A Light has Dawned (December 24, 2018)
A Light has Dawned
In a few moments, after the sermon, we are going to dim the lights in the sanctuary and watch as light goes out from the Christ candle and is passed throughout the congregation. It’s maybe something you’ve done year after year. But why? Why do we do this? Is it just tradition? Is it simply emotionally moving and hearkens back to all that we know and love about Christmas Eve services? Or is there something deeper? It’s actually meant to symbolize the Light going out into the world and overcoming the darkness in the world around us, and in our own hearts.
Isaiah starts out his prophecy of the Christ child by saying, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:2). But Isaiah seems to be presuming a lot with this prophecy. And I may seem to be presuming a lot by saying that this text is still relevant for us to read and study today. Is our world really that dark? It may be a bit flawed, but completely dark? Pitch black? That’s what Isaiah says, “people walking in darkness” (Is 9:2). In fact, he even takes it a step farther and says they are “living in the land of deep darkness” (Is 9:2).
But that was then, this is now. Isaiah lived in the land of Israel. He was warning the people of Judah that they would be threatened and eventually invaded by a nation that was not afraid to make examples of the conquered. They would torture those they conquered, and pile up the bodies in pyramids. But this looming shadow of darkness and destruction was not the darkness that Isaiah was warning the people of. The impending destruction by a foreign nation was not the darkness that the people of Judah really needed to worry about. It was the darkness of their own nation. It was the darkness they were walking around and living in. And Isaiah gives us a glimpse of what that darkness looked like.
People do not care for one another but are always fighting “neighbor against neighbor.” There is rampant substance abuse, as people are considered “heroes at drinking wine” – “staying up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.” There is immorality, the country is full of poor, and yet there is no mercy for them – no compassion. There is no respect for the elderly. Many people have walked away from true faith and have turned to the occult. Keep in mind, these are all things that Isaiah points out about the land he lived in – things that the almighty God called them out on.
Yet, doesn’t that description, that condemnation, sound strikingly similar to the land we live in today? It seems that the more things change, the more they really stay the same. Do we not see abhorrent violence when we flip to any news station? Do we not see the collapse of family as respectful values are not passed down to the next generation? Do we not see neighbors turning on neighbor over the pettiest things, and when love is shown, it’s however you want to define it? We too have problems. We too are living in darkness. But sadly, many are ok with it. Many have gotten used to it. And those who do see it as a problem think that something can be done about it. But that would be taking the darkness too lightly. That only comes from a flawed understanding of just how dire this darkness is.
The first time Isaiah uses the word “darkness,” he uses a fairly general term that can signify “distress” or “dread” or even “ignorance.” But then he repeats and intensifies his statement. He calls it “deep darkness.” This is the same word used in the famous Psalm 23 “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” So if we kid ourselves, thinking, it’s really not all that bad in our time and at this place, Isaiah would ask, “Oh, really? Are you not dying?” The inevitability of death casts a shadow – a gloom – over everything. This is not the way God intended the world to be. Although we think of death as something natural, it’s not! It’s a result of sin. It’s a sign that we are living in spiritual darkness.
It gets worse. Isaiah says we are walking in darkness. We stroll around in it casually. This is not something we were thrust into kicking and screaming. We willingly embrace it. And you probably see it best in situations where you are faced with a choice between serving others or serving self. We tend to gravitate toward the self-serving choice – at the very least, the thought lingers there in our minds making the choice a little more difficult.
The sad fact is, the world is a dark place. We tend to think we can make it better. We think we can rid the world of things like violence, oppression, poverty, and racism. Yet can we even drive the darkness our of our own hearts? Perfectly? Permanently? Can you stop yourselves from the dark effects that sin has in our lives? From aging? From dying? If we cannot rid our lives of darkness, why would we think we can rid the world of it?
The good news is, a light has dawned! And this light is not something man produced. It just appeared. It “dawned.” This light is not a relief program. No program can rid the world of darkness. This light I a person. More specifically, this light is a baby boy – the child born for us, the Son given for us. It is Jesus, the Christ.
This child is a human being, born of his human mother, Mary. Yet he is much more. He is also God – as seen by the titles and responsibilities he is given. He is the “Wonderful Counselor.” Unlike all other counselors whose advice is tainted by the fact that they do not know everything, this counselor does know everything. He’s also “Might God” – the child who can do anything and always follows through on his promises. He is the “Everlasting Father” – source of life, and compassionate in preserving life. Finally, he’s called the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6). He is able to create perfect harmony, peace. Most notably, he establishes peace between a holy God who hates sin and people who sin every day. God’s just punishment for sin, and his mercy for sinners meet in the child who was born to die. That’s what the angels sang about on that first Christmas Eve. “Peace for all peoples,” brought by this newborn prince.
Clearly, the Bible identifies him as both fully God and fully man. But why? Why did this “Light” need to be both God and man? Well, if God simply wanted to tell us how to think about darkness and sin, he could have just sent a man. In fact, that’s what he did with the prophets, who gave us God’s Law which shows us how to live a bright, beautiful life. If God wanted to give us an example of how to live a perfectly bright life, he could have just sent an angel, like the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary. God could have just said, “Everyone, look at how compassionate and thoughtful Gabriel is. Look at how he always thinks of others before himself. Look at how his entire existence is about giving me, God, glory. Just live like Gabriel!” But that would not have been enough. We needed one who could snuff out the darkness. We normally think of light being “snuffed.” But we needed darkness – sin and its consequences, including death – to be snuffed out. That required the Light to be both God and man. The Light needed to be man, so that he could be sacrificed for our sin. The child needed a beating heart and blood in its veins, so that it could be shed. But the life of one man, could never atone for another. So the Light needed to also be God, so that the sacrifice made when his light was snuffed out was valuable enough to pay for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived.
The gift of Christ is a gift you receive with humility. There are some gifts that one cannot receive without humility. Imagine for Christmas your significant other gave you the gift of a gym membership for one year. You look at your gut. You look at the certificate for the gym. You make the connection. Your loved one is telling you something – perhaps something you do not want to acknowledge. It is no different with this greatest Christmas gift, the Light of Christ. In giving this gift, God is saying to you and to me, “You are broken, and lost, but I’m here to do something about it.” The situation is so dire, it will require the perfect man, Jesus, to die for you. You do not receive that gift without humility.
So, our prayer this Christmas Eve is that the Spirit would give us just that – humility. We need him to help us understand we cannot cleanse ourselves of sin, cannot overcome temptation, cannot fix our fractured relationships (including the one with our Creator), cannot outrun the shadow of death. We are immersed in too much darkness. But a Light has dawned. And this light can do all those things. The Light has done all those things.