(Significant scriptures: John 1:1-5; 8:12)
Light is so important for our lives. A couple of years ago, I tripped over a 5 gallon pail in the dark and broke my arm. That might not have happened if I had a flashlight with me. But light is important for more than safety. Light is also a necessity for life. The process of photosynthesis, which is the basis for the entire food chain, can not happen without light from the sun. Even the natural gas with which we cook and the gasoline that we put in our cars for travel are really energy from the sun that has been stored beneath the ground for many years. But the light that we need most of all is the light of life that comes to us from our Creator. God made us and breathed life into us giving us physical life. But there is more to reality than the physical. There is more going on than what we see. There is also a whole realm of reality that we cannot see. And we also need life from God in this invisible, this spiritual reality, and the light of spiritual life comes to us from God through a relationship with him.
It is a relationship that is not natural to us. Because of the sin that we have inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, our relationship with God is broken, and our natural tendency is to rebel against God. As a result, on our own, we have no spiritual light within us. For the spiritual life is not just another aspect of life, it is the most important part of life. A day will come when the invisible will become visible, when the unseen will be seen, and when that day comes, we will realize that the spiritual aspect of life is the part of life that is real and true and everlasting. So we need a relationship with God, we need God’s light to shine in our lives to give us spiritual life.
Jesus talks about this special light from God during the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. There were seven feasts that God instituted for the Israelites to observe:
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
Rosh Hashanah (The Feast of Trumpets/The Jewish New Year)
Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)
The Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast of Booths/Sukkot)
Four of these feasts were held in the spring (Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, which were are within days of each other, and 50 days later, Pentecost). Three were held in the fall (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles). Every Jewish male was required to journey to Jerusalem for Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was the only feast where God commanded his people to rejoice before him and rejoice they did.
To remind themselves of the forty year journey through the desert, all the people would build huts out of olive, palm and myrtle tree branches and live in them for seven days. The branches would provide some shade, yet you could partially see through them at night, and so, as the people lay down to rest, they could look up at the stars and remember how God was with their forefathers throughout that journey in the wilderness.
During the day, they would gather in the temple with a cluster tree branches in one hand and a citrus fruit in the other, and they would dance in joyous worship to God as they waved their branches in the air and sang Psalms of praise. Those Psalms of praise are Psalms 113 to 118 in our Bibles and when they came to the Hosanna (Psalm 118:25) they would wave their branches towards the altar as they sang “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success” (Psalm 118:25) Let say that together… After several hours of intense rejoicing, the people would return to their booths to eat, rest and prepare for the next day of wonderful celebration.
Not only was there celebration, there was also lots of light during the Feast of Tabernacles for light had become closely associated with this special festival. As mentioned before, the Feast of Tabernacles was a mini-re-enactment of the Journey through the wilderness, and God led the Israelites through that wilderness with a pillar of fire. There was also the light of the glory cloud that descended on Solomon’s Temple when he dedicated it a 1000 years before during this same festival.
But there as something else happened to make light an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Beginning about 175 years before Jesus was born, the people of Israel were severely oppressed by Hellenistic Greeks from Syria. These Syrian overlords wanted to change the Jews into Greeks, both culturally and in terms of religion. So Jewish practices like the Sabbath, circumcision and studying the Torah were all outlawed. On top of this the temple in Jerusalem was defiled by slaughtering pigs on the altar. Many of you may know that pigs are considered unclean animals by the Jews and to have something like this happen in their temple, the most holy place on the whole earth for them, would have been a Great Abomination. After about 25 years of this oppressive regime, the Jews revolted and eventually, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, recaptured Jerusalem. Judah ordered that the lamp stands in the temple be lit and the process of rededicating the temple begun. There was only one day’s supply of oil left in the lamp stands, but it miraculously lasted eight days until the temple was rededicated and new oil for the lamps could be purified. That miracle of light has been celebrated ever since as Hanukkah or the Festival of lights.
And in Jesus time, Hanukkah was celebrated at the same time as the Feast of Tabernacles. Four great menorah, standing about about 25 metres tall, were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to celebrate God’s deliverance from the Syrians. Each reservoir on each branch of these lamp stands held 40 litres of oil. The wicks for the lamps were made from the priests’ undergarments. And when these giants lamp stands were lit they would shine light into every backyard in Jerusalem. And in the midst of all this joy and celebration and light Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12)
As great and wonderful as these giant lamp stands were with all of the bright light that they radiated, there was a greater and brighter light right there in the person of Jesus Christ. As great as all the things God had done in the past for his people, God was doing a much greater thing with the gift of his Son. For Jesus was not only a human being, just like you and me. Jesus was also God, and he had all of God’s light within him. All of God’s love, all of God’s goodness, all of God’s truth and all of God’s wisdom are there in Jesus. All of God’s justice, God’s compassion and God’s mercy all radiate from him. And Jesus wants to shine his light into our lives so that we might have life from him.
And so Jesus invites us to come to him with all of the darkness in our lives. His desire, his passion, his life mission is to shine his light into our lives to dispel our darkness so that we might live in his wonderful light.
So what darkness are you struggling with right now? Is the guilt of sin covering a corner of your heart in darkness? Bring it to Jesus and let him shine the cleansing light of his forgiveness on you. Is your mind clouded with confusion? Come to Jesus and let him renew your mind with the light of his truth and wisdom. Or is death overshadowing you with its darkness? Follow Jesus and you will never walk in darkness, you will have the light of life. (Cf. John 8:12)
For Jesus not only entered into our darkness. He also allowed all of our darkness to be placed on him. Jesus willingly went to the cross and all of the darkness of our sin and brokenness, all the darkness of this world’s evil and ignorance and hatred, all of the darkness of death were placed on him as he hung on the cross. The darkness of that day covered the land like a shroud from noon until 3 pm. Then, when Jesus had completely overcome the power of darkness, he gave up his spirit and died.
But on the 3rd day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) There is no darkness, not even the darkness of death, that Jesus and his light cannot dispel.
For much of my life, I wanted to do things my way. But since I gave control of my life over to Jesus, I have gone from a life filled with frustration and constant searching to a very rewarding life filled with peace. The difference for me is like the difference between day and night. And you don’t have to become a church worker. God can use you where you are at right now as you do what you are already doing. So during this season of Lent, let us turn away from the darkness, let us flee from everything that casts a shadow in our lives, and let us run to Jesus and light of life that he gives us. Amen.
(Preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC, 1 March 2009)