A talk from 9 Lessons and Carols in 2017.
The world can be a dark place.
It’s been quite a year. I searched the internet for newspaper headlines from 2017. I got many screens full, from all over the world.
Here are some:
Suspected cop killer shot dead.
British meat in horse hormone scandal.
Carnage at pop concert.
NHS cuts 15000 beds in 6 years.
UK relations with Russia at all-time low.
Trump ready to strike Kim’s nuclear sites.
Some victims of tower blaze may never be identified.
Now, sure: I know that sensational headlines sell newspapers. And I know that there’s been much good in the news this year as well. But the world can be a very dark place.
If you’re lost on a dark night in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing more reassuring than a spot of light. That means people. That means habitation. That means hope!
The world can be a very dark place. If you’ve felt the weight of living in a dark world, you need light. You need hope.
When Jesus was born, a bright star shone down from the sky. Light, piercing the darkness.
What you may not realise is that that light is still shining. Still shining tonight. I want you to see the light shining. I want you to be drawn to the light. To find hope and life.
In fact, I want to take you to three time zones where you can see that light shining. The 8th century before Christ, when the light was promised. The birth of Jesus, when the light was turned on. And our own day, when the light is still shining.
To do that, I’d like us to look at one of the 9 readings we’ve heard. The one from Isaiah chapter 60.
8th Century BC: Promised
Let’s start in the 8th Century before Christ. That’s when Isaiah gave this prophecy.
The world is a dark place he says. Darkness covers the earth. Thick darkness is over the peoples.
Darkness is his way of speaking of God’s judgement. We’ve not treated God as we should. We’ve not treated other people as we should either. As a result, society falls apart. Rulers exploit. Violence is unpunished. Darkness. Thick darkness. Everywhere.
But then, light! “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Light, piercing the darkness. The light of God’s compassion, kindness. Elsewhere in this chapter, God says he’s the Lord, their Saviour, their Redeemer – that is, their rescuer. In place of God’s anger comes his favour, his compassion. The light shines, piercing the darkness.
The light shines on God’s chosen people. But when that happens, everyone will sit up and take notice. The nations will stream to Jerusalem because they see the beacon, glowing, shining out.
Kings will come. And they’ll bring their riches with them. Including gold and incense.
And they won’t just come to gawp. They’ll come to worship. To join God’s people as fellow citizens of the city that is ablaze with light.
Birth of Jesus: Switched On
That’s what God said he would do. Now let’s fast-forward to the birth of Jesus. This is when the lights were switched on. Literally.
God shone a light on Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The shepherds on the hillside, bathed in light as the glory of the Lord shone around them.
The magi in the east saw his star when it rose, and they came to worship him. They brought their gifts of gold and incense (yes, myrrh too). The star they had seen led them from Jerusalem until it came to rest over the very house in which Jesus was staying. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
Here is the one who will bring God’s compassion and favour, who will turn away God’s anger, who will bring us God’s kindness and his blessing. Who will bring light and hope into a dark world.
On Christmas day, God literally switched on the lights. And the nations sat up and noticed. The shepherds left their sheep and went to worship, to join the people of God. The Magi from the east came to worship, drawn to the light, following the star.
Did you go anywhere to watch the Christmas lights being switched on? It’s really dramatic if you go to Oxford Street. (A bit busy.) Sevenoaks isn’t bad. Often they get a celebrity to come and hit the switch. I got asked to turn the lights on once. Noah’s Ark! Far fewer people than Oxford Street, but great fun.
If you wanted to see the best switching on of Christmas lights, you had to be around 2000 years ago. You didn’t have to be in Bethlehem. That’s where it happened, but you could see the light from far away. And they came, bringing their riches with them. Not just to gawp, but to worship. To join God’s people as fellow citizens, as the little town of Bethlehem was bathed in light.
Our own Day: Still Shining
And from there, let’s fast-forward again to our own day.
Because the light is still shining.
Sure, the physical lights have gone out. The hillside went dark after the angels left and the shepherds walked down to the village. The star the magi saw disappeared when the planets went out of alignment. The physical light has gone out, but the light is still shining.
Jesus remains the one to bring the light and the hope that we need.
That light drew the Magi to him. And the shepherds. It was as if God shone a laser pointer on Jesus the baby, Jesus the infant: He is the one I promised I’d send, to bring you light. He’s turned off the pointer now. We don’t need it because we’ve been shown.
The true light was not the one in the sky that pointed to Jesus. The true light is the Jesus it shone on. The Jesus who grew up, was killed to be our rescuer, and who rose from the dead to bring life to everyone who will turn to him.
If you open your front door after dark you have to be careful unless you love having lots of moths inside your home. If you’ve got a glass panel on your door, they’ll already have been drawn to the light shining through. They’ll be sat on the glass, waiting for someone to open the door and let them in. They’re just drawn to the light.
Conclusion: Come into the light.
The world can be a very dark place. But the light still shines in the darkness. Jesus shines in the darkness. Not just back then, when light shone on him. But today, as he continues to shine out, piercing the darkness.
John 1 says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Will you be like the shepherds?
Like the magi?
Like a moth?
Will you be drawn to the light, to join God’s people, to worship the Lord Jesus, to live in the light for yourself?