In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Merry Christmas! This morning we continue our celebration of Christmas, that great twelve day season that marks the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have spent the season of Advent waiting for this great event and it is now here. This morning I want to speak a word of hope to you because the Christmas story is a story of grace and wondrous hope, and as Christians struggling to live faithful lives in a broken and fallen world, we must take every opportunity to remind ourselves of the hope that is ours in Christ.
In today’s Gospel lesson, John tells us right away why we should have hope in the Christmas story. He reminds us that God himself took on our flesh and came to live among us. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This is a great blessing to us because we all have plenty of darkness, both individual and corporate, with which we must deal, don’t we? It might be the darkness of separation or loneliness. It might be the darkness of illness or addiction. It might be the darkness that seeks to blow up a plane with almost 300 people in it or the darkness of poverty, alienation, hunger, war, or all kinds of injustice. It might be the darkness that seeks to convince us there is no real truth and consequently there is no harm in doing our own thing because it doesn’t really matter anyway. Or worse, it might be the darkness of the lie that seeks to convince us that the problem of sin and the separation it causes really isn’t that bad, at least not in us because after all we are not nearly as bad as some of those really bad people, and so we really don’t need a Savior because we are not bad enough to warrant being saved.
The consequence of living in the darkness, however it manifests itself, is that it can, and often does, lead us to lose hope. We lose hope because we try to fix our problems ourselves and are more often than not defeated. We don’t have to look any farther than our list of failed new year’s resolutions to see the truth in this. Self-help is a delusion and a lie, and it will inevitably lead us to lose all hope.
Where is God’s Grace?
But it is to the glory of God that it does not have to be this way. We do have hope, God’s hope, the hope of Christ. The Christmas story is the beginning of the climax of God’s salvation story. When God took on our flesh and condescended to our corruption, as Athanasius put it, he gave us a great light to shine in the darkness, his Light. When God became human, he affirmed the value and worth of human beings. He demonstrated that he loves us no matter who we are or what kind of darkness we walk in. In taking on our flesh, God demonstrated that he is interested in saving us, not destroying us. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
When God became Incarnate, he showed us that he understands the futility of self-help. He knows how intractable our sin is and understands we cannot do anything about it on our own. God created us to have a relationship with him and with each other, but our sin causes us to be alienated from him and from each other. So God acted on our behalf. He was born of a virgin, lived among us, and died for us so that our relationship with him could be restored and we could enjoy real life again. God took on our flesh so that he could bear the punishment for our sins himself. It is a free and wondrous gift to us if only we will accept it by faith. We no longer have to try to do the impossible. We no longer have to try to earn our salvation through some bizarre form of legalism because God has already done it for us. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
But the Good News doesn’t stop at the Cross, does it? As Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle lesson, our Lord promised to give us his Holy Spirit to transform us and help us become more like him. This process of sanctification is a long and arduous one. How the Holy Spirit transforms us is often mysterious to us and some days it seems that darkness has overcome the light. I know I am tempted to wonder about my own sanctification when I have to keep asking for forgiveness for the same sins I keep committing day after day. But then we are confronted by today’s Gospel lesson and reminded that God’s word is true and that we must walk in faith. God has entered our history as a human and is at work on us right now through his Spirit. God loves us despite our fears, failings, and setbacks, and he has done something about it. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
God not only gives us himself, but God also gives us each other. Both John and Paul talk about this relational grace when they talk about us becoming children of God. We are made children of God by grace through faith, and through spiritual regeneration. It is God’s great gift to us because unlike servants or slaves, as God’s children we are heirs to the promise that we are his people and that we will enjoy life with God now and for all eternity. Did you notice the intimate term for Father that Paul uses in today’s Epistle? Through the Spirit, we can call God “Abba,” a term of great intimacy and endearment that can be translated as “papa” or “daddy.” What a remarkable thing! In God’s mighty act of salvation through Christ, we have the privilege of calling the Creator of this vast universe “papa.” You don’t get to do this unless you have an intimate relationship with the One who loves you and gave himself for you. Once we let him into our lives, he promises that we will never be the same. There is real hope in this. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
And because God knows we need a human touch, he has given us each other in his Body, the Church. God pours out his Spirit on his people and calls us to love him first and to show our love for him, in part, by loving and caring for each other. Think of the dear ones in your life who have embodied the light of Christ in the darkest moments of your life. They did not come your way by accident. They are a product of God’s wondrous and gracious love for you. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
Where is the Application?
Practically speaking, how does the light of Christ shine in the darkness? I can give you a very recent example from our own experience that I hope will illustrate what I have been talking about. This year, for the first time ever, my wife and I were faced with the prospect of spending Christmas alone. My kids had a commitment to be with their mom and this was not our year to travel to NC to be with Dondra’s family. Given all the upheaval in our lives this past year, there was a real possibility of darkness enveloping our Christmas, especially since this was happening so soon after the recent death of my beloved’s dad. But we had the light of Christ shining in our darkness. We remembered his mighty act of taking on our flesh because he loves us and we believe his promise to us. We kept praying and reading our bibles and worshiping God. We believe we have the Holy Spirit working in us to sustain us in our weakness and grief.
But we had more. We also had the grace of the human touch. All the couples in our small group who were in town for Christmas invited us to spend Christmas with them! We ate with the Seitzes and visited with the Falors and the Collins’. God worked through these faithful souls to shine his light on us and in doing so helped us celebrate a wonderful Christmas in the fellowship of our church family. I cannot adequately tell you how much this means to my wife and me. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. It gives us real hope, not because our loss and hurts and heartaches magically disappear but because we have the light of Christ shining on us to help us overcome the darkness. Thanks be to God!
Christmas is a story of wonder and hope. At Christmas God took on our flesh and took care of the intractable problem of sin and the alienation it causes. He blesses us with the power of his Holy Spirit to help us become like him, and he gives us each other as tangible reminders of his great love for us. The Christmas story reminds us that God is passionate about us and wants us to enjoy real life with him. It does not matter who you are or the kind of darkness you walk in. God loves you and wants you back. God has taken care of the darkness for you, not by making you immune from it, but by giving you himself and his light to overcome it for you. It is yours for the taking if you will only turn to him and allow him to make you into the person he created you to be.
As you come to the Table later in a few minutes, bring your darkness, fears, and hopelessness, and give them to Christ. Remember that you are his beloved, no matter who you are or what your failures are. As you remember this, feed on his very Presence in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. Let the bread and wine be tangible reminders of the light that shines in the darkness, a light that the darkness of sin or separation or evil or illness or alienation or even death cannot overcome. God’s light in Christ transcends and transforms our darkness so that we can live with him now and forever. There is hope, real hope, in that, and that’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.