When was the last time you found yourself in darkness? And maybe let me clarify, when was the last time you, or you and your family, experienced a power outage sometime at night that left you fumbling for a flashlight or candles so that you could see in the night? The last time I remember a power outage, the last time I found myself suddenly awash in darkness, was some 10 years ago right around this time. My family and I had just arrived at my mom’s cousin’s house in Colorado and we were planning to do some skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Knowing that the next two days were going to be long and exciting, I figured I would head to bed at a decent time, but not after first deciding to wash off the six-hour car ride that I had just endured. So, there I was, in a strange house, in the basement bathroom showering, when suddenly everything went dark.
Now, just to be clear it wasn’t just dark it was a hand-in-front-of-your-face-I-can’t-see-you-dark. In that darkness, I, for whatever reason, shut off the water and instantly noticed, on top of the darkness, the quiet. As if my ears, recognizing the uncertainty in the darkness, were now seeking any sound that might me danger. Then, of course my mind, decided to play out the worst of my fears and I began imagining the possibility of the lights flickering on and me seeing someone or something on the other side of the glass shower door. And so there I stood in silence surrounded by darkness.
Now maybe your experience in a power outage isn’t quite as dramatic or maybe it’s more so, but I think all of you share with me to some extent a general dislike for darkness and the uncertainty and fear that is often connected with it. We really prefer light. Want proof? What will turn on either manually or automatically as soon as you start driving in your car on your way home this evening? Your lights. What’s one of the first things you’re going to do when you get home? I bet you are going to flip on a light switch – just think of all the lights that are inside your home and at this time of year maybe even draped on bushes and trees outside your home! For a variety of reasons, we turn on and use lights when we find ourselves in darkness which, perhaps without some of you even knowing it, is why you are all here tonight.
We are here tonight because we all live in a world that is smothered in darkness. And this isn’t the darkness you can kind of make your way through, this is that pitch-black-no-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness. At least that’s how Isaiah describes our world and our lives in the lesson before us. He says we are living in a “deep darkness.” During his time Isaiah looked out and he saw the clouds of darkness that hovered over everything. He saw the future fall of his people, the people of Judah, how they would be threatened and invaded by a brutal enemy who would torture and take away the people. He witnessed neighbor fighting against neighbor. He shook his head in shame as he wrote of the rampant substance abuse of his time, the widespread sexual immorality, and a country full of poor who received very little compassion. That darkness Isaiah describe in his world at that time isn’t any different from what we see today.
Do we not see the darkness in this world? The violence? Shootings in our schools, threats of terror, bombings, wars? Do we not see the collapse of the family and the embrace of an “anything goes” sexuality? Are we not witnesses of a world where neighbor has turned on neighbor for a variety of reasons, including that they belong to the “wrong” political party. How many of know of someone who wrestles with a personal darkness? Drugs, porn, alcohol, depression? There is darkness out there! But before we get too caught up in the darkness out there in the world, let’s remember the darkness that is in here, in us.
Isaiah reminds us of it in the first verse of our lesson: “The people walking in darkness.” We are “the people” that Isaiah speaks of and we are the ones walking in that darkness. That darkness is our own sin, our own failure to live up to God’s standard. This isn’t something we were thrust into kicking and screaming, we stroll around it casually, it’s not so bad. At times we may even embrace it. We embrace the idea of getting even with someone who has wronged us. We willingly gossip and spread the rumors we’ve heard. We let our eyes feast on the images that lead us into sexual sins of thought and deed. We desire what isn’t ours and maybe even take it if we can.
Yet, some of us here tonight might argue that Isaiah is being a little harsh, a little to judgmental. But Isaiah provides proof behind his God given statement he points to a different darkness, a shadow – a gloom – over everything, over you and me and all whom we love. And to help us visualize this shadow, I’d like you to think of the last family dinner you had. A dinner where all your immediate, maybe even extended, family were present. Can you picture those who were there: your mom, your child, grandpa, whomever? Now say you’re planning another family meal this Christmas, how many of those seats that would have been taken by a family member will now be empty? Because that member of your family now lies in the ground, swallowed by the shadow of death. When will that empty place be yours? That is the ultimate reality Isaiah points us to, that is the greatest darkness that awaits us all, this is the result of our sin, a result none of us can avoid, death.
It’s death that shows us our ultimate failure to keep the entirety of God’s law. Death is proof that we are not perfect that salvation is not something we can obtain on our own. And yet how often don’t we find ourselves walking in the darkness of sin looking on our own to find some way out even as that shadow hangs over us, a constant reminder that all our efforts are and will end in death. What we need to realize then is that our best efforts in the dark to save ourselves is a misunderstanding of that darkness. That darkness points us to a need for light. We need a light.
If you go back with me quickly to my story of me standing there in silence engulfed in darkness, in my mind I was hoping, waiting, for someone in my family to walk in with a flashlight or a candle, anything that produced light. Eventually that is what happened. As I stood their useless and terrified, my brother walked in with light. Tonight, as we see our wretched state in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death, Isaiah walks in to give us good news: “a light has dawned.”
This light isn’t something we produced it just appeared. It “dawned.” We didn’t ask for it. we didn’t hope for it and yet there it was, there it is, “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” There is our light. It’s a person. A boy, “he has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!” See him now, so small, so simple, a baby. Hear his soft cries, the very voice of God. Watch him nestle into his mother’s arms so innocent as she stares at this child whose future she pondered. Look at the shepherds who came to see him, though he seemed so ordinary, and know, understand this is him, our Light, your Light in the darkness.
He is as Isaiah says your “Wonderful Counselor,” who came to give you advice, free of sin, advice that pointed to him and him alone as your Savior. He is your “Mighty God,” though just a baby he was God in the flesh able to live a perfect life that you could not. He is your “Everlasting Father” the author and source of life here to save you, his child from sin and death. Finally, he is your “Prince of Peace,” this light, Jesus came to bring peace between you and a holy God who hated the darkness of sin and we who for so long walked in it.
This is the gift that God gave to each of us tonight, he gave us himself. He looked at us and saw how broken, how fallen, and how lost we were in the darkness of sin. He saw the shadow of death that hung over us all…and he loved us. He loved you. He came into our world with a bright beaming light and placed it in a manger. That light, Jesus, then lived among us, he was what you and I could not be, he was perfect, he never sinned. He did what you and I could never do, he offered his life as a sacrifice for all sin, everyone’s. He did this to save you and me from darkness, from death, and from hell. This is the light we needed. This is the Savior we still need. And today, that light, our Savior is still with us, not in the flesh, but in his Word. He shines upon us lighting the way, being our guide in the darkness leading us home to be with him always, forever, in heaven.
So, when you go home this evening, and you sit in your car, and the lights turn on, remember the light who illuminated and led you on the path to righteousness. When you enter your home and you flip on that switch to bring light into your dark home, remember the light who gave you eternal light in a perfect home in heaven. As you spend a few moments sitting there at the end of the evening in the glow of your Christmas tree and you stare off into the many lights that adorn it, remember that light, who adorned this dark world with his presence to give you the greatest present, his life, so he might call you his own. And as you lie there in the dark, eyes shut in your bed, remember that light, whose eyes first opened this night, hear his first breaths and rejoice, he is born, he was here, and he will come back, your light in the darkness. Your Savior from sin. Rejoice! A light has dawned, to us a child is born, to us a son is given; he is Christ the Lord. Amen.