It’s dark out there, isn’t it? Obviously it’s dark out there, because it’s night, but it’s also dark out there because it’s dark. It’s Christmas Eve, but will police officers need to follow up on reports of crimes that take place tonight? It’s Christmas Eve, but will online obituaries need to report on deaths that take place tonight? It’s Christmas Eve, but will your conscience and mine need to confess to God sins that that take place in our lives tonight? It’s Christmas Eve, but sadly the dark world and our dark hearts don’t take a day off from being dark.
Yes, it’s dark out there, but thankfully it’s very bright in here. And it’s bright in here because of the light that shined in the darkness of the Bethlehem night in the holy manger – the light that the prophet Isaiah spoke about in the opening verse of our lesson hundreds of years before the first Christmas when he said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
If you are walking in darkness, what is it a very good idea to do? Make sure that people see you. I myself am a walker in darkness in the early hours of the morning. I wear a reflective vest and reflective clothes and shoes so that people can see me. But no matter how much reflective clothing I wear, what has to be the case in order for me to be safe? The people approaching me in their cars need to have their lights on so my reflective clothes can reflect. If they are driving in darkness, they can’t see me as I am walking in darkness. We both need to recognize the darkness and that we need to have light to be safe.
Many people in our dark world don’t recognize – or ignore the fact — that they are walking in darkness, and they don’t see the light coming from the Bethlehem stable which is reflecting the love of God. We want people to know the forgiving love of God by us reflecting the love of God to them. As God shines the light of his love on us, it’s like we have a spiritually reflective vest which shows others exactly who it is to whom we belong and exactly who it is before whom we bow in worship tonight – the one described by Isaiah in these words as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The almighty God came in human form – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,” Isaiah said. The almighty God came to earth in human form to be our “Counselor” – the one who tells us about our sins and his forgiveness in the Bible – to be our “Everlasting Father” – the one who wants to have more and more children become part of his family by faith in what he has done for us and to live forever with him in heaven – to be our “Prince of Peace” – the one who does not want us to be afraid of the dark – to not be afraid that our sins will cause God to make us live in darkness forever – to not be afraid that when we walk into the shadow of death ourselves that we will dwell in that darkness forever. It’s dark out there, but it’s bright in here in our hearts because living in our hearts is the everlasting light who came into our dark world and called himself the Light of the World – and who promised, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
But one of the reasons we so desperately need the light of life – and one of the reasons our worship of the Christ Child tonight needs to be humble worship and not one of thinking we are better than everyone else in the world — is because there is a part of us that just doesn’t want to get out of the darkness – a part of us that can become careless in our Christian life or can sometimes want to walk away from our Christian life. God knows that, too, and in love he warns us about that. In the verses right before our Lesson for this evening, the Lord had given a very firm warning to those to whom he was now giving this wonderful comfort. He wanted them to remember why they needed the light. Right before these words he had said, “If they do not speak according to (my) word, they have no light of dawn… They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into eternal darkness.”
A number of years ago I was walking in the dark early morning during a heavy snow. I was wearing my reflective clothing and the snow plow in the distance could be clearly seen because of its bright lights that shined brighter and brighter as that big machine got closer and closer. What could not be seen as it got closer to me, however, was the last few feet of the huge blade that hung out to the side of the plow, because that remained in the dark. Thankfully at the last moment I avoided an encounter I certainly would have lost.
At every moment of life we need to be careful and vigilant so we see those things hanging out in the darkness even as we seek to walk in the light of Jesus – those sharp blades of our sharp tongues, those temptations we maybe don’t try so hard to jump out of the way of, those ongoing sins that we hope stay in the dark so that no one will see them. Christmas peace and Christmas joy come from saying to the Christ Child, “I am sorry, dear Jesus. I am so sorry for what I have done, dear Jesus. But I am so thankful for what you came to do – and for what you did do – by winning a victory for me that I could never win. You are my Savior, and I will follow you all the days of my life. I want to live as a child of the light. I want to follow you, Jesus.”
That victory which the Christ Child came to win and did accomplish for us by over thirty years later dying on the cross and rising from the dead is what leads us to sing gentle songs of gratitude this evening and festive songs of grandeur tomorrow morning. That kind of response to Jesus doing all the work of bringing in the harvest of our hearts and Jesus doing all the work of winning the battle for our souls is something Isaiah also pictures in these words in verse 3 when he says, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” We did not do any of the work to bring in the harvest by dying on the cross; we did not do any of the work to win the war against Satan by rising from the grave. But we get the honor of enjoying the harvest and dividing all the plunder taken in battle. We get the honor of being brothers and sisters of the Son of God asleep in the hay; we get the honor of living each day as people who know that God will never turn off the light on the people who know they need the light – on all of us who know and rejoice that because of Jesus the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; that on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
It’s for good reason that we normally talk about how a light can be seen more clearly in the dark, but would you agree that another thing that is more clear in the dark of the night is what we can hear? For example, if you shovel or blow snow when it’s still dark, one of the clear sounds throughout the neighborhood is the sound of shovels scraping on driveways and the engines of snowblowers powering those machines. Even though it’s dark out there tonight, can you hear the praise? Can you hear the songs? Can you hear God’s people singing “Glory to the Newborn King?” Let’s help people who still may be in the dark hear us, as we sing and give praise with our songs and with our lives, all because God has seen fit in his love to shine the light of his love on us by shining the light on what took place in Bethlehem, the little town of which we can say “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” Let’s help people know that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Let’s help people know that, even though it’s dark out there, there is a place where it is not dark at all. By faith in the Christ Child, that is where you are at right now. Amen.