Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 1:18-23
We talked a few weeks ago about the true light coming into the world. We read from the “prologue” of John, that “the true light was coming into the world…” and that “the light shines in the darkness…” That’s a lot of what Advent is about – “light in the darkness.”
Today we read a traditional advent passage where Isaiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” Notice how that passage also speaks of the contrast between light and darkness. It hints of the passage in John where the light shines in the darkness. And it wouldn’t surprise me if John had that passage in mind while he was writing his prologue. The light in the darkness, in both Isaiah and John, is a good depiction for today’s theme for Advent. Because today we’re talking about hope.
If you remember a few weeks ago, we talked about the darkness in the world being symbolic of the despair, the oppression, and the hopelessness in people’s lives. We talked about what that looked like last year. Because last year the light of Christmas came into a world where people were devastated by hurricane Sandy, and the shootings in Connecticut. It seemed a very dark time, didn’t it?
Well, this year it’s the Philippine Islands. And we’re told now that many of the people who lost everything a few weeks ago in the Philippines have lost even more than that. Many have lost hope – this thing we’re talking about today. And because of that, many have chosen to take their own lives. Once again, the light shines in a world of darkness. And once again, it’s hard for us to remember that “the darkness has never conquered it!”
I’m glad for that image of the light in the darkness. For that is our hope! And I hope we all see it that way. As I said before, maybe you have such darkness in your own life. We all feel that darkness from time to time. And one of the times people feel it the most is holiday times. For many people, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year are very difficult times. Yes, those celebrations occur in the “dark time” of the year, a time when the days are shorter and there is less light – in the northern hemisphere, anyway. But it’s more than that. For some reason such times when we’re supposed to be happy are often the times we are hurting the most.
Charles Schultz helped us to understand that way back in 1965 in his short film “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Do you remember that? Do you remember that first scene where Charlie Brown is leaning on that wall with Linus and he says, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I love getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy… I always end up feeling depressed.”
We all feel that at times, don’t we? We come to this time of year when we celebrate the light coming into the world, but we can’t see it. We feel stress. We feel a certain depression. And we long to be “the people who walked in darkness” who have “seen a great light”?
Well, my hope is that we will see that light. My hope is that we will take the time to know that the light has come into the world and into our lives. It’s too easy to miss that! It’s too easy to be focused on so many other things that the light eludes us! As see lights all around us at this time of year, I hope they all remind us of that. They have beauty, yes. But I hope also they will remind us of the hope we have! “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “The light shines in the darkness.”
Today, we have other symbols of that light in our lives as we also celebrate communion. I’ve always liked putting these two events together. Yes, it makes for a more complicated worship service. But celebrating Communion in Advent brings the whole life and ministry of Jesus together. And not because it frames the beginning and the end of his life, but because the theme of “light in the darkness” is so powerfully illustrated here, and that theme is the common thread that binds these things together. Because, as beautiful as this ceremony is, it is celebratory of one of the darkest times in history. It commemorates the Son of God dying on a cross. It reminds us of that time when the darkness seemed to have conquered the light!
If you remember the Good Friday account, even the light of the sun was darkened – for some three hours. As you know, some people like to explain away the miracles in the Bible as being “natural phenomena.” They point to that moment as being explained by the occurrence of a solar eclipse. And I wouldn’t argue with that. It would seem to make sense. But think about that. What an amazing time for an eclipse!!! For that most rare of astronomical events to have occurred right at that moment, is just as amazing to me as it would have been if God had dimmed the sun’s light supernaturally. It came at the time when the darkness was the deepest it had ever been!
That’s the point at which the people saw “a great light.” That’s the hope that was coming to the world. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the difficulties, no matter the depth of the darkness, the light has shined! It shined for the people in Isaiah’s time, for the people of Jesus’ time, and for the people of our time. The light shines in all of that darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it.
That is the hope we celebrate in this event. It’s not just the hope we have in the forgiveness of our sins, but the hope of the light of Christ in our lives, the hope that God does care for us, the hope that his steadfast love does endure forever, and that his faithfulness is to all generations.
So, I invite you to join me in prayer now as we prepare for this communion, and as we ask God for the ability to focus on the light as it has come into our world and into our lives.
Eternal God, we thank you for your steadfast love and faithfulness. We thank you for your promise in Jesus to be with us always. Help us to know the light of his love in this time of year and through this sacrament. Help us to know your light in our hearts and in our lives. For this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, Amen.