Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Text: John 1:6-9
God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all mankind.

 

The light in our darkness

Darkness has the ability to change people’s behaviour.  There are many examples but one of the more interesting was conducted at a university where half of the eighty students were given sunglasses and the other half glasses with clear lenses.  The two groups were in different rooms and communicated via computers and the task was to share an amount of money.  I won’t go through the process but it was discovered that the people who wore sunglasses were the less honest.  After questioning the participants it was discovered that the relative darkness that the sunglasses gave triggered a sense of anonymity and influenced their honesty. 

A similar thing happened when people were given a task that required honesty in a dimly lit room.  It was found that there was a 37% drop in honesty compared to the same task being done in a brightly lit room.

Darkness can have a very powerful effect on all of us at some time.  You know what it’s like to suddenly find yourself walking down a very dark, unfamiliar street.  If there are passers-by you are wary of them. The dark shadows are best avoided. And what a relief when you are again in well-lit familiar surroundings.

Darkness in people’s lives can differ from one person to the next.  Darkness is that thing that takes away freedom, joy, peace of mind, and lots of other things.

The darkness may be poverty, hunger and homelessness. 
It may be the hopelessness of a mother as she watches her child’s life slowly fading away because of a lack basic food, clean water and health care.

The darkness may be the questions, doubts, anger and despair after a sudden and inexplicable death or a diagnosis that comes out of the blue.

To a child in a war torn country, the darkness is armed men plundering, killing, raping.  They are afraid that they will be abused, forced to join the ranks of the child soldiers, or be killed.

For another person, darkness is struggling with an illness, the aches and pains of old age, losing the struggle with failing abilities and entering a nursing home.  For some darkness is looking to the day when they lose a loved one through death.

To some darkness is looking into the face of death and only seeing hopelessness, an end, extinction, nothing to look forward to beyond that last breath.

All of us have our own personal darkness.  It might be a short fuse.  How annoyed we get with certain people.  Our fixation on new things.  Some kind of addiction.  Impatience. Selfishness.  Satan, the prince of darkness, loves to fill our lives with darkness. 

It’s good every now and then to stop and think about how the darkness of sin manifests itself in our lives?  In what ways do our words and actions arise from this darkness and even though we know what God wants us to do we keep on doing the dark things anyway.     

It can happen that we can be in the dark and not even realise it.  It’s like those occasions when we are reading in the late afternoon and we are so intent on what we doing that it’s not until someone sticks there head in the room and points out our needs for light saying, “Do you want me to turn on the light?” that we realise that the light has disappeared, we are sitting in a darkened room and we didn’t even know it. What a difference it makes when the light is turned on.

At the beginning of the Advent season we have John the Baptist sticking his head into the rooms of our darkened lives and asking, “Do you want me to turn the light on?”  But John points out that even though he bluntly calls out, “Repent.  Turn away from your sin”, he isn’t the light.  John says, “I am the messenger sent by God.  I have come to tell you about the light.  This is the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people”. 

Those who like the dark will not appreciate this light because the light exposes what is hidden in the hearts of all people.  This light will reveal all including the darkness in our own lives.  That’s why we need to hear John’s wild call again and again, “Turn away from your sins.  Get ready.  The Kingdom of Lord is coming is coming soon.”

The light John is referring to not only exposes what is hidden in the darkness but is also a comforting light.  The source of the light is Christ himself.  He is love and he brings hope and peace and joy.  He is the one to whom John pointed, the promised Messiah – the one who will bring healing and love.

A man told what it was like to live at the North Pole without seeing the sun for three months.  He said, “I ached and hungered to see the dawn.”  Then one morning in February, he climbed to the top of a wind-swept ridge and sat quietly, facing east; the sky was a gray sheet.  Then it became a pale blue, which deepened.  There was a silent rush of colour as the sun rose.  He stood blinking with frozen tears on his cheeks.  The darkness had ended; at last, the light had come.  The light changed not only his world around him, it changed the world inside of him.  Jesus is the light that changes lives, guides our footsteps and fills us with the warmth of God’s love.

The prophet Isaiah talked about the dawn of God’s light in the world and its effect.  “Arise, Jerusalem, shine like the sun; the glory of the Lord is shining on you.  Other nations will be covered with darkness, but on you the light of the Lord will shine.  … Your days of grief will come to an end.  I, the Lord, will be your eternal light” (Isaiah 60:1,2,19).  We know that a little later in the Gospel of John Jesus says about himself, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).  The prophecies of the Old Testament have been fulfilled.  What an impact Christ the light has had on the darkness in our lives and in the world!

As we prepare for the Christmas season light plays a significant part.  Driving around the darkened streets, you see houses decorated with lights.  What is normally just an ordinary house that no one really takes any notice of suddenly gets our attention with the addition of hundreds of tiny light bulbs.  Many people have decorated Christmas trees in their homes and an important feature is the lights.  The lights (and the tinsel and Christmas baubles that reflect the light) change an ordinary looking tree into something magnificent. 

All these lights remind us of the real light, the genuine light, Jesus Christ, who changes things. 
He is hope. 
He is encouragement. 
He is light to every person who has need of super-human strength to see through the darkness of trouble and sickness. 
He is the light who guides us along life’s journey when we have more questions than we have answers. 
He is the light that chases away the darkness of guilt with his forgiveness and the darkness of fear when we take our last breath.  He is the light of life, eternal life.

In whatever way the darkness shows itself in our lives, Christ has come to be a light for us. 
Wherever there is darkness in our family, in our friendships, in our community, Christ has come to shed light on all those areas of our lives to restore peace and harmony and joy. 
Wherever there is darkness in our nation or in the world at large, Christ has commanded us to let our light shine before men, to use whatever means we have at our disposal to relieve the suffering of others and drive out the darkness that shrouds the lives of so many. 

During the time when a severe epidemic was sweeping through the country all public gathering places, including churches, were ordered closed and people were encouraged not to visit one another’s homes, in order to stem the spread of the disease.  This frustrated the members of the local church because they knew that this was a time when people needed hope and consolation.

The church had magnificent stained glass windows that could be seen across the town. A few church people devised a plan.  They gathered as many lights as they could find and placed them inside the church; the light shining through the glass to the outside world.

There for all to see were the timeless portrayals of Jesus:
Jesus the baby in the manger who is the hope of all mankind;
Jesus the good shepherd caring for a lamb;
Jesus praying in agony in Gethsemane;
Jesus enduring the pain of death on the cross;
Jesus risen from the dead to give eternal life.
Jesus the king and ruler in control of all things.
The silent sermons of light and stained glass spoke loudly through the dark and gave new resolve and encouragement.  The light through the windows reminded them of “the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people”, to use John’s words.

When you look at the little child in the manger at Christmas, look at the one who will meet you at your point of darkness, whatever that darkness is for you.  His love never changes. 
In his light, we find the strength to carry on. 
In his light, the darkness is replaced with hope, love, joy and peace.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th December 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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