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Advent Light

Dec 17, 2017

Passage: John 1:5-8

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Advent


ESV Text: “5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light…”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. In a conversation with one of my kids this past week, we were ruminating on a challenging situation which was cause for some discouragement, but I was immediately made proud when they demonstrated an impressive coping mechanism both true and wise: “That’s ok, there are a lot of people worse off.” It was an example of growing maturity in my child and it made me smile. They were right.

Making comparisons can indeed provide a kind of psychological consolation. If your problem is that there are conflicts at work, well that’s bad, but some people are unemployed. If your problem is that you’re unemployed, that’s serious to say the least, but some people are in the hospital. If you’re in the hospital, then this is cause for great concern, but some people are facing inoperable and untreatable conditions. The chain goes on, but what is the worst of problems? You might get different answers here, but from God’s Word it would be difficult to top being in darkness as the worst problem.

The condition of darkness: this was why God sent John the Baptist to witness to God’s answer to this horrific malady, but before we get into God’s answer that we need as much as anyone, we need to ensure that we are clear about this darkness thing. Darkness is the condition of “[t]he world estranged from God, spiritually ignorant and blind. ‘The Scriptures flatly call natural man in spiritual and divine things darkness…(that is, in the dark, blind world, which does not know or regard God)’ (FC SD II 10) Aug[ustine wrote]: “As in the case of a blind man placed in the sun, the sun is present to him, but he is absent from the sun’ (NPNF1 7:13) (The Lutheran Study Bible, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009. 1777).”

St. Augustine’s analogy is spot on. It is possible to be in the presence of something, but not really perceive it. This happens in human communication all the time. It is like the person to whom someone else is speaking, but is not listening. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. For the same reason simply being in the presence of another does not ensure companionship, nor does it negate loneliness.

Likewise, someone will assert that God loves all. In Christ, this is most certainly true. But, when darkness is held to, we become oblivious to the riches of God. God is there, but the one holding to darkness is absent from Him. God’s gifts are poured out, but covered in darkness, they turn the other way and miss the gifts. How could anyone ever be so hard-hearted? The Scriptures tell us why (also from St. John’s Gospel): “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

And this is our warning about what exactly disrupts our Advent, our preparation for the coming of the Savior. Darkness pervades when it is loved. The problem is our own: our sin leads us to prefer evil over God. This is darkness. Therefore, the general assertion that love is the most important thing there is -- contrary to the meaning of 1st Cor 13:13 on “the greatest of these” – can be misleading, especially when folks will not go on to identify exactly what is loved. What gets in the way of preparing for Christmas is that we spend way too much time loving the wrong stuff. The darkness of evil doesn’t love what God calls us to love; but loves instead what sickens the soul.

Self-image is case and point. We live in a culture that clings to the superficiality of appearance. When this happens, we begin to love what we think makes us look better. It is said that our culture has defined feminine beauty hinging on a certain body-type. Many professional models (not all) present to young women across America: “this is beautiful; emulate this.” That of course is extremely dangerous. The Lord says rather, “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1st Peter 3:4).”

Instead, however, it is easier to go along with the world’s darkness. Being so preoccupied with self, we don’t even know what to do with ourselves. Another recent report says that 25% of teens in America consider themselves gender-neutral. All of this at its core reflects losing God’s truth and replacing it with doubt and confusion. This too is a form of darkness. God’s declaration that female and male are part and parcel His very good creation is called into question. And to overemphasize self-image is to never to be content with it. But God’s truth teaches us not to gaze at self, but to gaze at Christ and we do this when we become more concerned about our neighbors than we are about ourselves.

But I’ve chosen only two examples here: body type and gender identification. These are more-or-less magnified in our media, but there are many more manifestations of our fight against darkness. We don’t have to try hard to relate. There are more common things (and destructive things) like anger, hatred, and unforgiveness. More depraved things (and equally destructive things) like lust, sensuality, and unfaithfulness. You don’t have to look far to see how darkness spreads.

These are what the world put forth, King Solomon wrote about “vanity of vanities,” a chasing after wind. But we’re desperate. Our thirst for things that turn to dust is insatiable. We don’t stop. For us it is either the idol of money, success, love, or power. The foolish man when he is young loves immorality; when he is older he loves money; and finally, when he is oldest, he is full of pride. All these are evil – grossly immoral and against the good of God – and all these confuse created things with the Creator; all these misplace love; and all these make us oblivious to the presence of God. We desperately chase the things that will turn to dust. This is when darkness takes over.

This was the reason dear Christians that God sent John the Baptist to proclaim and point to the light! This is the reason John witnessed to Jesus Christ.

God has always been the true light to save, but it was not until Christ came in the flesh – that which John was heralding and preaching – that the light came in a way it had never come before. At the end of the day, light is more powerful than darkness. Take the deepest darkness, but then shine a light and the darkness cannot overcome it or master it or suppress it. And this light is real. It spreads out and chases darkness away.

Light leads and guides. The right light – the light of the world who is Jesus Christ (John 8:12) – leads and guides to eternal life; life that cannot be overcome by darkness; light that shows us the right thing to love and that makes it evident through its brightness that nothing is better. I love the way Christmas lights call attention to and highlight the symbols of the faith. The light can make these glow, so that there is no missing them.

These are tangible; they adorn the Christmas tree. These illustrate the supreme tangibility that made the light that John was preaching so special and infinitely more powerful than any dark evil that people claim controls them. The Word became flesh. God entered space-time as a real man. This time God was making sure we would not miss anything. He was making sure that our darkness would finally be overcome. The tables were turned! Darkness was beaten. Our love for darkness also beaten. Our evil was beaten.

To assure us that this is true, the Lord records the many historical witnesses of the True Light who saves us. The light of the world Jesus Christ who overcomes your darkness and false love was witnessed by the Father (John 5:32, 37; 8:18); witnessed by the Son Himself (John 8:14, 18); witnessed by the Holy Spirit (John 15:26); witnessed by the works of Christ (John 5:36; 10:25); witnessed by the Holy Scriptures (John 5:39); and witnessed by the disciples (John 15:27). (Bruce, F.F., The Gospel of John, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983. 35)

And this witness continues and this we must know for our Advent to be filled with light to lead us to the True Light who is coming soon. The Lord didn’t stop with these witnesses of His light, but has given ongoing witness because the Lord is still here! Do you ever feel overcome by darkness? Which of us has not felt this way? Which of us is without sin? So, the Lord, the True Light, remains with us. His true light remains with you.

His true light leads you in the most practical ways to know that starting right now, you can confess – regardless of your problems – that as you are, God loves you. In Christ, you’re beautiful. Your body type and gender are of the person baptized into Christ. His grace covers your anger; His purity overcomes your depravity. Your leaning towards self is replaced with a mission for others. Your darkness cannot overcome His light; His light has replaced your darkness.

It is not incidental that the gospel of John begins by identifying the Lord Jesus Christ both as “Word” and “Light.” The Word is the supreme tangibility. This is not imagined light or simply “spiritual” or ethereal light; or dreamt light; a light confined to a religious vision; it is not a mere philosophical light. This light enters our lives. The Word who became flesh entered our lives. And with His entrance, His light is true. This light allows us to know the things of light: 1) it gives you the very presence of God in your life; 2) it gives you the life of Christ; and 3) it gives you the ability to know God through faith in Christ (Koester, Craig R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, Second Edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. 143).

But our struggles against darkness are real, so we need to be clear about just how exactly the Light of the World, our Savior Christ, is still coming into our lives. He has given to us His gifts – in great light so that we can’t miss them – to fill us with His light that darkness cannot overcome.

He has given you His Word. Psalm 119: 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding…” He gives you dear Christian His Word, and the Light of the World is now in your life. He comes tangibly: The Word made flesh so that His body is real food; His blood real drink. So, He comes tangibly today in His Supper: His true body and true blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. There is no way you can miss His light. He shines upon you through the proclamation of His Word and He shines within you through the reception of the One who is the Light of God in His Holy Communion!

In this way, your darkness can no longer overcome the light. Christ takes your darkness and shines light. He forgives your rebellion. He gives you a new heart and a new love. He takes your evil and covers it with His love. He takes your desperate ways and buries them since those ways were nailed to Him on Calvary’s cross and then, yes, buried with Him as well! Then He rose. Light took over. The darkness was gone…and for you baptized into Christ, it still is. God no longer sees you covered in darkness. Claim this truth and see your darkness dissipate.

I knew someone trapped in darkness: their spiritual hope was gone; their body ravaged by drugs; their lives as desperate as desperate could be. This one literally became lost and the Lord quite simply permitted me to find a nail in a haystack and find this lost one. The Lord then led me to find the essential professional care needed after one phone call. The Lord opened doors left and right. Then when physical healing had been received, I saw this person receive the light of Christ, given new hope, a new heart, and a new life. To this day, this person is God’s new creation. Light that chases darkness away is not theoretical. It is very real. But it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the story I’ve just shared with you. It can also be very simple. It can be as simple as confessing your darkness and then hearing and holding onto the proclamation of light: “you are forgiven, God’s Light of the World – Jesus – is yours!” God says so. You can believe it! The Lord fill your Advent with His light! It is shining upon you now!