SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 62:10-12; Titus 3:4-7; John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1)
Last night I spoke of one of my favorite Christmases ever, a three day stay in New York City right after Christmas. Although I spoke of several things that made it so enjoyable and memorable, I did not mention the one thing in particular which made it so enjoyable: namely, that we celebrated Christmas for 12 days that year. Each day, from December 25 to January 5, Lorayne and I gave each of our girls one present. It was great! We were not buried under piles of wrapping paper and ribbon. There was no scattering and forgetting of toys or dolls. We each had all day to enjoy that day’s gift, and there was little fighting over them. A much greater peace and joy and appreciation seemed to fill the twelve days of that year’s Christmas Season. If only it could last for 365 days!
That would have been too much to ask for, of course. There’s no way that peace and joy, without any fighting or anger or envy or sadness or sullenness, could reign for a year in a house of two parents and three girls aged 6, 5, and 4! Even for the best of parents and the sweetest of children that would be an impossibility. It would not be human! Even at Christmas we’re not surprised by fits of jealousy or anger. It’s to be expected!
But, this is not acceptable to God. He expects more of those who claim to be His people and expect to live with Him in His heaven. Psalm 24 asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” The psalm then answers, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” God is a pure Light in whom there is no darkness at all. He shines forth with goodness and mercy and love. He expects purity of heart and spirit as well as purity of life from us, also. He expects the impossible!
But then, He gives what we cannot give. “The light shines in the darkness… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1) Full and filled to overflowing; for us! Jesus, the eternal light of God, has come into our dark world!
What difference does this make for us? Well, have you ever had Christmas lights on your tree that were wired in a series, so that if one bulb goes out they all go out? What a pain that is! You can either spend time replacing each light on the string, one at a time, until you find the one that is burned out, or you can just replace the entire string with a new one. Of course, by doing this you lose many good bulbs.
We human beings are, in a sense, wired in a series. When Adam and Eve, our first parents, sinned against God their flesh became corrupted and infected with sin. The light of goodness and holiness, which God had given them when He created them, went out, and the darkness of sin filled them. That darkness has been passed down to every one of us, their descendants. From our conception and birth we are all filled with sinful thoughts and desires, and they often come out. Thank God, we also have good thoughts and desires, and they, too, come out. But, they never do so perfectly and exclusively. This is bad, for “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” God demands purity – no sin at all – in our works and in our hearts.
Thanks be to God for the mercy He has shone upon us at with the incarnation and birth of His Son! God doesn’t want to throw out the whole string. He wants to make all of us useful lights, bright lights that shine with His love. And so, He started a whole new string of lights. He sent His eternal Son, the Word in whom is life, to be human with us and be our light. He also sent Him to take upon and within Himself the darkness of our sins, and He did so. Upon the cross their darkness extinguished His light.
But, it could not remain extinguished. The light of Christ’s life is eternal. It is so great that He rose from the dead, and the brightness of His life extinguished forever our sins and death. As we are joined to Him, His light shines in us and drives out their darkness. Our sin is forgiven and gone, and God sees it no more. And then, His light shines through us and brings light to others. “Let your light shine,” Jesus says, “that people may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
How does this all happen? It is a miracle of God. It began with Christ’s miraculous conception, as the Holy Spirit caused Mary to conceive and become pregnant with Jesus while being a virgin. He shares our flesh and nature, but the string of the sin that was passed down from Adam and Eve was broken. Jesus is pure and holy in His human flesh and nature.
And then, God did another miracle, and in your life. Titus 3 says: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” In your baptism God joined you to the flesh of His pure and holy Son, as a light bulb in a string is joined to the bulb that precedes it.
“From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace,” says John 1. In Bethlehem we received the grace of Christ’s birth for us, and in your baptism you received the grace of Christ in you. What grace we have received in Christ Jesus our Lord! A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you in Him!