Saturday, January 04, 2014

The light shines in the darkness

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth
(John 1:1-5, 10-14).

It was Christmas morning.  Tim and Jane dashed downstairs, still in their pajamas, eager to open their gifts.  Of course Mom and Dad made sure to get up first—the tree was lit, making the gifts underneath sparkle with reflected light.  As the children opened each present squealing with delight, Dad snapped one picture after another while Mom smiled contentedly. 

Both parents felt a warm glow when thanked for their gifts.  But that changed when their children got to the big presents in the back—the presents from Santa.  Tim and Jane were thrilled with these special gifts, but when they yelled, “thank you, Santa!” Mom and Dad felt a little empty inside.  It was disappointing to get no recognition for the expensive gifts they had sacrificed to give.

Just imagine how Christ must feel.  He gives us everything, yet so many fail to give Him the credit.  They might thank Allah for the blessings they’ve received. They might credit evolution for the existence of our beautiful planet.  They might pat themselves on the back for being wealthy and successful.  But most people don’t thank Jesus for these things—though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

Jesus was born of Mary and Joseph.  Yet although He was fully human, Jesus was also the pure Son of God.  Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit; Joseph was only a foster father to Christ our Lord.  Yet Joseph raised Jesus as his own, and taught him the family craft—carpentry.  The Son of God was raised to make things, things that combined utility and beauty like a hand-crafted wooden chest.

It was fitting that Jesus be raised as a carpenter, because Christ is the maker of everything. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  Speaking of Jesus, Paul has this to say in Colossians chapter one: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking—isn’t God the Father the maker of everything?  Yes, in the sense that He designed everything and commanded its construction.  God the Father is like an architect, laying out the design; God’s Son is like a contractor who builds everything according to the blueprints He’s been given.  God the Father designs, His Son Jesus makes and maintains—by him all things were created…in Him all things hold together. 

Jesus made the world—not evolution.  Jesus gives you blessings—not Allah.  And Moses had this to say about human ability: You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).  Let’s wise up and give Jesus the credit that He deserves.

It’s a strange, tragic thing that when Jesus came to live among us, almost no one recognized Him as the Maker of everything.  Jesus showed His mighty power over and over again—He fed thousands of people from some scraps of food, He cured the disabled and the chronically ill, He walked on water and calmed a storm, He even raised the dead back to life.  Best of all, He forgave people their sins and revealed God’s Word to them.  Yet despite all this, some accused Jesus of working for the devil.  Others saw Him as a dangerous revolutionary.  Still others regarded Him as a curiosity, a traveling entertainer, a distraction from the boredom of the ordinary.  Eventually His enemies conspired to get Him killed.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

It’s not really any different today.  The light of Christ shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand what’s being revealed.  Some deny that Jesus ever lived.  Others view Him as a wise man cut down before His time.  The church is accused of making up wild stories about Jesus, turning a simple man into the Son of God.  Some view Christianity with hatred; they believe that the teachings of Christ are out of date and out of touch with modern thinking, and should be silenced.  And there are people who couldn’t care less about Christianity; they are happy with their lives and are not willing to consider any kind of change.

The thing about darkness is that it hides so much.  In the darkness you can’t see color, just blackness and shades of gray.  In the darkness it is easy to get hurt by unseen dangers.  In the darkness it is easy to get lost.  People without Christ are living in darkness, unaware of the beauty and safety that they’re missing.  In the darkness, love is tainted by pain and unfaithfulness.  In the darkness, decisions are made that result in unexpected troubles and hardships.  In the darkness, it is impossible to see any way to escape the crushing guilt of past mistakes.

The light of Christ can change all that.  The love of God finds no joy in pain or humiliation; the love of God is strong and dependable.  When Jesus shows what love can be, human relationships are revitalized.  Our Lord knows what is best for us; when a person prays for guidance and grows familiar with the Bible, he can start to see God’s light that will lead him through the darkness in safety.   In the dark, relationship problems can seem impossible to solve; only Jesus can get rid of dark despair by forgiving our mistakes and helping us to reconcile with each other in the light of His love. 

Why would anyone want to extinguish the light that Christ has brought?  Many people fear what they don’t understand.  Some don’t like their assumptions and prejudices to be challenged.  Others want complete freedom to do as they please, and won’t submit to anyone—not even the Son of God.  And so there are repeated attempts to extinguish the light—laws are designed to limit religious speech, Christians are made fun of, and Jesus is replaced by false gods, flawed science, and human pride.

But you know what?  The light of Christ still shines—the darkness has not overcome it!  Darkness cannot win over light.  The darkness struck at Christ when Herod tried to have the baby Jesus killed, but God sent an angel to warn Joseph and he took Mary and the child to Egypt where they lived in safety until Herod’s death.  The darkness struck at Christ when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, but our Lord drove the devil away using the power of God’s holy word.  The darkness struck again when a crowd tried to push Jesus down a cliff, but our Savior walked through the angry mob and went on His way untouched.  The darkness gathered all its strength and struck one final time when Christ was arrested on false charges, beaten and humiliated, condemned as a criminal and hung on a cross to die.  But the darkness did not understand what Jesus was really doing on that cross.  He was suffering for our sins so we can be forgiven; He was dying so we could have eternal life in paradise.  Jesus was doing what He was born to do—rescuing us from the darkness.  And when Jesus descended into hell, the darkness finally understood—Jesus came, not broken and beaten, but glorified and victorious.  He told Satan and the minions of evil that sin’s curse has been lifted—those who trust in Christ will live in the light forevermore.  His message delivered, Jesus rose from the dead to share this wonderful news with us.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  The light of Christ shines in our hearts whenever the Bible is read.  Romans chapter 10 says, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  The Word of God gives simple water the ability to wash away sins through holy baptism.  The Word of God connects Jesus’ body and blood to the bread and wine of holy communion, allowing us to touch the Savior and have our sins forgiven, our faith strengthened and our mutual fellowship renewed.  Christ reveals Himself through Word and Sacrament, His Means of Grace that bring heaven’s light into our hearts.  As we make use of these Means of Grace, the light of Christ grows brighter within us, pushing back the darkness that wants to keep us lost, miserable, and confused. 

The light shines in the darkness.  You don’t have to live in darkness, suffering what that entails.  Make God’s Word and Sacraments a priority in your life, and you can enjoy living with the blessings of the light.  Then you will want to give Jesus the credit He deserves for all that He sacrificed to give you.

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