Maija preached the following very special sermon during our Christmas Day Service 2020.
The following is the sermon of my grandfather Rev. Jaakko Haavio (1904-1984) which he preached early on Christmas morning, 1939. It is translated from Finnish into English and suits the actual worldwide situation well.
(Background: The Winter War was a war between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland. It began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940.)
You may have noticed that when the Bible tells us about the birth of the Redeemer of the world it takes us into a dark night, but all of a sudden a powerful light starts shining.
The prophet of the old covenant already said: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” [The Hebrew verb can be translated as ‘to live, to sit, to prevail’ or ‘to walk’.]
The Gospel of today tells us: “There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The Evangelist John says the same as follows: “The light shines in the darkness” (1:5.).
God wants to say to us through the Gospel of today: The Redeemer is born to you who are sitting in the darkness. This is the eternal message of Christmas but it suits this current Christmas and the people sitting in the darkness especially well.
The shepherds found Baby Jesus in the middle of a dark night. They started walking in the dark night, having as their guide the divine proclamation, the Gospel of Christmas. In the light of the Gospel they found the way to the Child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. In Him they found new hope.
Christmas still comes into the darkness. The darker the night, the brighter the stars shine. The deeper the darkness around us, the more wonderful to us is the holy birth of Jesus, His life, His death and His resurrection.
We can say that Jesus achieved His biggest victories by night. Jesus was courageous and dared to go out into the night. When He had momentous decisions to make, He stayed the whole night praying alone on a mountain. He introduced Holy Communion in the night he was betrayed. When the night around Him had deepened, He established the Last Supper of love in remembrance of the new covenant that offers us the forgiveness of sins through His blood.
Jesus dared to go out amongst His betrayers. In fact He trembled and sweated blood in Gethsemane when the cup of anguish was not taken away but he had to drink it up. To His enemies He said: “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). But in this darkness indeed the light was shining: Jesus took away the sin of the world, our sin. And when in Golgotha the sun darkened and “darkness came over all the land” (Matt 27:45) Jesus cried in loud voice: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The world was reconciled.
Starting right from this darkest moment of humanity when the Son of God died on the cross the light has shone until now, even for us in this difficult time of our lives. The light of the cross of Jesus is the only one that can eliminate the darkness of hopelessness.
Jesus was born at night. He has loved and suffered in the night of the world. If He had not descended into the night of hell we would not have any hope.
The message of Christmas is the message of hope now when we are worried about the coming weeks and months; what is behind the non-transparent curtain separating us from the future. Is “night [already] coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4)? Or, will the Lord still be merciful to us?
Dear friends, fear not! Jesus is with us even at night. He is full of mercy and truth, every day with us. The powers of darkness that are opposing Him seem to hold the power sometimes but their time is short. When the Lord moves his hand they stop: up to here, not further! And according to the holy word, the day will come when “the Lord Jesus will overthrow the lawless one that works in accordance with Satan, and destroy him with the breath of his mouth.” (2. Thess. 2: 8, 9).
Great powers are moving. [Here I leave out description of the war at that time.]
[My addition: As Ethiopians always comfort each other, “the Lord God is there”, let us trust in our Heavenly Father who knows the way out of Corona according to His good will. Let us pray for each other, for the worldwide Church, and for all people.] “This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith” (1. John 5:4).
Dear friends! First of all we need power to become children of God and then remain His children. The Lord gives it to us through the message of Christmas. May the message of Christmas flow among us here courageously and joyfully! Let this word: “The light shines in the darkness” make us into one big family, the family of God because of the common faith. After the night comes day. Christ will be the light of that morning.”
I wish you all a blessed Christmas