“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.” Isaiah 9:2-4,6-7
What does Christmas mean to you? Certainly for Christians, Jesus is the reason for the season, right? The Word made flesh, as St. John would put it. Any child can tell you it’s Jesus’ birthday!
For many people, the reasons tend to be more worldly; giving and receiving gifts, going to parties, seeing children in Santa’s lap, and don’t get me wrong, those are all good reasons, as long as the you’re keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing.
The prophet Isaiah wrote the interesting verse I gave you at the first, about darkness and light. We know from the Gospels that Jesus is the Light of the world. St. John also wrote, “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” The star that shone is the East was a great light to the shepherds and the wise men.
Today, darkness does not bother us all that much. We just flip a switch and it is banished! But not all that long ago, the darkness was something to be feared.
The British historian Roger Ekirch, wrote a book entitled, “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.” In it he noted that people in early modern England had a great anxiety about the dangers of the nighttime world.
With only limited artificial lighting, like gas lamps, the darkness brought on confusion; one could not tell friend from foe, one might perceive danger lurking in the shadows, inanimate objects could look alive.
The moon was thought to bring on both madness and disease. We still call certain people “lunatics.”
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The darkness of the night brought on fear and uncertainty.
The only thing that brought relief was the rising of the sun in the East. Many of the prayers in our Prayer Book reflect this notion.
One of our prayers for the morning begins, “Almighty God, who has brought us in safety to this new day…” To those who fear the dark, the only remedy is the light.
Christmas is the celebration of the Light coming into the world. Jesus is the Light that banishes the darkness forever. St. John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Today, we don’t fear the night as we once did, but there is a fear that still plagues many in the world, that is a darkness in the heart.
So many people try to banish the darkness in ways that just don’t work. It may be drugs or alcohol, or gambling, or any other way that may make them forget their fears for a little while. These of course just lead to more darkness.
The only way to true peace and joy is the way of Jesus Christ, and I want everyone to know that. The Incarnation, or the Word made flesh, which we celebrate at Christmas, is the greatest event for us, because it is when Almighty God left his throne to live among us, to know first hand what it is to be human. We know Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, because he is the God who came down to us to show us the way to the Father.
Our Heavenly Father called out to all humans through the prophets, like Isaiah, for thousands of years, and while some heard the call, many more did not. He knew that the only way to be heard all over the world was to send his Son, Jesus, to show us the way.
And what will we do with this Light? Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus gave his light to his disciples, and he offers it to us. It is a light that not only banishes the darkness in our hearts, but can be used to lead others to Christ. You and I have been given a great responsibility, as the Light bearers of the Lord. When we live our lives in Christ-like ways, we are letting his light shine through us. Other people watch us Christians closely to see how we behave. We are quickly branded hypocrites, or worse, when the light does not shine.
Christmas presents us with an opportunity to renew our promise to let that light shine before others. It gives us the opportunity to make amends where we need, to forgive those who have trespassed against us, to let go of habits that just darken the heart.
And it reminds us to be grateful for the great gift of salvation and the forgiveness of our sins by the Savior’s blood, shed on the cross for us. We no longer need fear the darkness and the shadow of death because the Light of Jesus has come into the world to shine in our hearts forever, and to lead us to our Father in heaven. Amen.