Since early December, some of our neighbors have had light decorations in front of their house. Nothing glaring, except for a house where there are young children, but the sort that befit retired people who are not overly energetic. There are candles and holly wreaths or a string of lights around the front door.
Light at Christmas is highly symbolic. Light shows that we believe Jesus is the light of the world. There is no other Christian festival celebrated with light in quite the same way. Many Biblical prophecies deal in the image of light.
Isaiah wrote of a great day of God that would come, and we have adopted his message that we who walked in darkness have seen a great light, like that solo in Handel’s Messiah.
Of course, the opposite of light is darkness — as reported in the nightly news — earthquake, assassination, ambush, uncivil wars, refugees, murder, gun violence, shootings in schools, death.
Darkness is being on fixed incomes, and wondering we will outlive our retirement income. Darkness is hearing the doctor say; “Come back in a month for another test.”
Darkness is knowing that we disappoint those who love us and count on us, and feeling guilty but helpless to do what we’d like to do for them. Darkness is feeling that God was talking to somebody else when the angels said, “To you is born this day a savior.” Do you ever think, “But not to me.”
It is no mere accident that we use light as the visual imagery of Christmas. Jesus is the light who has come into the world. He is the life that is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.
The story of earth’s beginning says that God created the distinction between light and darkness. The story in Genesis does not give us a scientific approach to all the unfathomable and unspeakable wonders of creation, but rather a spiritual approach to the mystery of God.
Since it is God who gives light, wouldn’t we all like to live where there’s a light to lead us home?
God gives us just that light in Jesus who came into the world. He is the light of all people. He shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
In the darkness of that Judean night, in the middle of nowhere, to parents who were nobody, really, the child was born.
We have no idea who helped deliver him, but he must have cried at the shock of being born into the darkened chill of the world.
And then, in the vivid story told by Luke, all heaven broke loose. Angels with bright wings and heavenly voices hovered over nameless shepherds; a star was hung over the place.
Strange men later, in Matthew’s story, brought symbolic gifts that told of his own mysterious future – gold to crown him, incense to mark his holiness, and myrrh to embalm him.
After all the centuries of waiting, of being a displaced tribe, of being exiled to Babylon, and now ruled by the Romans — an eternal light broke into the life of the world as the expression of God.
That’s how John tells the Christmas story in the language of faith, unlike Luke’s and Matthew’s stories. If we had been there, nothing would have seemed remarkable. A young woman gave birth.
She completed her labor with heavy breathing and a cry of both pain and joy. He was born – nothing more, and nothing less.
Maybe if we had been there, that’s all we could have seen, a birth no more marvelous and no less marvelous than any other birth.
All these wonderful and really sentimental stories of angels and shepherds and astrologers focus on a world shaking, world-changing birth.
In this child is light and the world will never be the same. The course of history has forever changed. The birth of this child into the darkness of the world means that God’s light shines forth forevermore.
And if the holiness and awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, the birth of a peasant woman’s child, then there is no place so lowly and earthbound where that holiness cannot also be present.
Since God lighted the darkness, there is no place too remote for God to find us. There is no place where God cannot make marvelous things happen. There is no place where God’s power cannot work.
Just where he seems most helpless, he is strongest, and where we least expect him, he comes most fully. He comes into our darkness but we can always turn him down.
Or we can nail him up when we grow tired of his sacrificial giving of himself not only to us, but also to those around us in desperate need in whom he lives.
What his birth would mean is only hinted in words given by the prophets –– Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
All these high-sounding terms express just one great thing – that in this child is the gospel and the power of God to bring light into our darkness, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life, to make faith spring forth from the darkest of nights for you and for me.
John gives us the meaning of the Christmas event in what has been called the greatest verse in the New Testament. The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
In many of the events that stand out in the history of salvation, God spoke from a distance, whether to Abraham, Joshua, David, or the prophets. Even Moses had to be content with seeing the glow of God’s glory, not face to face.
And Paul, the greatest of our New Testament characters had to be content with mere visions and a dazzling light. But none of these episodes reaches the certainty of God’s presence as told in John’s imagery.
The Light shines in the darkness. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – each expression has the same meaning.
Everything about God came to earth in the child who nuzzled against his mother in total dependence.
When we seek comfort in distress, or forgiveness for sins of omission and sins of commission, or when we ask “Am I saved?” or ask whether the church is important, or whether He hears my prayers, or ask which way is the light – all these questions are laid to rest in this child.
God came into our living space in the being, the person, the flesh, blood and bone of that native Jew born in Bethlehem, the son of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth.
God acted in that holiest of nights to rescue us from wandering in a spiritual dreamland. Sometimes we hear people say, “God came to me.” Perhaps someone reports experiencing God’s voice or his presence. I never question such reports.
Instead, every worshipper tastes eternity in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and in the ordinary fellowship of those who are at peace with one another and with the Lord. Some people go through life complaining that God is hidden, remote, obscure, vague, uncertain, hard to locate and impossible to identify.
But if you ask, ‘When you need God, where do you look?” they do not refer to such simple and fragile matters as the worship life of the church clustered around word and Sacrament.
The light shines, but some people who complain they cannot find God have indeed turned their faces to the darkness. God came to us in the birth of a Galilean child and in him has done everything necessary for our salvation and for our light in the darkness of this world.
He has come and he continues to come not to the super-spiritual or especially religious people, but in the simplest way possible he comes to ordinary sinners. In Jesus, God has taken our burden, our fights, and our struggles. He was born one of us. He taught us how to love one another. He is God’s presence in the world, not a mere seasonal light for decoration, but God’s light in the world.
And nothing will ever put it out.