The Light for the Darkness
St. John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)
Have you noticed how darkness plays an important part in the Christmas story? The darkened stable is set back a distance from the bustling Bethlehem inn. The Virgin Mary gives birth to her firstborn Son at night. Shepherds watch over their sheep on the dark fields. Out of a blackened sky appear angel choirs. A bright star shines from the midnight skies to grab the attention of the Wise Men.
The scene is all dark, dark, dark. The birth of Jesus is a night story—a night festival. This symbol of darkness pervades the Christmas story. And for good reason Today we often go overboard with lights burning everywhere, on Christmas trees, lawns and shrubs, shop windows, street lampposts, on rooftops and housefronts.
We know by experience that the light shines more brightly in the dark. We need the dark to set the light in relief, to intensify it.
Just think about the last time you watched a stage play. The theater is dark and hushed. Then a single circle of light pierces the darkness. It rivets your eyes and demands your total attention. The celebration of the nativity of Christ compels our attention on him. His light on our darkness concentrates the mind and heart
HIS LIGHT BRINGS GOD WITH US, EMMANUEL
The light that shone in Bethlehem that night gleamed ever so brightly,
shining brighter than any light had ever shone before. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14). God sent his all, his very best—he sent Christ.
The Gospel presents Christ’s credentials. He was the Word, who not only was with God, but even more, he was God. And what’s more striking, Jesus had been with God from the beginning, from all eternity.
Thus our attention is focused on Bethlehem and that tiny infant who illumined the whole world with a love that never pales. We see the virgin tenderly tending her child, and Joseph keeping a watchful eye in that cramped stable. The shepherds arrive with the excitement of children to marvel at what the angels had said, and to tell their wondrous story of hearing the heavenly hosts praising God and revealing the birth of the Messiah. Through Bethlehem’s dark fields they stumbled toward the one glowing Light, that Baby called Jesus, whom Isaiah named Emmanuel, “God with us.”
There in that manger, the battle between light and dark was joined, the war between life and death encountered. Isaiah foretold centuries before,
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Is 9:2). The prophet concludes: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v 6).
But Jesus himself put it more simply,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). He said at another time, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. … trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light” (Jn. 12: 35—36).
Thus that tiny glitter in the crib in the inn’s stable became more than a glowing ember It became a consuming fire, filled with warmth and brightness and light, igniting the whole world, banishing the darkness and giving sparkle to life.
Seven hundred years before Joseph led Mary along the rocky path to Bethlehem, Israel was told that a virgin would give birth to a unique Child that would save humanity from its sins. Isaiah spoke of a bridge that would span from God’s heaven into our sinful world. This virgin-born child was no myth, but a light to shrink the darkness, a light to dispel the night of fear!
An agile man trudged through the crisp Saxon snow one Christmas Eve more than 450 years ago thinking this very thought, when he caught a sparkle out of the corner of his eye that captured his imagination. He stopped in his tracks and trained his eyes upon a small tree covered with glittering snow that seemed like diamond dust in the bright light of the moon. With his axe, he chopped down the small fir and carried it to his home in the Black Cloister of Wittenberg.
His children were startled to see their father drag a tree into the house. Katie, his good wife, was amazed to see him set it up in the parlor. The man rummaged in a cabinet for a small box of candles and placed them carefully on the branches, melting wax to hold them in place. Before long the room took on an unusual glow and the first Christmas tree was inaugurated.
“Look,” said Martin to his children, “those little lights remind us of the great Light Jesus is, and the greenery of the branches that are always green, winter and summer, tells us of the life he gives us that never ends.”
Ever since, more and more trees have been brought indoors from the forests at Christmas time. They are made to shimmer with candles and electric lights, in an effort to recall the light Christ brings to our world, dispelling the darkness of sin and doubt, heartache and sorrow.
Yet, according to our text, the world did not recognize him. “He came to … his own, but his own did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). Even in Jesus’ day, people did not see the light. They turned away from his light and hid in their darkness.
But there’s an upside. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn1:12). God’s pursuing us goes on today. The baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, continues to be born once again this year and every year. The light of Christ continues to shine in our darkness, whatever that darkness may be.
You have your own darkness. We all do— fear, guilt, obsessiveness, loneliness, and helplessness. This is your Savior, God in the flesh being born into your darkness this day. This light brings not only our Emmanuel, God with us, but also
HIS LIGHT BRINGS LIFE AND HOPE
In a pastor’s study hung a small photograph that depicts a scene from a nativity play. It shows young men in long white robes with candies in their hands. These men approach other men by the altar. One covers his eyes. Another kneels. Another lies prostrate. And another gazes in terror at the approaching robed figures.
One senses that these men were not just playing a part; they’re deeply “into it” and have become the angels and shepherds in the old, old story.What’s startling about the photo is that these players don’t belong to a church or Sunday school or community group. They are convicts serving time in prison.
Every year these same men play the same roles. One convict had killed his friend in a fight over a wristwatch. He kneels before the crib and recites a Christian hymn:
“I lay in death’s deep dreary night;
Thou wert my Sun, my treasure;
the Sun that brought me radiant light,
life, joys and purest pleasure.
O precious Sun, Thou didst impart
the light of faith with in my heart.
What wondrous beams Thou sendest!”
It’s a hymn we don’t sing anymore, “I Stand beside Thy Manger Bed.” Paul Gerhardt wrote it. He’s the best known Lutheran hymnist of the Reformation era.
Pastor Thielicke, who tells of this photo, believes that the photo reveals the Christmas miracle: murderers and thugs, dressed as angels, walk out of their dark past to the manger, where the light of Christmas shines on their bungled lives. As Christ’s light falls on them, he transforms them and makes them glisten like new men and angels.
Of course, for the rest of the year, these convicts will stay in their cells, under lock and key. But at this Christmas moment, they stand free and open in God’s healing light. Throughout the rest of the year, Christ’s light will comfort and sustain them with hope. His light will never go away.
In a way, we are like those men behind bars. Even though we “live on the outside,’ we know about the cells of darkness that imprison us. But Christ’s light brings in a ray of hope.
HIS LIGHT BRINGS HIS ABIDING PRESENCE
That’s the wonder of Christ’s light. He comes to us in our deepest and most secret places. He touches our heart. His light penetrates deep, deep down.
We cannot sink so low that Christ’s light will not reach us there. His light always goes deeper and lower than we have ever descended. Our Lord started this lowly descent when he left the heavens to come down to us as a newborn child. And he kept sinking lower and lower until he plunged into the deepest of depths —death on the cross. That’s when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The wooden crib of Bethlehem forever stands in the shadow of the wooden cross of Calvary.
It is impossible for me to know the deep fears and earnest pains that afflict your soul, but God knows. You may be troubled by an insidious disease, or have suffered loss, or endured an unpleasant encounter. Of course we want the darkness to go away. We pray for the morning light. You know what it’s like to toss and turn in the wee hours of the night. Will the morning ever come? We know we’ll feel better then.
We live our 24 hours a day in this alternating rhythm of light and dark. That’s the natural way. But the light of Christ waits for no such pattern. His light shines continuously, not intermittently. You don’t have to wait for the morning. Christ is always there in your darkness to nourish, sustain, and walk with you. He’s always here to hold your hand. Once your hand is in his hand, it doesn’t matter how dark is the night. His light will envelop us and keep you safe.
He who is Light and Life comes with the brilliance of his love and the miracle of his forgiveness. Shimmering in the redness of wine, he comes. In the whiteness of a wafer of bread, he offers you himself to dispel your darkness and give greater brilliance to your faith. He comes that you may have life, and have it abundantly (Jam. 10:10). He comes in Word and Sacrament, to make of your heart a Bethlehem stable.
Jesus came as light and burned brightly, giving life to those who followed him; yet death stalked him as it does us all. But the shadow of Good Friday did not conceal the brightness long. With the rising of the sun on Easter, the Son of God also arose. His luminous message took on an ura never seen before, and still it glitters, for wherever He is proclaimed He still scatters the darkness and deepens our joy.
May the Light of Jesus bring life to you this Christmas. May His sparkle gleam within your soul, and may the devilish darkness that threatens us be banished by the true Light that never fades.