On the way here this evening you may well have seen a number of houses decorated with lights. In your own home you may have a Christmas tree decorated with lights. And here we've been turning the lights up and down and now we're saving energy so it's just candlelight for you lot – I've still got my little pulpit lamp so I can see what I'm doing.
While candlelight is nice you needed more light than they could give in order to see the words of the carols clearly but now the main task you have is to listen and you'd still be able to hear me if the lights were completely extinguished but don't worry, we're not going to do that – not deliberately at any rate.
And now for, a few moments, I want to talk some more to you about light and its place the Christmas story. The idea of light keeps cropping up and a variety of different ways.
Writing hundreds of years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah, looking ahead, wrote these words:
Isaiah 9:2 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;"
He went on and explained exactly what he was referring to leaving us in no doubt what he meant:
Isaiah 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;"
Isaiah wasn't talking about stars or flashes of lightening he was talking about the birth of a baby, a very special baby. The reason why this baby could be singled out in this way was because of his identity – here was no ordinary child, this child because of who he was would be called:
Isaiah 9:6 "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
When Jesus was born his birth fulfilled this prophecy – he was the "great light" that Isaiah had spoken about all those years before.
Luke in his gospel tells us about a different kind of light that burst onto the scene around the time of Jesus' birth. As Luke begins to tell us about those shepherds who were out on the hillside looking after their sheep he tells us of an unusual event:
Luke 2:8 "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear."
It was as though God suddenly turned the light on in order to get the attention of those shepherds – there was a message he wanted them to hear and the message concerned the birth of that extraordinary baby in Bethlehem:
Luke 2:11 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
Here was good news indeed! The shepherds needn't fear – God wasn't out to get them – instead he was sending them just what they needed: a Saviour who would be able to rescue them.
The rescue mission that this baby had come to carry out was to deal with the problem of sin. Our lives are all affected by sin because we all fail to live our lives the way God wants us to and that failure is what the Bible calls sin. It doesn't matter whether we consider our failures to be insignificant God treats all sin the same way – he hates it. Sin erects a barrier that cuts us off from God. The rescue mission of this baby born to be a Saviour would involve dismantling this barrier that we might be reconciled to God.
And then of course there are those wise men from the East! You know what it was that brought them don't you? They saw something unusual in the sky – a star that they hadn't seen before and they decided that they were going to follow it! Somehow they understood that it would bring them to someone special, a new King!
When they arrived in Jerusalem, the capital, (where else would you expect a King to be born?) they immediately asked where this new-
Matthew 2:2 "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."
Their questions caused real consternation amongst the ruling classes – a new King sounded like something of a threat and the current King Herod always reacted very badly when he felt threatened! But soon the necessary information is out in the open – a special King was expected. Jewish hopes for their Messiah were established upon what God had promised down through the centuries and God had told them the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem!
So with this information the wise men set off again -
Once more the light brings people to Jesus.
Instead of giving us historical details concerning just how Jesus' birth came about, the apostle John is more interested in explaining to us why his birth is so significant. John focuses then on the importance of this one who has come into the world. And he too turns to the notion of light:
John 1:4 "In him was life, and the life was the light of men."
According to John Jesus was and is:
John 1:9 "The true light, which enlightens everyone, (and who) was coming into the world."
Later on John would record that Jesus, now grown into manhood, spoke and declared in no uncertain terms:
John 8:12 "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
How do we react to light?
Darkness is the easiest on the eyes – we generally turn the lights off or at least very low when we want to go to sleep for example.
Candlelight is gentle too – a low light which enables us to do some things but certainly not everything. As your eyesight tends to fail with age you need good light to be able to read and many older folk find that driving at night becomes something they can no longer happily do – they can't pick up the edge of the road as they used to.
Cataracts can grow in the eye and we don't see as clearly any more, shades of great replace the brightness and vividness of colour as the light no longer gets through as it should.
Sometimes you've been sitting in a darkened room and then someone turns the lights on – instinctively you turn away, you close your eyes, the sudden bright light is painful and your eyes don't like it.
All this is true of us whether we're thinking about the sunlight, candles or electric lights.
It is also true of us when it comes to moral and spiritual light though of course in slightly different ways.
Life is comfortable for us when we live in spiritual darkness – we chug along just as we want and don't "see" anything of either the danger we are in or of the good things that we are missing out on.
We are all born into this sort of spiritual darkness but how dreadful to go on living that way. Are you still in this darkness? How we all need to see the "great light" that is the Lord Jesus Christ. When bright light flashed around the shepherds they listened and then they acted upon what they had been told and they went off to find Jesus.
The wise men allowed the light they were shown to have the same effect upon their lives. It was quite a journey they undertook and quite an enterprise but they took it and they too came to Jesus.
As light came to them they didn't turn away and try to carry on as before they allowed the entry of light to change the way they thought and what they did.
But that sadly was not true of everyone in the Christmas story. Some found the news of a new King to be anything but welcome news. They reacted as you do when you're driving and you're blinded by another driver's headlights – pain! Eyes screwed up. They turned away and certainly didn't come to Jesus with faith. Some treated him as though he was that blinding light and only sought to extinguish it – life in the shadowlands was so much more comfortable they thought then and many think like that still today.
What will you do with the light this Christmas? Will you allow the light to bring you to Jesus? Oh yes, it will involve facing up to the fact that things haven't been right up till now, it will mean facing up to the fact you haven't been right up till now and it will mean you embarking on a personal journey.
Coming to the light which is Jesus may also be uncomfortable as you see more and more just why you need him – a stain on your shirt or a bit of dirt on your face may be almost invisible by candlelight but they'll stand out clearly as the lights are turned on. So it is when we come to Jesus.
Don't stay in the shadows, in the darkness, but come to Jesus Christ this Christmas. Jesus is the Light of the World and he came not to judge but to rescue folk just like us. None is too young to come nor is any too old. But don't put off coming, don't say to yourself that you'll come later when you're older because just as normal eyesight tends to deteriorate with age so you may see less clearly spiritually speaking as you get older.
I would like to close by wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and may he who said "Let light shine out of darkness," shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."