Christmas Eve AD 2017

Proper: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

✠     ✠     ✠

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” says Isaiah. I think it’s fair to say that every generation walks in some measure of darkness, and that there are some times and some places in the world that are darker than others. Not the darkness of winter or of a solar eclipse, but the darkness of oppression, whether political like in North Korea, or domestic like homes where some kind of abuse is a regular thing, to name just a couple. Whenever I think of North Korea, for some odd reason I always picture it in black and white images. Maybe it’s because some of the worst images of the modern era came out of Europe in the 1940s in black and white pictures. And that was a particularly dark time in the world. Well that’s the kind of darkness Isaiah is talking about. It’s the darkness that’s caused by sin, which has resulted in every bad thing that’s ever happened in human history, from the individual level to massive-scale genocide.

But we don’t want to think about that on Christmas Eve, do we?– even though that’s exactly why Jesus came into the world the way he did, to begin to bring an end to the darkness of sin. Tonight, we want to downplay the darkness and play up the great light that Isaiah prophesied. And that’s as it should be. “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined,” he says. There are times and seasons in the Church year when we should mourn the darkness, particularly during Lent; and there are times when we should celebrate the light, like Christmas and Easter and every Sunday of the year, downplaying the darkness on those occasions, but never completely forgetting about it.

There’s a wonderful old English Christmas Carol that I know I must have heard many times, but never paid much attention until about a month ago when I heard it set to strikingly different music (John Gardner). It’s called Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, and it dates back maybe as far as the 14th century. I’m not going to sing it for you, and neither is the choir. But I will read bits of it after I set it up for you.

The person speaking in the song is Jesus, and the time when he’s speaking is tonight, Christmas Eve. He sings of his birth, his taking flesh of the Virgin Mary and being born as one of us in order to rescue us, to call us as St Peter says, “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pt 2:9). And that’s the dance that he refers to in every verse, the ministry that he came into the world to carry out: to shine the inextinguishable Light of God into the darkness (Jn 1:5) in order to draw all people out of the darkness of sin and whatever else there may be that has afflicted us, his true love, and to lead us, to dance us, into the loving embrace of his heavenly Father


1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; 

I would my true love did so chance     

To see the legend of my play,

[i.e I want my true love to be able to comprehend the unfolding story of what I’m doing to save her.]

To call my true love to my dance;

Chorus     Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

                  This have I done for my true love.

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,

[Then being the time appointed. “When the fullness of time had come,” as St Paul says, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4:4).]

Of her I took fleshly substance

Thus was I knit to man’s nature

To call my true love to my dance.

“In the fullness of time,” St Leo the Great said, “chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which [the devil] had overthrown mankind” (Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3). This have I done for my true love. This has he done “for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was 

So very poor, this was my chance 

Between an ox and a silly poor ass 

To call my true love to my dance.

The Creator of heaven and earth humbled himself that much, by being born as one of the most helpless creatures on earth, a human baby, and not in a comfortable home, but surrounded by animals, and laid in their feeding trough, their manger. “...this was my chance… To call my true love to my dance.”

The song goes on for eight more verses, with Jesus singing about his baptism when God the Father spoke from heaven, “To call my true love to the dance.” Then he goes into the desert to fast and be tempted by the devil “To have me break my true love’s dance.” And he sings of his persecution by his own people, being sold out by Judas, and tried by Pontius Pilate who “Judged me to die to lead the dance.” His suffering and death was an essential part of the dance, that the sinless Son of God should absorb the sin of the world into himself on the cross and die for it.

9. Then on the cross hanged I was,

Where a spear my heart did glance;

There issued forth both water and blood,

To call my true love to my dance.

It didn’t just happen, it was choreographed.

10. Then down to hell I took my way

For my true love’ deliverance,

And rose again on the third day,

Up to my true love and the dance.

You’ll only get the first four verses of the song if you pull it up on YouTube. That’s the Christmas version and, as I said, we don’t want to think about the darkness on Christmas, only the light, even though Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. And everything in his life from the manger on led toward the darkest day of all, when the creatures of God nailed their Creator to the cross. But all the darkness that he went through was a necessary prelude to the unspeakable joy that came with his resurrection from the dead on the third day.

It’s all of a piece, you see, and it can’t be broken apart. His incarnation, his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension are all integral parts of the dance. Therefore St Leo says, “ let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing… Beloved,” Leo concludes, and so will I, “let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation.”

            Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

            This have I done for my true love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Ian C. Wetmore+

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