you probably didn’t come here to do.  Most, myself included, love singing Christmas carols, hearing the story told again, marveling at God made flesh and kicking in the straw, the glow of candle light.  It’s all warm and fuzzy.  And I suspect we could stay cuddling the baby Jesus and go home with a warm glow in our hearts.  I could do it.  I could craft a message that sooths rather than confronts.  But I believe I am called to lay open a deeper fact.  I think my brother, Doug, who died of an AIDS related illness in 1988, captured the proper tension between the birth of Jesus and what awaits Him as a man. 

Shepherd keep you flock tonight
And hasten not to town.
Content you with the starry light,
The Angel’s joyful sound.

Tis royal sure the birth they sing
Throughout the troubled sky.
But though the Child was born a King
He was but born to die.

So stay you on the hill, my friend
With mind and body whole.
Life is short, tis best to tend your sheep
And not your soul.


The road which from Judea led,
Was it for gain or loss?
And was the wood of manger bed
Intended for a cross?

It is to that tension that I now turn.  What makes the birth of Jesus unique is not the birth itself.  For the fact of the matter is birth is rather common.  Indeed, it is estimated that each day on average there are 385,000 births worldwide and that the total number of births in 2022 will be around 137 million.[1]  Birth is not terribly remarkable.  Indeed, only two out of the four gosples found in the Bible have infancy narratives.  The other two — Mark and John — don’t tell us anything about the birth of Jesus.  We mark His birth not because of what happened in Bethlehem but what took place on Golgotha.

            The words that serve as our text — namely, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” can only be affirmed after we have taken on the reality of Golgotha’s darkness.  The theologian, Joseph Sittler, answered why the cross is the central symbol of our faith when he wrote:

“A cross is a blunt and graceless form.  It has not the completeness and satisfying quality of a circle.  It does not have the grace of a parabola or the promise of a long curve.  A cross is a straight-up line abruptly crossed by a counterline.  The assertive yes of its vertical is crossed and broken by the no of its horizontal.  A cross speaks not of unity but of brokenness, not of harmony but of ambiguity; it is a form of tension and not of rest….The cross is the symbol because the whacks of life take that shape.  Our lives are full of abandonments, infidelities, tragedies.  The affirmation is always crossed by a negation.  The vitalities of life move toward death.  And unless you have a crucified God, you don’t have a big enough God.”[2]

The brokenness of Christ is the final seal for our hope.  Only a crucified God can know the pain of life’s tragedies.  Only a risen Christ can point beyond the brokenness to a world made whole.

            I began this brief homily with these words from the gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  You have come here tonight to mark the birth of the One who was crucified.  On that dark and dreadful day, the forces of evil thought they had won.  The tomb was sealed.  The voice silenced.  But God was not done yet and even the forces of death could not extinguish the light of hope.  Tonight, there is a light shining in the darkness and the good news is the darkness did not and cannot overcome it.  Let us pray…

[1] Births per day

[2] Sittler, Joseph A., Grace Notes and Other Fragments, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1981, pp. 116 & 118.

[i] John 1:1-5, 10-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.