Around our place we have several of these headlamps and we use them in two different kinds of situations. They are really handy when we go camping. When we camp, we use tents, and we make sure that everyone has a headlamp, or a flashlight of some kind, so they can go use the outhouse in the middle of the night if they need to. It is not very much fun when you have to go to the bathroom and it is pitch black outside and you have no light. So light help us to see.
The second way these headlamps get used is when I go for a run or a walk early in the morning while it is still dark. When I do that I wear two headlamps, one pointing forward with a bright white light and one pointing backward with a flashing red light. I do that because I run on roads and if a car is coming toward me, either from the rear or the front, I want them to see me. So light help us to be seen.
Throughout history, light and darkness have been used as word pictures. Sometimes they are used to describe levels of intellectual advancement. For example, there is a period of history called the Dark Ages, where the overall body of knowledge in Europe seem to diminish and the level of technological advancement and societal well-being diminished. Then later came another time period called the Enlightenment, during which human thought, artistic expression and exploration seemed to blossom. In other situations, darkness and light are used to refer to levels of intelligence and awareness. So, on the one hand, we may refer to a very gifted child as being very bright while, on the other hand, we consider our cat who sits around the house all day and licks his butt to be very dim. Of course, he is likely thinking the exact same thing about us.
But there is another way to think about light and darkness, and that is with respect to being able to see beyond this finite existence that we live. Because, either this life is all that there is, or it is not, in other words, there is something more to life. And if this life is all that is, when we get in trouble that is beyond our ability to handle, when an addiction grabs hold of our soul and we cannot shake it loose, when a deadly disease afflicts a loved one, when someone we love breaks our heart again and again, when tragedy or senseless violence claims someone close to us, then there is no hope, and it feels like darkness has closed in around us.
I have felt that darkness myself over the past year as we have dealt with a major health challenge in our family. During those times, it would take all the strength that I had to simply exist, and yet there were hospital visits, appointments, and meetings, and people around me–my wife, Susan, and our children–who needed my love and support if we were going to get through this. And I know that many of you have had dark times like that in the past or are in the middle of a dark time right now.
The Good News of Christmas is that light has come into our darkness. First promised centuries before by the prophets, such as Isaiah and others, light entered this mortal world 2,000 years ago when God the Son wrapped himself in human flesh, to be born as a helpless baby, in a manger in Bethlehem. The infinite, all-powerful God of all creation came in frailty and weakness so he could become one of us.
When he was still alive, my Dad would sometimes say, “You can’t really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.” The God-human, Jesus, came to walk a lifetime in your shoes. And isn’t this what loves does? When we love someone, we put ourselves in their place and try to see things from their perspective. Jesus did that for us in a way that we could never do for someone else.
But love does more than try to understand. True love selflessly sacrifices for the sake of the other, and this is also what Jesus has done for us. For that baby born in a manger grew up to be an adult who went to the cross for us and took our place to suffer one death for all humanity so that death would no longer have any claim on anyone who looks to Jesus in faith. On the third day that followed his death, Jesus rose from the dead to prove his victory over death and to share his gift of eternal life with all people.
Jesus came to show us that there really is more to life than what we are living now. He came to give us a life filled with forgiveness. Jesus’ unconditional love helps us to see that it is safe, and even desirable, for us to bring those dark, shameful parts of our lives, those parts that we would rather no one ever sees, into the light of his cleansing, forgiving love. With the forgiveness that Jesus gives us, we no longer need to hide portions of our life in darkness.
Jesus came to give us a life filled with hope. Because of Jesus’ God-with-us kind of love, we have the sure and certain hope of life beyond the grave. With Jesus, we can look forward to a day in the future when he will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain, for all these things will be gone forever (Rev. 21:4).
Jesus came to give us a life filled with love. Because Jesus came into this world to be our Saviour, we know that the momentary troubles we face in this life, as painful as they may be, are no indication of God’s love for us. The manger and the cross are the way to measure God’s love for us. Because Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross, we can know that God always loves us, that God is always with us and that we are forever safe in God’s loving care. In the life to come, we will comprehend the fullness of God’s love, but we already have the fullness of God’s love with us right now when we have Jesus in our lives.
Jesus is the Light of the World who helps to see and helps us to know that we are being seen. With Jesus, we know that we are seen by a God who unconditionally loves and accepts us. With Jesus, we can see that this life is only the start of our new, forever life with him, with a more glorious fullness of life yet to come. The key to being able to see in Jesus’ light is trust. Trust is important in every relationship, but especially in the relationship between you and Jesus. And so I ask you: Will you trust that Jesus loves you? Will you trust that Jesus forgives you? Will you trust that Jesus will give you life that nothing, not even death, will ever take away from you?
All of us have areas of our life that we are keeping in darkness. We are hiding those areas of our life from others, from God (we think) and perhaps even from ourselves. The challenge that I want to give to you this Christmas Eve is to trust Jesus more fully and to bring those dark parts of your life into his wonderful light. There is nobody who loves you more than Jesus loves you. He loves you even more than you love yourself. And the light of his love is the safest, best and most life-giving place for us to be. Amen.