For today’s message, the theme is light - the theme that will be referred to as we remember the first existence of light, as we recall how light was part of the Christmas celebration, as we consider that Jesus, whose birth we just celebrated, is Himself light, and as we consider that we, too, are to be light, which is a worthy challenge as we are still in the beginning part of this new year.
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The first existence of light - the creation of light - is recorded very early in the Old Testament. Specifically, the very first chapter of the Bible. Genesis 1.
According to verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1, before God created the heavens and the earth, all was dark. God was there. Jesus was there. The Holy Spirit was there. But the heavens and the earth were dark. That was the case before God gave the earth form.
All was dark. But then verse 3. “And God said [this happened on the first day of creation], ‘Let there be light.’”
Instantly, there was light. God did that. He created light. Something He saw as good. There was still night because nighttime darkness makes it easier to rest, but there was also day, during which it is bright. It is bright because of light, which was created by God.
According to verses 14 through 19, on the fourth day of creation, God made light more specific. He created the sun and the moon and the stars. God also saw that those parts of His creation were good.
Natural light - the light created by God, which is recorded in Genesis - is important. It is critical for survival of the vegetation and the animals and the birds and the sea creatures and the humans He created after the sun, moon, and stars. Natural light is needed.
However, natural light is not the only kind of light there is. There is also spiritual light. Light like that described very early in the New Testament in the report of the first Christmas.
I can think of two ways spiritual light is part of the Christmas celebration.
The first came the night Jesus was born.
That night, there were shepherds tending their sheep near the little town of Bethlehem, which is where Jesus was born.
It was just another boring night, those shepherds trying to stay awake. The only thing helping was the need to be alert to any predators approaching to steal or kill one or some of the sheep.
It was just another night until, suddenly, an angel appeared to the shepherds.
It was not just the angel. The light of the glory of the Lord shone around the angel, illuminating the part of the field where the shepherds were.
The sudden appearance of the angel and the light that was with the angel greatly frightened the shepherds. That is understandable because of the suddenness of it and because it brought about a completely different feel than the shepherds had ever experienced before.
The shepherds were frightened, but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Those were the first words spoken, but there was more. There was no need to be afraid, not only then, but forever, because there was good news. It was the news that born that night in the town of Bethlehem was the Savior who was and is Christ the Lord.
As discussed in one of the Advent message last month, the news given to the shepherds by the angel was confirmed when he was joined by a multitude of the Heavenly host, all of them agreeing that the Savior had arrived, which led to glorifying God for wonderful gift of Jesus.
As asked in that message, can we even imagine the volume of the Heavenly host? How loud the sound must have been? Similarly, I wonder if we can even imagine the brightness of the glory of the Lord that shone around the angel. Together, what an amazing experience it was for those shepherds, who did what we are to do, which was and is to meet Jesus. Many - most - of us have done that, but if that does not include you, meet Him. Accept Jesus today, and then tell others about Him.
Which brings up a reminder of the challenge given last week, which is that we tell others about Jesus so we can experience growth in our congregation in 2018.
Spiritual light was also important in the Wise Men part of Christmas.
One night, Wise Men in the Persian Empire, a thousand miles to the east of Bethlehem - saw a new star in the sky. A star in the west, hanging over the nation of Israel.
Because of their study of astronomy, the new star attracted the attention of the Wise Men. Because of their study of religion, they interpreted the new star to be the announcement that a new king for God’s people, most of whom lived in Israel, had arrived.
What the Wise Men do? How did they responded? Some of them made the decision to travel to Israel, where they were eventually directed to Bethlehem, where they were then led by a re-appearance of the star to the very place where Jesus was. While there, the Wise Men worshiped Jesus and gave Him gifts.
What the Wise Men did is what we are to do.
They went to meet Jesus and worship Him and give Him gifts. We are to meet Jesus. As mentioned, many or most of us have done that. If you have not done that, please do so, even today.
We are then to worship Jesus, and we are to give Jesus gifts. Gifts like your heart if you have not yet accepted Him. Then gifts of time and service and telling others about Jesus’ love and care.
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Light was an important part of creation. It is an important part of the report of Christmas. But creation has been completed, and it is after Christmas now, which means the celebration of Jesus is to be transformed into using the spiritual light of Jesus - light, as we shall see, that is to be in us - to make Him known to others, which is exactly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:14-16.
Those verses are early in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. A sermon Jesus gave early in His ministry. A sermon given, at the start, to His disciples, who were eventually joined by a huge crowd of people.
In the first part of the sermon, Jesus taught all who listened that they were to be many things, including meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, and peacemakers.
Jesus also taught His followers to rejoice and be glad if they were persecuted. Yes, that sounds very strange, but, Jesus added, those who are persecuted and still stay true to Jesus will have a great reward in Heaven.
Jesus taught His disciples to be the salt of the earth, meaning they were - we are - to do in the world what salt does to things. Preserve and add flavor, for instance.
Then verse 14. “You [those then and those now who are Jesus’ followers] are the light of the world.”
What does physical light do? It provides warmth. It helps things grow. It illuminates the paths that are to be taken.
Speaking spiritually, we are to add spiritual warmth to the world. We are to help other people to grow spiritually. We are to light the proper paths of life, doing so for ourselves and for others, including those who have yet to accept Jesus. We are to show them the way to Jesus.
You - you and me - all who are Christians - are the light of the world. We have the spiritual light of Jesus in us. We are not to hide the light. We are to let it shine. What Jesus said is this. “A city on a hill cannot be hid, nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel.” Those are other ways of saying we are not to hide our light, which is the light of Jesus shining through us.
No. Our light is, in the words of Jesus, to be “put on a stand so that it will give light to all in the house.” And going back to the analogy of a city on a hill, our light is to shine beyond the walls of this house. This house of worship. Our light is to shine throughout this city
I think we already do that.
I am thinking, for instance, of two of the outreach projects we have.
We provide cookies for the firefighters across the street. There has never been a push that they have to pay for the cookies by attending here, but I trust they feel welcome, and they have been assured of our prayers whenever we hear their sirens.
And we serve lunch at the People’s City Mission once a month. If you have had the opportunity to take part, you will have noticed the friendly attitudes the servers have. Many of those being served take notice of that. Since they know we come from a church, they know it is Christian joy being communicated. I pray that gives those served a chance to know Jesus is the source of joy.
Light was important at Christmas. It is the light of Jesus we are to have in our being. It is that light that is to shine for others to see. As Jesus continued, “Let your light [the Christian light in you - the light of Christian joy] shine before men.” Let it so shine that others “will see your good works.”
But wait. The goal is not that people who see our light will be impressed by us. Of course we can feel good when the light in us is seen to the extent it affects others, but people being impressed by us is not to be the goal. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine that others will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” It is God who is to receive the glory and the honor. That is to be our goal in letting our light - the light of Jesus - shine.
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In this day and age - just like every other day and age - being spiritual light to the world can be a difficult thing. There is so much war and hunger around the world. There is so much family strife and crime in this country. And there are so many people so many places who at least seem to be fighting against anything Christian.
There is so much that threatens to dissuade us from being the light of Christ to the world. But we are to be that light, which is easier to accomplish when we remember that indeed Jesus is the original light, which He Himself proclaimed in John 8:12.
Here is some background I read. One of the Jewish holidays celebrated every year was the Festival of Tabernacles. One part of the celebration was the lighting of four giant candelabras in one part of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The candelabras were so large that when lighted, the glow was enough to light up at least most of the city. That went on until the dawn of the next day, when the candles were extinguished, which means the next night was once again dark.
Referring to that, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” A light brighter than the first light created, brighter than the glory of the Lord that shone around the angel the night He was born, brighter than the new star that appeared to the Wise Men, brighter than the candelabras in the Temple.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness.” What a promise that is. Those who follow Jesus will have spiritual warmth and will be able to grow spiritually and will have the proper paths of life illuminated.
All who follow Jesus will not walk in darkness, but - listen to this - will “have the light of life.” That refers to never-ending light.
Think how wonderful that is. The light the shepherds saw ended when the angel disappeared. There is no report that the star the Wise Men saw continued after it led them to where Jesus was. The candelabras in the Temple went out when the festival ended.
But Jesus offers the light of life. Light that will never fail.
A week-and-a-half ago, on the first night it got below zero, I heard of a power outage in Omaha that shut off the lights - and the heat - of over 5000 houses. Electrical power can go out, but not Jesus.
And hear this. The promise of never-ending light goes, not to everyone, but to those who follow Jesus. Those who accept Jesus as their Savior.
Again, if you have not done that, do so, even today. Please do that so you can join those who are Christians in having light that we can let shine so that more and more people will see God.
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And know, including from this story, that Jesus is the source of spiritual light. It is to Him we are to be connected. It is a story about a light bulb.
One day, a bulb was produced. He said to himself, “I have to find a way to shine.”
The bulb went to a meeting to learn about his inner capacity for light.
That did not work, so he read books about how to get bright.
Neither did that work, so each morning the bulb got up and recited positive affirmations. “I am a light bulb. I believe in myself. I will shine.”
Still nothing happened.
Eventually the light bulb became weary and discouraged. He began to doubt who he was and what he could do.
But then, one day the bulb was picked up and carefully twisted and twisted until he was in a fixture. Suddenly, light burst forth from him and filled the room. It was then the bulb finally understood. The key was not to try harder, but to be connected to a power source.
We are to be the light of the world, but trying to shine on our own will never work. Instead, we are simply called to be closely connected to Jesus and remain in Him. When we do that, His light pours through us in powerful, brilliant ways that can change the world.
Which brings up this devotional I read. The author shares that news headlines drifted in from the living room as she sat at her desk. One was a story of yet another tragedy.
A sense of despair washed over her. She silently prayed, “Lord, is there anything I can do about the darkness in this world? It seems so overwhelming.”
In an answer to that prayer, the woman sensed a gentle whisper into her heart replying, “The only way to get rid of the darkness is to add more light.”
That is true because darkness is the absence of light. Trying to go after it directly to catch it and throw it away is like chasing your shadow. We cannot bag darkness up and dispose of it that way. Only light is powerful enough to make the darkness disappear.
What light? The light of Jesus. The light that shone around an angel the night He was born. The light of a star that caught the attention of Wise Men. Light we can be reminded of every day and every night as we see the sun and the moon and stars that He created. The light of life. The light that is to be in us, shining for all the world to see so more and more people will see God and be led to accept His Son Jesus as Savior. What a wonderful gift is light.
In a moment, today’s closing song. Before that, let’s say together a short prayer. This will be the closing prayer for today.
Jesus, You are the light of the world.
Help us to walk in Your light.
Help us to shine Your light all around us
by day and by night
Thank You for being the light of the world.
Lord, Light My Soul With Holy Flame is the closing song. Since this concludes this service, we will add an amen.
Lord, light my soul with holy flame,
That I may glorify Thy name,
In all I say and do and give,
While by Thy grace I daily live.
Dear Savior, guide my feet today,
So I may walk in Thy good way,
O use me, Lord, to do Thy will
And Thy great purpose to fulfill!
Show me the path to service true
And give me faith Thy work to do,
With mind and heart on human needs
And using life for noble deeds.
Upon Thine altar now I lay
Myself, my all, this holy day,
That all my strength may truly be
iIn faithful service, Lord, to Thee.