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  • Zachary Helton

"Looking for the Light," A Christmas Eve Homily by Zachary Helton

A wise person once said that our sacred stories aren’t important because they happened – they’re important because they happen. Many of us come from a background that is so attached in fact and history that when it comes to stories like this, the story of the birth, we’re so caught up in rote questions that don’t really matter that it’s all too easy to miss what actually makes this moment beautiful.

We celebrate Christmas, wait for it, prepare for it, not because Jesus is watching us from some heavenly throne and we want to show him we love him… not to celebrate the birth of a King that happened in the past… We tell the story, we celebrate Christmas to celebrate what happens now, in the present story that is still unfolding.

It’s not that the light was born once, crashing on to the scene of human history and then departing after a trifling three decades… it’s that the light is born, every day, in something or someone new. The light finds fresh incarnation again and again and again, revealing itself in everything from the simplest raindrop and the most complex community of people. The Christmas story reminds us of what is always true:

The light is everywhere, always changing, always new.

That might be a lot easier to say any other year. The light may be more apparent in a year less filled with loss and uncertainty. This year, perhaps Christmas’ radical claim is a harder pill to swallow. But think about this for a moment: When Jesus was born, the only ones who knew about it were his mother, a carpenter, some shepherds, and the animals. No rabbi. No priest. No dignitaries or kings. It wasn’t that there no one else was around, after all, Bethlehem was so full there was no room in the inn. The city was packed with people, and each of the people packed with perceptions, agendas and anxieties… and they all missed it. They all missed it because while they were all looking for something, none of them were looking for the light.

The poet says, “Earth is so crammed with heaven, / and every common bush afire with God, / but only [the one] who sees takes off [their] shoes; / The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”[1]

The truth is, just because the light is everywhere, igniting and reigniting, it doesn’t mean that the light is recognized. In fact, most often, the light is ignored, or worse yet, people actively try to snuff it out.

By any conventional standards, the only events of the night included some poor family passing through, not the sort they wanted in their city, having a baby in a barn like animals… but to anyone looking for the light, this is a very different scene. To anyone looking for the light, every mote, every particle radiates with the light’s glow, every moment pregnant with Life, every pain bearing the seeds of light’s redemption and awakening.

So, People of God, let us be those who look for the light.

Let us be those who train our eyes to see and our hearts to perceive the truth.

In the year ahead, let us seek out silence and beauty. Let us seek out good stories that bring out the best in us. Let us remember, in a world actively working against us finding the light, actively trying to put it out, that the light-filled life is a life of practice. Here, at the beginning of a new year, one that may well hold just as much if not more darkness than the year before… let us practice.

Let us be those who look for the light.


[1] Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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