The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. —Isaiah 9:2
That's how the first lesson of Christmas Eve opens. It's familiar and comforting, as the familiar words go on to say that light has shined on those who live in deep darkness, that God has brought joy to people living under oppression, for a child has been borne to us. The name of that child is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — and God is bringing an endless peace through an heir to the throne of David (vv 3, 4, 6, 7).
This year we're going to hear a bit we haven't heard in Episcopal churches before, in that missing verse 5. It's pretty shocking, but it helps explain why the hunger for light is so intense, and the joy so great when it comes: "For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire." The coming of this prince of peace will mean the end of all signs of war and violence. An occupied people will finally live in peace, without anxiety about who or what will confront them the next time they go out their front doors.
People in many parts of this world still live with the echo of tramping boots and the memory of bloody clothing. Many Episcopalians are living with that anxiety right now, particularly in Haiti and Sudan. Americans know it through the ongoing anxiety after September 11 and in the wounded soldiers returning to their families and communities, grievously changed by their experience of war. Remember the terror of war when you hear those words about light on Christmas Eve. Remember the hunger for peace and light when you hear the shocking promise that a poor child born in a stable will lead us all into a world without war. Remember the power of light when you go out into the darkness after hearing those words — and pray that you and those around you may become instruments of peace.
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! —Luke 2:14