Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2011

Wordle: Untitled

“Light a Candle (The True Light)” (John 1:9)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Light a candle. What do you notice? A bright yellow glow. A flame that flickers. A warmth that emanates. A pleasant aroma if it happens to be one of those scented candles. A fire that burns if you get too close.

Light a candle. There is something unique about candlelight. Enter a room lit only by candles, and there will be a different feeling in that room. The glowing, dancing light has a certain enchanting quality. It’s as if the light is alive.

Light a candle. One small flame has power. If you light a candle in a pitch black room, that one small flame shines brightly. You can begin to make out the shapes in the room. No more bumping into walls and pieces of furniture.

This is a dark time of year in these parts. The hours of daylight are short. Two days ago it was the Winter Solstice … the shortest day of the year. The days are now getting longer. But it will be a while before we begin to notice it.

These dark, gray days cause many people to become blue. Sad. Depressed. Psychologists call it “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” A few years ago, as a Californian transplanted to Washington via Indiana, I came to realize that I could probably stand to use a bit more sunlight this time of year. I wouldn’t call it depression. That would be insulting to people who deal with true clinical depression. But I certainly found myself becoming sluggish and just generally down in the dumps. A friend suggested I light some candles. The natural, warm glow of candlelight has a certain quality to it that can help alter your mood. I also wonder if this is one reason why people decorate their homes with festive lights this time of year … seeing houses all lit up for the holidays helps to “lighten the mood.”

The darkness around us, however, is much more than physical. Physical darkness in reality is not threatening. There is nothing there in the dark that wasn’t there in the light. At least that’s what we tell our children when they are afraid of the dark. But spiritual darkness, on the other hand, is the real enemy. The darkness of sin, evil, disobedience to God, rebellious hearts … this is the real problem we face. Disease, discouragement, dissension, dysfunction, death … these are only symptoms of the darkness of sin. This darkness is all around us. This darkness is inside each of us. And this darkness is present even on the brightest, warmest summer days.

Into this dark world, a candle was lit. An infant child was born in a stable and laid in a manger. The Son of God became flesh. This one small flame entered into this world to enlighten us, to shine the truth to us of God’s love for sinful mankind. The sinless Son of Mary came to do battle with the darkness and to overcome it for us. In his earthly ministry, he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He forgave sins. He brought comfort to those afflicted in mind and heart. He cast demons out of those oppressed by Satan and his evil allies. He raised the dead. In all this, he showed that he has the power over the darkness of sin and evil.

But it didn’t stop there. Jesus himself faced the darkness of death for us. At the cross, the debt we owe to God for our sin was laid upon him. The sinless Savior paid the price for our sins with his own life. The sun refused to shine that day. There was darkness in the middle of the day as Jesus hung there, breathing his last breaths and crying out, “It is finished!” It appeared as if the light of Jesus, the Light of the World, had been snuffed out. But on Easter morning, the light of Christ shone forth brightly as he rose from the dead, conquering death once and for all. Now you who are enlightened through the waters of Baptism and who trust in the light of Christ are forgiven of all your sins. Everlasting life is yours. Like Jesus, you too will rise to life again on the Last Day and live in the light of God’s love forever.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world,” St. John writes in the first chapter of his Gospel (John 1:9). He goes on: “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” (John 1:10-11). The Baby lying in the manger was the same One who created the universe. The Baby lying in the manger grew up to be the Savior who was rejected by his own people. People still reject him today. They seek other kinds of “light” for their problems. But these types of light are really no light at all. They only mask the symptoms of sin or dull the senses so that our real guilt before a holy God is either momentarily alleviated or denied altogether. These are artificial sources of light that really only leave us in the darkness.

Only Jesus, the true light, enlightens our darkness. Only he brings real forgiveness for our sin and guilt. The light of Jesus doesn’t just mask our symptoms or dull our senses. He truly dealt with our sin problem once and for all by his incarnation, by his sinless sacrifice, and by his resurrection. “Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang at his birth, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) In Christ Jesus, God’s favor rests upon you. In Christ Jesus, God is pleased with you. In Christ Jesus, God is at peace with you and you are at peace with God. Now, even though our earthly lives are still affected by the symptoms of sin, we can still have Christmas peace, Christmas comfort, Christmas joy because Jesus overcame the darkness of sin and death for us at the cross and the empty tomb. In eternity we will experience the total victory that Jesus won for us. No more sorrow. No more sin. No more death. Only joy and light and life in the presence of God forever.

God the Holy Spirit ignites the flame of faith in our hearts when we hear the Good News about Jesus the Savior. That fire within us is stoked when we hear God’s Word, when we remember our Baptism, when we hear that our sins are forgiven in Holy Absolution, when we receive Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. Still, the darkness of our old sinful nature causes the flame of faith to flicker and wane. The darkness that remains in the world tries to blow out the flame of faith and causes us to doubt, despair, and disbelieve. Is your wick smoldering tonight? Is the darkness within you and around you threatening to snuff out any remnants of faith and hope in your heart? Be assured that God’s will is to fan the flame of faith within you. The prophet Isaiah said, “A faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is. 42:3).

God the Father lit a candle for you when his Son was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born in the stable of Bethlehem. That one small light was powerful enough to overcome the darkness of sin and death for the whole world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Come and be warmed by the glow of God’s love for you. Trust in the resurrection power of Christ’s life. Come and be filled with the light of hope, peace, and joy found only in Christ Jesus.


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