Good morning, Friends!
We’re beginning Advent. Most of us call it the Christmas season. But Advent really means beginning. It’s the first part of the word adventure.
Advent is a time of preparation. It’s a time, as John the Baptist said, to “Prepare the way of the Lord. . .”
We put up decorations. We buy presents and cards. We serve special food and have parties. We do all kinds of things!
It’s easy, with all the activity, to forget that Jesus is the reason for the season. We mustn’t let all these other things get in the way of Jesus.
I’m going to read in just a minute from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah. Hundreds of years before Jesus, people were waiting for God to come and deliver them. Their country had been invaded. Their land had been taken away from them. They were little better than slaves.
Their leaders had been put in chains and taken off to exile. An occupying army was stationed there. Taxes were so high, they took almost everything people had.
It was a dark time. Darker than anything we’ve ever lived through, with no relief in sight. That’s the background for today’s Scripture reading. Dark times. Troubled times. Times when it didn’t seem that God was very close to them.
Let’s hear what Isaiah has to say.
Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light.
And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows.
Our Lord, you have made your nation stronger.
Because of you, its people are glad and celebrate,
like workers at harvest time,
or like soldiers dividing up what they have taken.
You have broken the power of those who abused and enslaved your people.
You have rescued them just as you saved your people
when Gideon defeated an army at the battle of Midian.
The boots of the marching warriors and the uniforms stained with blood
have been fed into the fire to be burned.
A child has been born for us –
We have been given a son who will be our ruler.
His names will be:
and Prince of Peace.
His kingdom will never end;
His peace will last forever.
He will rule David’s kingdom and make it grow strong.
He will always rule with honesty and justice.
The Lord of the armies of angels in heaven will do this!
– Isaiah 9:2-7
This time of year, we’re always aware of darkness. Seems like sunrise comes later every morning, and it seems like night time comes earlier every evening. It’s cold. It’s dark. This time of year, sometimes it feels like the night will last forever.
And for a lot of people, the times feel dark and unhappy. There’s a lot of bad things in the news. People everywhere are struggling to make ends meet. People are looking for jobs. People are grieving. It’s a hard time in many ways.
And what today’s reading says, what Advent says, is that Christ is the bringer of light.
“The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light. It shines on everyone who lives in a land of deep shadows. . .”
Those words could have been written for us today. In fact, they were written for us. They were written for God’s people in the time of Isaiah. They were written for God’s people at the time when Jesus was born. And they’re written for us today as well.
The message today is that if you feel that the world is a dark place, remember that Christ is the light. That’s why we have all those lights – the tree lights, the candles, the window lights, the lights you see everywhere. They’re a reminder that Christ is the light, and even though it’s a dark season, and dark times, Christ is here to bring us light.
That’s what it means. That’s what it’s all about! “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!”
It’s amazing, if you go through the Bible, how many places it talks about light. The big place, of course, is the gospel of John. When it talks about Jesus, and it says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. And the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. . .” (John 1:4-5)
We need to remember that. Wherever we go, whatever happens, the light is still shining. It always has been. Darkness can never make it go away, or put it out.
The light of Christ started, says John, when God said, “Let there be Light!” at the beginning of Creation. And it’s been shining ever since.
Nothing can overcome it. Nothing can destroy it. The light is still shining, and it always will.
One of the earliest Christian hymns is found in one of Paul’s letters. Paul knew all about darkness. He knew all about suffering and loss. In one of his letters, he quoted a familiar hymn to his friends, which said, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. . .” (Ephesians 5:14)
A lot of people have faith. We do! But sometimes it’s a tired faith. It’s scared faith. It’s faith that’s been disappointed too many times. We let our faith be intimidated. We’re afraid of being open about what we believe. We let all kinds of fears and hurts get in our way.
We need to remember that Christ is all about light. The Bible calls Jesus the Morning Star – that bright star you see over in the East while it’s still dark out, before the sun comes up.
Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. . .” (John 8:12)
When you go out into the world each day, Paul says we should “put on the armor of light. . .” Actually, what he says is much stronger – that’s just the short version. In the long version, Paul says, “You know what time it is; now is the time for you to wake up! Salvation is nearer to us than when we first became believers. The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us set aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. . .” (Romans 13:11-12)
We need to do that, when we leave the house every morning. Put on the armor of light! What is that armor? Paul says it’s telling the truth. It’s doing right, wherever we can, every day. It’s respecting each other. It’s welcoming each other, not just the people we agree with, but welcoming everyone in the name of Christ.
The armor of light is faith. It’s prayer. It’s believing that Jesus can save people. It’s listening to the Spirit. It’s bringing the good news of peace wherever we go. (see Ephesians 6:13-17)
What’s my point? This is the season of light. It’s light up the world time on God’s calendar! No matter how dark things seem, God is all about light.
Over and over again, Jesus talks with us about this. He said, “You are the light of the world.” I know that Jesus first said that he is the light of the world, but he’s also laying that title on us. We are Jesus’ followers and friends. We are the light of the world, too.
“You are the light of the world. You’re like a city built on a hill, that can never be hidden. You’re like a lamp – no one takes a lamp and hides it under a basket, do they? No! If you’re a lamp, put yourself up in a place where you can shine and bring light to everyone around you. Let your light shine, so that people can see what you’re doing, and give thanks to your Father in heaven. . .” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Light is what Jesus came to bring. Light is what happens, wherever Jesus comes into our space. The early Quakers used to call Jesus the Light, like it was another name for Jesus. When the Quakers prayed for someone, they said they were lifting the person in the Light or holding them in the Light.
It’s as though when we pray, we are letting that pure Light of Christ shine into every part of the situation.
One of the most effective prayers there is, is to stop. Just stop what you’re doing. Don’t let yourself be distracted. Just stop for a few moments. And ask God to let some light into that part of your life, where you are right now. Let God show you, not just what you’ve done, but let God show you his light – his light of love, his light of mercy and healing, his light of day.
We waste so much of our lives trying to keep things in darkness. Sometimes the best thing we can do, is to let God light us up.
The first letter of John – one of my favorite parts of the Bible! – says that “God is light, and in God is no darkness at all. . . if we walk in the Light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus washes away all our sins. . .The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Whoever says ‘I am in the light,’ while they hate a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. But whoever loves a brother or a sister lives in the light, and they will not stumble. . .” (I John 1:5,7, 2:9-10)
Advent is the season of light. Christ is coming! The light shines in the darkness, and darkness has never overcome it.