December 24, 2011
TEXT: Luke 2:1-20/Isaiah 9:2-7
INTO OUR DARKNESS
CHRIST THE LIGHT HAS COME!
Rev. Kenneth Wieting

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior (Titus 1:4); Dear hearers of the Word made flesh; In our house there is usually communication and collaboration about the Christmas card we send.  One of us – pointing no fingers – is generally concerned about artistic matters.  The other of us – pointing no fingers - is usually asked to pick Scripture texts and hymn stanzas.  This year the hymn stanza chosen was the second one we sang this evening – (sing) Highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal Born of a virgin, a mortal he comes;  Light of Light eternal!  Now a Mortal!  Now a human being!  Now like you!

December 24, 2011
TEXT: Luke 2:1-20/Isaiah 9:2-7
INTO OUR DARKNESS
CHRIST THE LIGHT HAS COME!
Rev. Kenneth Wieting

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior (Titus 1:4); Dear hearers of the Word made flesh; In our house there is usually communication and collaboration about the Christmas card we send. One of us – pointing no fingers – is generally concerned about artistic matters. The other of us – pointing no fingers - is usually asked to pick Scripture texts and hymn stanzas. This year the hymn stanza chosen was the second one we sang this evening – (sing) Highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal Born of a virgin, a mortal he comes; Light of Light eternal! Now a Mortal! Now a human being! Now like you!


So – let’s bake a little, exchange some gifts, send some cards, put up some lights and have a family get together! By all means as you are so inclined! These can be good and enjoyable seasonal gifts of daily bread from God’s hand. But they do not make Christmas anymore than snow makes Christmas. Christmas is Christ – Light of Light eternal! Christmas is receiving the light this holy mortal brings into our darkness.


The prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of Christ this very way.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  The Hebrew word used for darkness here means thick, dense darkness like that of a mine shaft – before modern lighting methods.  This word also translates the absolute darkness prior to creation.  In addition, Scripture uses this word for darkness to describe other shadowy subjects such as confusion (Psalm 35:6) and ignorance (Job 37:19; Eccl 2:14) and the evil of sin (Isaiah 5:20) and death (Job 10:21-22) and the grave (Psalm 88:11-12).  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.


The people walking in darkness are all the people in the world by nature.  This includes the well-educated and the well-adjusted and the well-heeled and the well-intentioned and the well-thought-of.  This includes the philosophers and the politicians and the presidents and the pastors and the poets and the professors and the physicians and the scientists and lawyers and counselors.  This includes the brightest and best – the most respected personalities and performers and pundits in the year soon ending.  This includes gifted and insightful people who are able to shine helpful light on certain areas of our earthly life – inventors – discoverers -  authors – engineers - producers.  This includes the working man and the working woman.  This includes the family man and the family woman.  This includes the single man and the single woman.  This includes you and me and every person we know.


Where did this thick darkness around you and within you come from?  From the same place it came to me and all people.  Enticed to be like God we were robbed of God’s image.  Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve we are a disfigured shadow of what we were created to be.  There is unspeakable tragedy in the Holy Spirit’s witness that – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Now, by nature, inherited from our parents, we walk in darkness.  Yet by this same nature, we don’t recognize the darkness.  We are often pleased and confident in our own radiance.  We easily believe that we have all the answers we need – “thank you very much.”  It is like someone holding up a candle to the light of the sun and saying, “see that – I have all the light I need in my own hands!”  Our Old Adam loves to live in the darkness of what it perceives as its own self-generated brilliance.  But the phrase Mark Twain directed at a different subject surely fits here – “There is a world of difference between lightning and a lightning bug!”


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  In the rays of our own light our feelings are easily deceived by the one who masquerades as an angel of light – Satan himself (2 Corinthians 11:14).  We easily and often evaluate things in the light of self-interest or self-justification or self-pity.  It happens in congregations, in the work place, and in the home.  In the rays of our own reasoning the darkness of greed can be seen as the light of carefulness and wise planning; the darkness of not planning and preparing can be seen as the wisdom of not worrying; the darkness of doubting God’s Word can be seen as the light of pragmatism and common sense; the darkness of self-worship can be seen as the light of rugged self-reliance.  In another place Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight!”  Are you wise in your own eyes?  Are you shrewd in your own sight before the highest, most holy Trinity? 


Without recognizing the deep darkness we cannot celebrate the true light of Christmas.  So, bear with me just a bit more, taking seriously the things that testify to the darkness.  Third world countries often struggle in the grip of drought and famine and disease and despair.  Europe teeters on the dark edge of economic collapse and social chaos threatens to join right in.  Our own national debt hangs like a murky shadow over the promise of future years and future generations.  Countries accommodating – even advocating terrorism advance toward the menacing darkness of nuclear weapons.  Storms send torrents of water and mud surging in the darkness and hundreds are buried in the Philippines.   The gloom of daily reports includes toddlers abducted and killings and bombings.  You know the lists in Milwaukee and beyond.  You know the litany of suffering that goes on and on.  You know of health threats and personal affliction by those in your circle of friends and family.  That’s just a tiny peek at the darkness on the outside.


On the inside the darkness is less noticeable but no less real.  Husbands do not naturally lay down their lives for their wives – seeking always to put the interests of their bride first.  They fail to listen and to give daily agape love.  Wives do not naturally order their lives in regard to their husbands – always putting their husband’s interests first.  Children do not always love and honor and obey their parents in everything.  Parents do not always lovingly bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  None of us naturally seeks to hallow God’s Name as our first priority every day.  No one naturally thirsts and hungers to receive His light and love in worship each week.  We all can pull down the shades when someone points out a dark spot in us – denying or playing the victim or blaming someone else.


Our view of life is dimmed from time to time by the darkness of disappointment and discontentment and complaint and worry and impatience and anger.  When God brought the ninth plague on Egypt – the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21-22).   Sometimes the darkness on our inside is darkness so deep that it can be felt in the prison house of depression or in feelings of despair.


And lurking in the shadows of every life is the possibility of sudden accident or serious illness or lingering pain.  Lurking even deeper in the shadows is the certainty of aging and death.  Dear Christians – we are in a fix!  It is not an accident of some dreamer’s idea called macro-evolution!  We must disabuse ourselves of the darkness of that false religion!  We are dying sinners in a dying world!  The statistics are 100%!  Scripture uses many terms to describe our dilemma.  The term the prophet Isaiah uses in this text is “darkness.”  It is darkness so deep that all the illuminating efforts of the human race have no effect on it. 


And now we are ready to rightly hear with scriptural substance this greeting - Merry Christmas!  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  As deep is the darkness that surrounds us and indwells us – much brighter is the light that we praise God for this evening!  Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!  The height and breadth of this gift of light blows even the darkness of death apart!  Light of Light eternal – a mortal He comes!


For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!  One minute the fields near Bethlehem were draped in darkness.  The next minute the skies were filled with the light of God’s glory!  One minute the night air was calm and quiet.  The next minute it was filled with heavenly voices!  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill toward men.”


Merry Christmas!  The Lord is come!  The deep darkness of our sin and death is pierced by the light of God’s searching love!  The Light of the world entered the world through the darkness of His mother’s womb.  He came to drive back the darkness of all our fears – real fears for real evil in this passing world – real fears for our sinful hearts that like to play God and take Him off the throne!  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people!  His birth is good news of great joy for you because it is good news of great joy for all people!  In Russia the Christmas greeting is “With Christ’s birth…”  It is short for “I congratulate you with the birth of Christ.”  You deserve congratulations at the birth of Christ because He was born “for you.”  “With Christ’s birth…”  “I congratulate you with the birth of Christ.”   Merry Christmas!


The annual observance of his birth was set for the 25th of December back in the fourth century.  It was established on that date in part to counter dark false teaching about Jesus.  The Gnostics (those who think they know – those wise in their own eyes) claimed to have direct communication with God.  Their self-claimed wisdom led them to deny that Jesus was true man.  It did not seem reasonable to these “enlightened ones” that God should come into this world as a mortal – as a human baby.  Therefore they fabricated a different “Jesus” who was not God in the flesh – who was not one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  They were very committed and active just like cults today.  Their false beliefs pulled thousands away from the faith.

The Church stood against this heresy, in part, by the annual observance of Christ’s birth.  December 25th marked a pagan holiday for the shortest day of the year and the birth of the new sun.  The Church replaced that emphasis with the birth of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), that is, with the birth of Jesus Christ.  Each Christmas celebration down through the centuries therefore taught this basic truth.  God came down to earth as true man!  Light of Light eternal – a mortal He comes!


He through whom light was created (John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1) – He who separated light from darkness – was born one night on the earth He created!  O Holy night!  O unique, one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated night!  In this vast world, in the darkness of hundreds of thousands of square miles of earth, light from heaven pierced the darkness where shepherds watched their flocks.  The Gory of the Lord shone round about them!  In Bethlehem’s manger – rested the Creator of the world – wrapped in strips of cloth – a baby boy!


Joy to the world!  The holy Son of God now had a body fit for sacrifice!  He partook of our flesh and blood that He might deliver us from death and the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15) by means of His flesh and blood!  That brings us directly to another night some three decades later when the grown man Jesus was less than ten miles from these fields of Bethlehem.  On that night too, the angels of God were on hand – more than twelve legions of them (Matthew 26:53).  But this time they were not sent forth to say anything.  On that night there were no words of joy from them but words of love from Christ.  Father, not my will but Thy will be done! 


On that night Jesus prayed alone in the darkness of a garden called Gethsemane.  On that night He was handed over to make peace for us sinners by the blood of His cross!  The next day, in midday darkness, he died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people!  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)!  He died on Calvary as your substitute - suffering the outer darkness of the eternal punishment you merit. 


That’s what this night is all about!    Now there is light – light for you!  The price of our redemption – His holy precious body and blood – was present because of the birth we celebrate tonight.  O holy night!  O night divine, when Christ was born!  Light of Light eternal - a mortal He comes.
 
The Light of light He brings is so great that death no longer has the last word over you!  The Light of light He brings was seen shining forth from His empty tomb on Easter morning!  It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him (Acts 2:24).  The Light of light He brings is now the blessed light of God’s forgiveness that absolves you from your sin.  Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come! 


When God washed away your sins in Holy Baptism He bathed you in the light of His love (clothing you with Christ – Galatians 3:27).  As He continues to serve you with His Word and with the heavenly food of His body and blood He keeps scattering the darkness of sin and unbelief with the light of His forgiveness. 


In Him, there is light at the end of the tunnel – the glorious light of the resurrection of the dead.  In Him you are also surrounded with glorious light right now.  Facing the darkness of a difficult decision there is light in Jesus and His words.  Dealing with the darkness of a draining illness, there is light in Jesus and His words of life.  For the darkness of past regrets that keep hounding you or for future fears there is the light of Jesus and His words of life!   For the darkness of disappointment or depression there is the light of Jesus and His words of life!  He is not one light among many.  He is the light of the world (John 8:12)!  Light of Light eternal – a mortal He continues to come!


This evening’s service ends with the singing of “Silent Night” by candle light.  That can be reduced to a sentimental thing that we do to feel a certain way.  God help us – whatever our feelings – to sing it for the real and deep reason it has meaning.  We live in real darkness for which only Jesus is the real light of life.  The extra verse we sing tonight is one of the original verses of the hymn.  The author of this Christmas carol understood the darkness of our sin - God’s wrath against it - and the light of God’s redeeming grace in Christ!


In Christ, God is not through giving to you – not by a long shot – not for all eternity!  In Christ you can joyfully anticipate the day of your death or the day of Christ’s Second Coming – the way that children anticipate the arrival of Christmas Day. So I congratulate you with the birth of Christ!  So, Merry Christmas!  Light of Light eternal – a mortal He comes! Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a