The Light for our Darkness
Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
24 December 2018
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The God we worship and believe in as Christians is not an absent or distant God. He is not a God who sits aloof in eternity content to exist in himself alone. He is the God who created the heavens and the earth. And, God did not create the heavens and the earth because he was bored. No, God created all that is because it is in his nature to create. So, when we say “God” we imply creator, too. Like a writer who must write, or an artist who must paint, or a musician who must compose, it is the fundamental nature of God as a creator, to create.
Writers write, and painters paint, and musicians compose because that is how they express themselves outside themselves. In their creations they give part of themselves over to their work, and the objects to which they give birth are products of their energy, commitment, creativity, and love. And, if you look at their writing, or art, or music closely enough, you will see something of the creator in that work. The creator and his work, however, are not the same. The created object has its own independent existence and integrity apart from the creator.
You and I, as God’s creations, are the products of God’s energy, commitment, creativity and love. God created us in his image and likeness. As God’s image bearers, we are different from every other being God has created. In a way, we might say that we are God’s self-portraits in the world. And, as God’s self-portraits, we are given the task of reflecting God’s energy, commitment, creativity, and love into the world. When people see us and interact with us, God wants them to see his light and love reflected back to them, through the lens our own uniqueness and integrity.
But, because of our sinfulness and our idolatry, and because we find it difficult to resist Satan’s message that we should satisfy our own desires and think more highly of ourselves than of God, we fail to fully reflect the light and love of God into the world. The more we sin the more we project darkness into the world. The more we sin, the darker our souls become. The darker our souls become, the harder it is to see our way out of the prison of sin we have created for ourselves.
But, the prison of sin we find ourselves in is not locked. The problem is that it is so dark that we cannot find the door to escape from it. And, Satan finds his power in that black darkness. The darker our soul is the stronger he is. It is perhaps no coincidence that the color black is distinctive because it is unable to reflect any light.
But God, whose nature it is to create and to love, does not leave us to die alone and afraid in the dark of our self-constructed prisons. Accepting that we are too weak willed and ignorant to fully carry out our task as his image bearers in the world, and loving us and his creation too much to let us be destroyed by darkness, God himself, returns to his creation to show us the way out.
As the Creator, God does not destroy what he created and start over again. Rather, God makes an extraordinary journey, crossing the boundary between eternity and time, from light into darkness, from immortality to mortality to save it. To save us. To save all people, of every race and nation, rescuing us all from Satan’s power of darkness. He rescues us himself, in person, by becoming human. The Creator becomes the creature. God becomes incarnate, divinity enfleshed, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who is not only an image bearer of God in his humanity, but is also the being of God himself in his divinity. God from God and Light from Light, True God from True God, we say. Only God incarnate can be the long awaited Savior, Messiah, and Lord, the desire of every nation that was prophesied by Jeremiah.
A friend of mine returned home from a long deployment in Afghanistan. He had a wife and three young children. His parents, brothers and sisters all lived around the San Antonio area. Since family was important to him and it had been a long time since they’d seen each other, he decided to take his wife and children on a road trip to go visit his family in San Antonio. They split the 830 mile, 12 hour road trip up into two days.
When they arrived, on time and as scheduled, no one was there to greet them. His parents were out at the golf course. His brothers and sisters were working. So my friend and his family spent time at the hotel pool, waiting for his parents to get home. Later in the day a text from his parents came in, “Can you all have dinner on your own tonight? We didn’t get around to going shopping and don’t have enough food in the house for everyone. We’re also pretty tired and want to go to bed early.” “Sure. OK. I understand,” my friend texted back. But he didn’t understand at all.
He texted his brother and sister. “Hey, you guys want to meet up for dinner tonight? Mom and Dad aren’t up for it.” “No, sorry,” they said. “We have to work tomorrow, and have to help the kids with their homework. We’ll see you Friday night.” The rest of the trip was equally disappointing my friend recounts. No one wanted to do much except watch TV. He reports everyone being distracted by texts and videos on their cell phones. There was very little substantive conversation.
When my friend told me this story, there was a sense of bitterness, hurt and sadness in his voice. He had gone to all this effort to bring his family to San Antonio and his parents and brothers and sisters didn’t even seem to care. “I just got back from Afghanistan,” he lamented to me. “And the day I, their son, daughter in law and grandchildren arrive, after not having seen us for more than a year, they go play golf?” He said, incredulously, angrily. And, my brother and sister couldn’t take one day off from work? Really?” He felt rejected, and unappreciated. He felt taken for granted. His wife had quietly said nothing and tried to make the best of it. The kids wondered why they had driven all this way to spend so much time in a hotel. After he told me this story, my friend said, “Next time, they are just getting a phone call.” Maybe.
We are not unlike my friends’ pre-occupied family in San Antonio when it comes to realizing how much we hurt and offend God by not recognizing the extraordinary lengths to which he has gone to be with us. We don’t understand the pain we cause God when we are not prepared for him when he shows up in our lives. We don’t understand his disappointment and frustration with us when we choose ourselves instead of him. But unlike my friend, God won’t be content for a long distance phone call as grudging familial duty. He is not a God who is distant and aloof or who turns away from us when we reject him.
No, God comes for a visit and he is going to stay. He is going to move in with us. As our creator, he has created a permanent room for himself in our hearts. It is that room in our hearts which is the signature he puts on his self-portraits. By coming to dwell with us in his Son, he has placed a perpetual light in that room in our hearts. We can shut him off in that room, live in the same house with him and not talk to him, but he is always there. Whenever we go near that room, we will see the light shining beneath it. When we see this light we will find the door to escape from the prison of our sin.
And when we open wide the door of our hearts to welcome in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who has made that extraordinary journey from eternity into time, we will find that His brilliance will blind Satan into powerlessness. The darkness of loneliness will be turned into friendship, the darkness of addiction into recovery, the darkness of divorce into healing, the darkness of anger into peace, the darkness of pride into humility, the darkness of doubt into faith, despair into hope, and hatred into love. Death into life.
Choose this night to find the light and be delivered forever from darkness.