Christmas Day – 2018 LSB #’s 366, 361, 363, 364
Text – Isaiah 9:2
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
A Great Light
The soldier lay in the hole he had crawled into at sunset. The cold night settled over him. An eerie silence shrouded the battlefield. The place of fire & fury had become an icy tomb.
He needed to move, to get back to his lines, to rejoin the others. But which way? He had no idea. Turned & turned again, during the fighting, running & often falling – now in the darkness, he was completely lost – as lost as he’d ever been – as lost as anyone can be. Going the wrong way could cost him his life. Not going at all could mean freezing, capture or worse.
He tried to pray. The words didn’t seem to come. He had not prayed much in the years since he left home. Somehow God had slipped away...
“Pray. Prayer. What prayer?” The word brought a clear picture of his mother to mind. Every evening she would gather the family by “the altar” – as she called it. And there at an old table with a piece of white cloth on it, she would light a candle & they would pray.
He always thought it such a bother, so silly, all of them praying on their knees in front of a broken-down table, & an old, bent candle. “I don’t need this!” he would grumble – more & more as he got older. “Just come & pray,” she would say. “For what?” “Someday,” she would answer, “it will light your way.”
Now, the darkness pressed upon him. “God, remember me,” he muttered. “God help me.” Stumbling prayers; not what they should be, but what else could he say? He waited for an answer. There was nothing but darkness, & silence, & cold.
Finally, he raised his head just above the edge of the hole & squinted into the gloom. There! Off there, barely visible in the mist he saw a flame – a single, silent flame. What was it? Could he trust it? Could he follow it? There was nothing else to do. He began to crawl toward the flame, toward the tiny, flickering flame. After what seemed like hours he broke into a clearing. There were the others, soldiers he knew, huddled around a little fire.
“Hey soldier,” his sergeant whispered. “Where’ve you been? You look a little lost.” The fire still peeked at him between the gathered figures in the darkness. “The fire,” he muttered. The sergeant came closer: “Just a little while ago, the captain said we could risk one small fire to help keep warm. But we’ve got to put it out soon. The enemy...”
The soldier got to his knees & stared at the flame in wonder. “It looked like a candle. From out there – from out there in darkness, it looked like an old, bent candle I used to know.”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). The soldier in the opening story certainly was in the dark. It surrounded him, trapped him, held him captive. Left on his own, he had no idea where he was, where he could go, where he would be safe.
The darkness describes your story & mine. On our own, people are left in the spiritual darkness of this world. It is a deep, blinding darkness, one that we alone cannot overcome. We have the illusion that we can make our own light. We think we can find the way, make our path by the light of our intelligence, our wisdom, our inborn ability to be light to ourselves.
But human beings are no more able to create our own light than was the soldier in the story. All of us are lost in the darkness of sin & we cannot fix it, nor make our own light. All of humankind is unable to create anything but the illusion of light. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our spiritual situation is no different from the soldier lost on the battlefield. We know there is a path ahead that will lead to life, but where is it? How do we find it? That’s where the flame comes in.
This Christmas celebration is not just a happy time to give & receive gifts, decorate the house, recite the Christmas story. This is the time we celebrate the light that has been placed in our life & in our future. Indeed, it is God’s light that guides us to the safety of God’s kingdom.
“(We) are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Indeed, we are those who walked in darkness, at least we were destined to before we were received into God’s kingdom by Baptism.
Now, we are His own, marked with the cross of Jesus Christ & filled with the light that is the grace of God in Christ. We have a light that will guide us through this earthly life & bring us to eternal life. Certainly, we can turn away from the light. In fact, for all of us, there are times when the light does seem to fade, but the Spirit does not leave us.
We wander into what we think we want or what we deserve. Clearly, because of our sin, we deserve nothing but judgment & separation from God. But Jesus took action for us. He went to the cross for us. He gained forgiveness & life for us. Now He offers it to us as a gift. Children, gifted by God, we walk by faith, by the light of faith amidst a dark & dismal world:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). The one who is the light of the world, now names us the light of the world. We become light by the grace of God. We give off light, not just keep it for ourselves. We can no more hide the Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus than can we hide the spiritual light that is now in us.
Darkness, sin, evil & death still exist & always will, in this life. Christmas is the story of how light shines in the darkness even as the darkness did not comprehend it. As the light shines, it allows us to see, past the darkness, to the shadows of love, grace & hope which found us.
The flickering light provides a glimpse of the companions that wait for us, walk with us, & sometimes will remain after us. The gentle light of Christ leads us away from all that would close our future & destroy life. That gentle light of Christ guides you toward the amazing power of God’s love let loose in the world. Shine, Jesus, shine!
This is the Christmas message of joy – “You are the light of the world... ” (Matthew 5:14). The lights of Christmas remind us that the light of God’s salvation has come as a baby born in a cattle stall. The lights of Christmas are to remind you that you are light to those who remain in darkness, even if you are nothing more than an old, bent candle.
The lights of Christmas reassure us that God will hear even the stumbling prayers of anyone who turns to Him. Amen.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep & dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes & fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin, & enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel! Amen. LSB 361:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet