Here we are at the start of a new church year. The church is decked out in its holiday finery and we are ready to start our journey to Bethlehem once again. This year, we will be using Timothy Keller’s book, “Hidden Christmas – the Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ” as our main resource for our Advent and Christmas season.
What are some of the first indicators that Christmas is coming – soon?
Lights are definitely one of the first indicators that Christmas is coming. They start to appear everywhere - lights on trees, candles in windows, and hanging on houses. Some twinkling and some steady – multi-colored (or hued), as well as in cool and bright whites. Everything seems as if it is wrapped in millions and millions of stars (p5), giving the world a more “magical” look.
Keller reminds us that Christmas is the only Christian holy day that is also a major secular holiday – arguably our culture’s biggest. This results in two different celebrations – each observed by millions of people at the very same time (p1).
For Christians, of course, lights are not just decorative; they are symbolic.
When you think of light, what does it mean or represent for you?
For centuries, light has represented these things. Many would place a candle in their windows to guide family members home or lost travelers to safety. Lighthouses have been used to help keep ships on course and to guide sailors into safe harbors. Firelight has always brought warmth and sustenance to those who use it.
Light in the Bible is also symbolic more than literal. In our Isaiah text when we hear of God’s light dawning on a dark world, the prophet is referring to the sun. And, of course, sunlight brings illumination to things we couldn’t previously see in the dark of night. Sunlight also symbolically represents life, truth, and beauty. The sun gives life (Keller, p10) to all things that grow and breathe. Night time is like a little death – everything goes into a time of dormancy, of rest – but sunrise is when everything awakens and is vibrantly alive once again.
We have defined “light,” but what about darkness? How do we define “darkness” in the Bible? The word “darkness” refers to both evil and ignorance (p6).
How/where do we see darkness in our world?
Keller says another understanding of “darkness” is the “way our world is in the dark and no one knows enough to cure the evil we are suffering here (p6).
So, where is our hope? Are we just stuck with the world the way it is? Is there anything we can do?
Here lies part of the problem. Vaclav Havel, 1st President of the Czech Republic, says – too often we/humanity think that WE can solve the problems of our world. “Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough,” he says. “A turning to and seeking God is needed. The human race constantly forgets that they are NOT God, and that we cannot save ourselves,” Havel says (Keller quoting, p8).
Keller tells us that the message of Christianity is that: “Things really are this dark, nevertheless, there is hope!” (p10).
So where does our hope come from?
The Christian message is all about hope. The prophet Isaiah says: “on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned (shined).” (9:2). When we look at the words closely, we can see that the light has dawned upon the world – it didn’t come from within the world. We are not the source of the light. The light is outside of this world; it comes from God. Remember, God alone has the life, truth, and ability to bring the hope that we lack and cannot generate ourselves. Isaiah tells us that the light of life has come, “for to us a child is born, a son is given” (9:6-7). The child brings the light; he is the light (Keller, p10).
We hear these words from Jesus, himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Isaiah tells us that this child is the light for all people because he is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (9:6b).
As we begin our journey with Mary and Joseph once again – a path that will take us to a dusty stable in Bethlehem where we will kneel with shepherds beside a manger in awe that God chose that couple, that place and time and us to witness his entrance into our human existence as a beautiful, vulnerable infant.
Each year at Christmas, and every day in between, we receive this amazing, awe-inspiring, unconditional gift: “for to us a child is born, a son is given” (9:6-7). The gift is ours for the taking, all we have to do is be willing to:
In doing so, we are given the gift of new life through the inbreaking of God’s light in our lives. We are able to have HOPE, no matter how “dark” things seem, we can trust that God is always with us because: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). Nothing that life tries to dish out can steal our HOPE or our LIGHT as long as we allow God to guide our days and watch over our nights.
My friends, As you enter into the Advent Season, may your feel and know the warming presence of God’s light and love in your life.
May it be so – every moment of every day and night….
Keller, Timothy. Hidden Christmas – The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. Penguin Random House/New York, NY, 2016, Chapter 1: “A Light Has Dawned,” p5-19.