Christmas Day, December 25th, 2016
Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I think it’s hard for us modern people to understand the miracle of light in the darkness. Sure, we get that darkness is bad—you’re a lot more likely to hurt yourself when the lights are out, either by tripping over something or walking into something you didn’t see. And when it’s dark, the animal part of your brain gets a lot jumpier. Or, at least mine does. When I get up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water by the light of the nightlights, there is always that bit of my brain that is sure there is something lying in wait to get me in the shadows. I know perfectly well that there isn’t anything there, under the bed or around the corner, but there’s always a little corner of my mind that just won’t listen to reason. I know the darkness is bad.
But at the same time, I have light any time I want it. I can flip on a switch, or turn on my phone, or grab a flashlight. There are streetlights outside so that I can talk through town even after dark with enough light to see. And if the power went out for a long time, I’ve got a lot of candles I could dig out. The only time I ever have to deal with darkness—truly deal with it—is when I want to. When I choose not to turn the lights on. But that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ day.
In Jesus’ day, they didn’t have electric lights. They did have oil lamps … but those were expensive, and a lot dimmer than any modern electric light. The oil to provide good light for fifteen minutes of work could cost as much as a day’s wages for a poor laborer. So poor people generally didn’t use lamps at all. When the sun went down, the only light available was that of the cookfire. And, since the Middle East is arid and trees are scarce, even wood was expensive. You didn’t burn it unless you had to; you might only light the fire when you actually had a meal to cook. If you were a poor person, you went to bed with the sun. And while middle-class people could afford lamp oil, it was still an expensive and precious commodity. There were no streetlights, no lamps on peoples’ front porches. When night came, the light went away. You went home, probably to bed, and stayed there until dawn. The darkness could be pushed back a little by a lamp or a cookfire, but only dimly, only temporarily.
So when our Gospel reading calls Jesus the light of the world, that means something far more significant than we really get. The light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness can’t overcome. This is not just a dim and feeble lamp that you save for when you absolutely need it. This is a light that shines, always. That gives light to everyone, not just those huddled around it. This is a light that shines deep into the gloomiest corners of the world, the murkiest corners of our hearts. There is no shadow that can hide from it, no evil that can escape it, no hate or fear or selfishness that can prevent that light from shining. That light sustains our life, sustains our souls.
That light came into this world in the form of a baby, born in a manger, the Word of God made flesh and blood and bone. That light is Jesus Christ, and his light still shines in this world. It does not matter how dark the world gets. It does not matter how much sin and evil try to hide, it does not matter what shadows they try to cast over all the world. The light of Jesus Christ will always be there, guiding us to God and showing us the truth. The light of Christ will always be there to soften the hard-hearted and heal the broken-hearted and judge the cruel-hearted. The light of Christ will always be there to expose our self-deceptions, to quiet our fears, to help us see the world as it really is. That light helps us to see the truths deeper than any illusion.
Much as we fear the dark, we sometimes turn to it. Because, you see, the dark is easier. It’s easier to let our fears control us than it is to be brave. When dealing with people who are different, it’s easier to hate than it is to love. It’s easier to cling to comforting illusions and self-deceptions than it is to face the truth. It’s easier to puff ourselves up with self-righteousness than it is to follow God’s true path of righteousness. It’s easier to assume we’re always right and good than it is to face the times when we fail, when we make mistakes, when we are wrong.
But the light of Christ shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light of Christ helps us see God as he truly is, and turns our hearts and minds to God, so that we may become his children ever more truly. The light of Christ helps us see ourselves and others more clearly. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, our light and our life.