When it gets dark, light makes all the difference.
Have you ever thought about your relationship with the dark? Darkness is interesting. On the one hand, the dark allows us to sleep, to quiet, to rest. On the other, the dark can be a lonely place. It can be a frightening place. Many things that might feel innocent in the light become ominous in the dark.
Last week I was running early in the morning, and since these are the shortest days of the year, it was still completely dark out as I set out from my neighborhood. I began thinking about the upcoming day and looked up and drew in a quick gasp, as I saw a hooded figure, standing silently looking at me. It took me a moment to realize that hooded figure was a square brick column with a round stone top, one I’ve passed countless times before.
But darkness has a way of doing that. We find ourselves on guard in the dark. We mistake driveway pillars for hooded wizards.
We feel smaller in the dark.
The dark is a lonely place, too.
There is nothing more lonely than waking up from a scary dream in the dark. There is nothing more isolating than waking up with a headache or a heartache, with a physical or emotional sense of dis-ease. We feel more alone and less strong.
Sometimes this reminder of weakness is as simple as trying to walk around in the dark for a glass of water or an extra blanket. Who among us hasn’t walked into a doorframe or a wall in the dark, or held our hands in front of us, sliding our feet gingerly forward, trying to see our way forward but feeling quite powerless without our sight.
We feel weaker in the dark.
We’ve heard the familiar story of Christmas, when angels came to proclaim the truth of Christ to shepherds on the night watch. The Jesus storybook bible brings the message to life. Shepherds are scruffy. Shepherds are riff-raff. Shepherds are “nobodies.”
It makes me ask the question who the angels would visit in the night if Jesus was being born this week, in our city. I thought perhaps the angels would visit a truck stop, or a pet shelter. Maybe the angels would come to a low-income nursing home, to the attendants on the night shift.
You see, part of what happens when we get older is we forget to do this–to dream in stories. We might even think stories like this one, about a journey and a baby and shepherds and angels, is sweet–but not important. We forget that we are also longing for a story, a story that makes sense for us.
Maybe that’s why we need the dark, because the dark helps us remember that we are all smaller and younger and weaker than we might pretend to be.
But in the quiet of the dark, we remember. The dark is where we can’t keep up appearances. The dark is where what’s inside of us gets brighter. And what’s inside of us is where God meets us. Long before we celebrated this night, God was known by an ancient name– El Roi—the God who sees.
But what does this mean? Why would this invisible and majestic God, the one who made the heavens and the earth, who’s always been and always will be, why would that God care about you, and me, about us, here in 2016, surrounded by the noise and bustle of modern day?
How can we know this “God who Sees”? And if he sees the invisible inside of you, your hopes, your dreams, your regrets, your fears, what will his response be to that?
Well, He Had a Plan.
More than 600 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the way God would make himself known, through a King—a King of Kings. This King would reign in righteousness and peace. This King was promised to be Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, said Isaiah. Because God’s passion would be for his people, that they might know Him, that every burden would be lifted, every shackle would be broken, that every person might know peace.
And this king would come as a child, as a little baby.
But why didn’t he appear, riding on angel’s backs? Why didn’t he appear in a heavenly chariot fueled by the sun? Why didn’t he ride in on a star? Why didn’t he declare his majesty and might upon entrance to the earth? Why, as the prophet Isaiah said, did the light “dawn” on us, rather than explode on us in a spectacular way, like fireworks in the night sky?
Maybe he came as a baby, to a broken-down stable, to an ordinary mom, who had been through an uncomfortable journey, with unexpected lodging and an unusual crib, to make a very important point about him, and about us, and about light and dark.
Yesterday in our first service of Christmas, I met a little girl named Madison, probably about eight. She was full of questions and conversation, so we hit it off immediately. We chatted about the room, the nativity and the lights and the screens. She told me everything she knew about the Christmas story from her kid’s bible, and I asked her about the shepherds. She couldn’t remember if they brought gifts to Jesus or not, so we cleared that up. Then I asked her, “Madison, if Jesus came today, who would the angels come to? Who would be the shepherds today?” And she looked at me and without missing a best, she smiled and replied, “they would come to me.”
Maybe this little baby, who created the stars but was born under one; who will reign forever in majesty but was born in humility, who has the power to give eternal life but gave his own life for us—maybe he came so that all of us–young and old, poor or rich, black or white, haves or have nots, shepherds or wise men—could believe that the angels could come to us.
Maybe he came in the dark in the most unintimidating form of a human possible—so that we could all, like the shepherds, not worry about getting it together or cleaning ourselves up, but just go scurry to meet him.
God, the one who Sees, sent Jesus, the one who Saves.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, for those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
Darkness is where we remember that we are smaller and weaker than we think. Darkness is where our true needs become bigger—our need for a Counselor, a Father, a Powerful God and a Prince of Peace.
Jesus made it very clear why he came to earth and what he came to do. He’s the light-bearer. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
In his humble birth, his sacrificial death and his victorious resurrection, we find the home our hearts are longing for, the peace our souls are desperate for, and the true light of our lives.
Yes, we can follow the shepherd home—because this story is for every single one of us. Each of us is invited to find ourselves in the story, and to run to him like the scruffy shepherds, in joy and excitement, in wonder and worship, to run into the warmth and comfort and peace of his glorious light. Oh yes, the people—all the people—walking in darkness have seen a great light.
You see, when it gets dark, the Light makes all the difference.
This is adapted from my Christmas Eve message at Hope. Please join us all day on live stream! I’ll be preaching at 3pm EST: http://hopecentral.com/christmas