Commentary on the Gospel of
I increasingly think of Christmas Eve as Covenant Night. It is the night in which we retell the story of the covenant the Lord made with the people Israel to our children in hopes that they will remember it and tell it to their children just as our parents told it to us. On this night, we remember the covenant the Lord made with David and the people Israel to dwell with them in houses where they would be safe and not disturbed. That might seem difficult to trust for people who were just victims of the terrible tornado frenzy that passed through the lower American Midwest this month. They were certainly not safe in their homes and their lives have been greatly disturbed by the horrific winds. It was even difficult for me last Christmas when my house caught on fire on December 11th and nearly burned to the ground. But the covenant God made with his people was not just material homes. It was something much bigger than that. I was about God’s love for us. I was fortunate to have good insurance. A talented team of crafts persons rebuilt my house. Others will not be so fortunate, but the message of this night is that there is still good reason to trust in the kindness of God. We can help keep that trust alive by sharing God’s love with those who are having difficulty trusting in God because of difficulties in their lives. We can keep the covenant alive by reaffirming our trust and sharing God’s compassion for others.
We know that the covenant is more than just about our homes and our safety from enemies. In Psalm 89, we read that the covenant God made with David also confirmed the posterity of the people Israel for all generations through David. On this night, we can sing of the Lord’s promised faithfulness and kindness forever. Despite what is happening in our lives, we too can proclaim the goodness of the Lord’s covenant with us. On this night, we celebrate how this ancient covenant is reaffirmed through God’s deep abiding love for us in the birth of Jesus. The prophets kept this message of the holy covenant alive, and our ancestors remembered it. We can be grateful that they told and retold it through the ages in all sorts of difficult circumstances and troubled times. And it is with hope that we retell it to our children to keep it alive.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and a Jewish priest knew this covenant of God’s mercy well. He too told it to his son and Luke retold it again for us. It keeps getting more special in its meaning for the people of God. On this night, the night of Jesus’s birth, the covenant took on even more compassion and tenderness. The ancient covenant becomes more than protection from our enemies and freedom to worship without fear. There are too many people around the world who still do not have that. What we celebrate tonight is a new covenant that gives us knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of our sins. We can all have that. No enemy, no illness, no pestilence, and no storm can take that away from us. We can sing the praises of a God who gives us a new covenant that shines light on us in the darkness of our sin and guides us in the way of peace. This knowledge of salvation is indeed a very great light. I pray that it shines into each of our souls tonight and always and gives us the strength and compassion to share hope and tenderness with those who walk in darkness for a wide variety of reasons. That is how we keep Christmas alive.