Years ago, I heard an old story that points to the light that we all need.
A rabbi once asked his students, “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”
One of the students replied, “You can know the dawn has come when you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep.”
The rabbi shook his head, “No, that is not the answer.”
Another student suggested: “It’s when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grape vine. When you can see the difference, you know that the dawn has come.”
“No,” the rabbi said.
The students pressed the rabbi: “Then how can someone know when the darkness turns to light? Please tell us the answer.”
And the old wise teacher said, “You know the hour of dawn when you can look into the face of other human beings and have enough light (in you) to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then, it is night and darkness is still with us.”
The Coming of the Great Light
The gospel writer Matthew quotes Isaiah when he tells about how Jesus went to Galilee to start His ministry. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (4:16, NIV).
His arrival on the scene was like a new day. The light shines on the gloom and transforms the hearts of those who have eyes to see.
This is why we light candles and string up twinkle lights and smile at what the neighbor’s put in their yards. All of it points to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.
The Christmas season literally makes the world a little brighter.
And what is the meaning of this great light?
It means peace. Just as a nightlight dispels our fears in the darkness, the Light of God brings peace.
It means clarity. Light shines on our lives and we can’t help but see our inner darkness — the worry, negativity, pessimism, or pride.
It also means hope. The darkness of our world — wars, poverty, broken politics — it’s not the last word. Light is our destination.
But the light means even something more.
Everyone is Searching for Some Light
Every person on the planet — whether religious or secular, Christian or atheist — we’re all searching for light.
We can’t help but ask questions about the meaning of human existence: Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Does anyone love me? Is there any hope for the future?
The message of the Bible is that without Jesus we are grasping in the dark. If we are trying to make sense of the mystery and wonder and suffering of life using our own wits, we will almost certainly fall into despair.
The light of Jesus helps us to see clearly. Frederick Buechner said, “We can’t see light itself. We can see only what light lights up, like the little circle of night where the candle flickers-a sheen of mahogany, a wine glass, a face leaning toward us out of the shadows.”
Buechner continues, “When Jesus says that He is the Light of the World, maybe something like that is part of what he is saying. He himself is beyond our seeing, but in the darkness where we stand, we see, thanks to him, something of the path that stretches out from the door, something of whatever it is that keeps us trying more or less to follow the path even when we can hardly believe that it goes anywhere worth going or that we have what it takes to go there, something of whoever it is that every once in a while seems to lean toward us out of the shadows.” (Originally published in Wishful Thinking)
Let’s Light a Candle Together
This Christmas Eve we will have two opportunities to worship. We will gather in the usual 11am timeframe as well as at 5pm. These two services will have the same format, music, and message. We will conclude the service by lighting candles and singing Silent Night.
I hope you will be present for one of those services. And I hope you’ll invite a relative or friend to join us.
There’s something special about all of us lifting a candle. Together we symbolically push back the darkness — within ourselves and in our world.
Together we look to the One who became flesh and dwelt among us to bring glory to God and great light to all people.
We also look around at one another. We really are brothers and sisters. There’s so much more we have in common than what separates us.
We glimpse beloved children of God in the soft light of the candles. Then we go out and meet our brothers and sisters who share a common humanity and hope.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Brent McDougal