Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Light of the World and Lights in the World (John 1.1-11, Matthew 5.14-16)

Sermons by: Kathy Larson and Robert Austell - December 24, 2013
Text: John 1:1-5,9-11 (Larson); John 1:6-8, Matthew 5:14-16 (Austell)

:: Sermon Audio (pt.1-Larson, pt. 2-Austell)
The sermon was in two parts; the first was by Kathy Larson on Jesus as Light of the World; the second was by Robert Austell on Jesus' followers as lights in the world.

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Carol Sing-a-Long
Prelude (Handbells): "Now is Born the Divine Christ Child" (McChesney)
Prelude (Handbells): "Toll of Darkness" (Youngblood)
Special Music (Instrumental): "Silent Night, Holy Night" (Chris Rice)
Song of Praise: "Here I am to Worship" (Hughes)
Musical Interlude (Handbells): "Toll of Darkness" (Youngblood)
Hymn: "Go Tell it on the Mountain" (GO TELL IT)
Hymn: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: "Joy to the World" (Page)


:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Christmas Eve 2013
This is a sermon in two parts

Part I: Jesus as Light of the World (Kathy Larson)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … 9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.  ~John 1:1-5,9-11
Jesus said both “I am the light of the world” and “you are the light of the world.” But in order to understand light, we unfortunately have to talk about darkness. So the beginning of this service is, honestly, a little bit depressing.

When I was putting together those images you saw, I thought to myself, “Ughh, Christmas is ‘supposed’ to be happy and excited; these are kind of depressing and sad.” I have a friend who wrote a blog post this morning about how she knew she was “supposed” to be happy because it’s Christmas-time and she just couldn’t get herself there. And she couldn’t figure out why. She’s just supposed to be happy – lights, and presents, and Santa. But she made the point – and I think it’s a great point – that not being excited in and of herself was probably forcing her to understand Jesus a little bit more. In her darkness and sadness and not really being excited about Christmas she could understand that Jesus was the Light of the world… that Jesus was the Light in her dark places. HE was what she was waiting for this Christmas.

Without disease we can’t appreciate our health. Without suffering we can’t appreciate the good times. Without doubts and questions we can’t appreciate the times that we can understand things. And it’s true about Christ: he uses that image that he is the Light of the World because there is so much darkness around us. There is sadness; there is disease. There are things that we don’t understand and can’t explain away just by some pat answer.

The Good News is that even with all this darkness, Christ is the Light of the World. And what does that mean? When we think about darkness we think about what happens in the dark. A lot of kids are scared of the dark (a lot of adults, too!). Thieves break into your house in the dark. When it’s dark you might not see where you are going, trip and fall, and hurt yourself. Darkness, in general, is not a good thing. But Christ brings light into our lives and our hearts. When there is light you are not as scared of things that might hurt you in the dark. Christ helps us see the way; you can see the obstacles that are in your path – things you can see with him that you can’t see without him. All those things that we fear about the darkness, spiritually speaking, are solved with Christ. It’s like you always have this light around you. Scripture says that in a future time that there will be no need of the sun because Christ himself will light our world.

So tonight when we think about this Light that has come, what does that mean for you and me – that Christ is the Light of the World? Where are those places that you are experiencing darkness – where you are sad, you are depressed, or you are struggling? Think about those… focus on those… and we are going to spend some time in reflection and prayer and ask for Christ the Light to come into those dark places.

[silence]

Now I get to the good part! We had the depressing images before the Good News. But Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but have the Light of life. Come Jesus, Light of the world; shine into our darkness.”


Part II: Lights in the World (Robert Austell)
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.  ~John 1:6-8

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  ~Matthew 5:14-16

I’m just going to talk with you a bit – not quite a “sermon”… rather a few thoughts on light, life, and Jesus. Before I get to that, let me make this one important observation. These verses (and the ones Kathy talked about) use something we know something about – light – to talk about something that is very mysterious to us – God. But be clear on this: “light” here is not a poetic idea about God or an “enlightening philosophy” to help us out. It is used very tangibly and specifically to talk about the person and characteristics of Jesus Christ. It’s more than a metaphor, it’s a descriptive name for Jesus, and so is often capitalized in the Bible. Mainly, I just want you to know that when we are talking about the Light of the World, it’s not an idea or an ideal; it’s Jesus, God glory revealed in flesh, in history, with us, for us, and one of us.

These portions of scripture give examples of pointing others to Jesus, the Light of the World. In John 1, we heard about John the Baptist using words to testify (“tell the truth”) about the Light so that all might believe through him. In Matthew 5, Jesus is speaking and tells those who would follow him that their actions point people to God’s glory.

For a number of years now at Good Shepherd we have grappled with what it means to be bearers of the Light that is Christ.  I can share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Most Christians experience one of two tensions: either we are good with words, but have a hard time connecting them with the reality of struggles in other people’s lives; or we are good with actions, but have a hard time connecting them tangibly with the reality of Jesus Christ.
  2. Given those tensions, we more or less know how to point to Jesus when people come to us; but we are still being stretched to know how to carry or share Jesus outside the walls of the church. It has helped somewhat to recognize and be reminded (again and again) that the walls don’t make the church; WE are the church.
  3. At all ages and stages of faith, it is easy to think that the light is us – our faith, our words, our deeds, our reputation, our success. This is a self-deception that hurts us and others in so many ways. The Light is Jesus. We are candles – some melted, some broken, some worn to a nub.
  4. For you and me, the Good News is that the Light has come regardless of the condition of your life. You don’t have to have it together, put it together, fake it together to know Jesus or for him to come to you. Many people hold back from trusting God because they think they have to get their act together before God can love them. Not so! The Light didn’t come to the well-lit places; the Light came into the darkness
  5. For the world around you, the Good News that YOU add to the News of Jesus is that you don’t have to have it together, put it together, fake it together; and you are living proof! Many Christians hold back from talking or sharing about God because they think they have to get their act together before God can use them. My mind immediately goes back to so many Biblical characters we have studied in recent years: Moses, Rahab, David, Ruth, Paul, Peter, and more; every one used heroically by God and every one a melted, broken, worn down example of humanity.
In just a moment we have made time and space for you to respond in prayer. The bulletin has this question: “Where are there places of darkness in the world around you, where you need to bring Christ’s light to the world?” The world is a huge place, so let me tweak that a little to make it more specific. Earlier, Kathy asked you to list and pray about places in YOU where there is darkness. Trusting that God will not only meet you there, but work there for His glory, consider identifying darkness in the world that corresponds to your own darkness, trusting that God might use you uniquely to care for another person and shine His Light in a specific way.

For example, if one area of darkness for you was fearfulness; see if you can identify places in the world around you – perhaps even near to you – where others struggle with fear. Or if loneliness; then others who might be lonely. Where would they be? You might be best equipped to know and understand!

Here’s the image. We definitely need to get away from a Christianity that holds up a “light” of false perfection, that says, “be like me in my Christian rule-keeping and apparent togetherness and God will bless you.” The Gospel is nowhere close to that!

Much truer to say, “Here is some light in your darkness; it is Jesus, who knows you and loves you and understands what you are dealing with.”

But even tangibly truer to say, “Hey, I know something of what you are going through; I’ve been there myself. And this is what Jesus has meant to me in the midst of it.”

Let’s take a few moments now and respond. Feel free to write in your bulletin or pray silently or use the time however would be most helpful to you. Amen.

[silence]

Jesus said, “You are the Light of the World. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven. Come, Jesus, Light of the World, shine through us.”


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