The neighbors across the street are fairly new. Both parents are doctors, and they have three kids, two girls and a boy. They are the perfect age for Santa. Christmas decorations started to go up outside three weeks ago with one string of lights. Then came the unicorn and the nutcracker, both life size! Next the tree out front got a significant trimming so that the next batch of lights could be wrapped around the trunk. Every set of lights is a different color. Last night icicle lights were added, the kind that looks like they are dripping. Who knows what else might appear?! When a new decoration or string of lights goes up, I can hear the kids carrying on. It is fun to watch the excitement. But what I really like is the way the neighborhood is lit up. Not every house but enough so that when you drive or walk down the street the lights are spaced out and the whole street is full of light.
We have our share of lights though not as many as usual. We are approaching the shortest day of the year, one week from today. It is dark quite late in the morning and it gets dark early. And for us, it is a bit chilly. This year for the first time in centuries Jupiter and Saturn will align to make what scientists are calling star the Wise Men followed in their quest to find Jesus. In the northern hemisphere it is winter, a time of more darkness than in the spring and summer.
So, at a time when the world knows darkness, there is light...bright lights, white lights, colored lights and all sorts of figures and inflatables that also give off light. Isaiah the prophet tells us, ”The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. Even a tiny bit of light can dispel darkness. I think of Christmas Eve and candles. We begin with the five candles on the advent wreath. Two tapers are lit from the Christ candle in the middle and there is a bit more light. Once we begin to light each individual candle there is light all over the sanctuary. I can see the faces of people from different congregations I have had the privilege to serve, illuminated by the candlelight from Christmas Eve. While the light from the candles are small lights, the light Isaiah is prophesying is a great light.
The dark is often tied to difficult events. Some of us are afraid of the dark or at least the things that go bump in the night. We do not move as quickly in the dark because it is harder to see where we are going. In some places there are bad things that happen in the dark. There is more crime, more opportunities to get in trouble in the dark. But there is other darkness as well. Isaiah's people have lived in darkness for a long time. They have walked away from God and as a result they are buried in sin. More sin leads to more darkness and eventually they cannot see God or the things of God. The darkness gets thicker and deeper all the time. It happens not only in Isaiah’s day but today as well.
Imagine now God's people who have lived in this darkness for a very long time, suddenly blinking in the bright light of the Lord. Picture the shepherds, unclean and outcast, out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Many times, when the light of God breaks into our world, we are just going about our business, doing what we usually do. And then God appears. The angel of the Lord came upon the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid...terrified even. Have you ever noticed that when the Lord breaks through people get scared? “And the angel said to them, fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
One angel wasn't enough however, because suddenly the whole sky was lit up by the heavenly host...a multitude in fact. And all of them joined in singing songs of praise to God. Later in His public ministry Jesus told a gathered crowd that He was the light of the world and whoever believed in Him would never walk in darkness. We know that there will be no need for sun, moon, or stars in heaven because the light from Jesus will be all that is needed.
Saul was on his way to Damascus to search for new Christians. He would arrest them and throw them in prison for believing in Jesus. Some would be tortured and killed for their faith. But about noon as Saul and his group were approaching Damascus there was a bright light from heaven that shone around Saul. He heard the voice of Jesus, asking why Saul was persecuting Him. And then Jesus told Saul what the cost of following Him would be. From that point on, Saul became Paul and spent the rest of his life preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen victorious from the dead.
We read in 1 John 1:5, ”God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Darkness implies there is sin, and we know that God does not sin. There is light so bright Peter, James, and John must cover their eyes because Jesus is transfigured. Jesus appearance was like lightening and His clothes white like snow. We see this in Matthew 28:3.
This year, of all years, it seems fitting that the light in the sky the Wise Men followed will once again appear. It feels like a message that everything will turn out alright, reassurance that God is still sovereign and in control. And maybe, just maybe, people will follow that light and find the hope, peace, love and joy that comes from knowing Jesus.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W