3 Advent Proper C3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 1:6-8; 19-28 Sermon
December 14, 2014
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & Lutheran Service Book):
TLH 62 "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel"
LSB 336 "Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending"
TLH 61 "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People"
TLH 64 "Jesus Thy Church With Longing Eyes"
THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS
TEXT (vs. 6-9): “There came a man who was sent from God: his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
I like Christmas lights. This time of the year, it is especially enjoyable for me to drive through the streets and neighborhoods which would otherwise be cold and dark, and look at what various people have done with Christmas lights. And with as inexpensive as Christmas lights are these days, people can easily afford to really go all out when it comes to outdoor displays.
Of course I like to put up decorations on the outside of my house. This year was really no different than other years I suppose. I have all my strings of lights custom fit at exactly the proper length, so there is no real guess work involved. There are hooks already in place, so it can all be done in less than two hours, that is if everything works okay. I like Christmas lights, whether they are mine or someone else's. And I think that most people would agree with me.
If you've driven past our church building at night lately, you've probably seen the lights we have out in front. We have the hedges beside the front door decorated, and we have that rather large lit cross that is prominently displayed out on the lawn. And I am particularly fond of that cross.
There is a story that goes with it too. When we moved in to this building, the cross was something that Grace Lutheran left behind for us to use. When I saw it, I immediately called Pastor Haefner and told him that they had forgotten it. He told me that they wanted us to have it. It was one of two lit decorations that had been given to them by the city, which was part of a city-wide display that was a hand-me-down fromLincoln. They kept the nativity decoration, and left the cross for us. I'm glad that they did.
The first year we had it displayed, which was Christmas of 2011, I spent a long time in the basement working with the old lights on it, and eventually I was able to get them all to work. And as the days wore on, I had to make a few more trips outside to do some bulb replacement and repairs.
When Christmas of 2012 came around, I found myself indoors in the back of the church working with the lights for several hours again, and again I had to brave the elements outside for additional repairs as time went on.
Last year, it was the same story for the third time. After I spent the time working on the lights, I was rather dismayed and perturbed when I came back a week later to find only about 12 inches at the very bottom that was working; the rest of the lights were dark.
I wasn't happy. So I unhooked the cross, took the whole thing down, and brought it inside the church. I laid it across the back rows of pews, and I began to work. I removed every one of the old lights. And then I went to Big Lots and bought brand new LED type lights, and I set to work making the whole thing brand new.
It took me three very tedious days to do all of this. Each and every light is fastened with its own zip tie; and after zipping a thousand or so of them, my fingers were rather sore. But I think the end result was worth it. The lights inside the cross are cool white, and there is a border of red lights around it. It really stands out.
As I read our text for today and as I was preparing for this sermon, I thought about what that lit cross out on our front lawn means. It is the symbol of our Christian faith. It is a witness to our community and everybody driving up and down Highway 15 that we proclaim Jesus Christ who is the light of the world.
The prophet Isaiah in chapter 9 verse 2 speaks about the promised Messiah this 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 shone."
Our text for today from John’s gospel is about light. We are introduced to a man named John—not John the Apostle who is the author of the Gospel, but John the Baptist, who is described as the one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is described numerous times by Scripture as being the “light of the world,” and the "great light" that Isaiah describes. He is the true light, a light that no darkness could ever overcome. John was the one prophesied by the prophet Isaiah who would come just before Christ to bear witness to him, telling people that the true light had come, and to be prepared for him.
The situation over 2,000 years ago wasn’t a pretty one. There were illnesses and famines that killed many people. The Roman government was heavy-handed and brought about a type of artificial peace by killing every insurgent that dared to challenge their power and authority. Leadership in the land was crooked, corrupt, and lacking. Spiritual leadership had become weak and mundane. People were at the brink of despair, sort of feeling their way around in a world polluted with the darkness and confusion of sin. The people were in need of a real and genuine hope for their lives.
But now, here comes a man sent by God. His name is John. In the midst of political and spiritual darkness, he was sent to tell everyone about God’s light. He was a witness to that Light, to proclaim that the Light had arrived. Once again people would be able to see the road and the surroundings. This Light would give their lives purpose and perspective. It would be a light like no one had ever experienced.
So here was John. He wasn’t inJerusalemwith all the powerful religious people. He wasn’t inRomewith all of the powerful political people. No, he was in the small town ofBethany, outside ofJerusalem. He operated in the wilderness, and in places so insignificant that we don’t know where they are today.
His ministry was very short too. Thanks to King Herod, he was executed by beheading when he was around 30 years of age. But he accomplished the purpose for which God had sent him. He prepared the way for the coming Christ in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. God’s true light was on the horizon, ready to illume the world enshrouded in darkness.
We live in a world filled with sin, and sin is equated with darkness. Our sins have separated us from God, and have taken us away from the light. We can see ourselves as a people sitting in darkness as well. Without light, we are aimlessly groping in the dark. Sin is like the bacteria and fungus that thrives in the dark. The deeper into the darkness we plunge, the more infectious sin becomes. This is what the devil likes. When we’re sitting in the dark, he can do his dirty work most effectively.
But the light of the world, the light of the Gospel is something that God sends to us. He doesn’t want us groping around in the dark with no hope at all. Therefore he sent Jesus to this earth to be a light for all people. He sent Jesus to live, to suffer, to die, and to rise again so that all people might have that light. He sent Jesus to be our light, so that our lives might be illumined. When our sinful lives are exposed to the light of the Gospel, then Satan has to flee. The Gospel tells us that our sins have been forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we have experienced the light of the Gospel. And suddenly, we have new hope. We have new direction. Our path to heaven is now well lit, and we know that through Jesus, God will take us safely there.
As recipients of the light of Christ, our entire lives are changed. That light is now something that permeates our very being. Everything we say, and do, and are reflects this light.
If we look at Matthew 5, right at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, just after the beatitudes, he gives us these words in verses 14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
The light of the world isn’t just something we receive and keep to ourselves; rather it is what we are. Christ is the light, and as believers, we become lights for him. We become lights of the world because God has empowered us to do so. Christ is to continue to live in each of our lives to such a degree, that there should be no question that our entire beings are dedicated to him. When we have this light living within us, then we can’t help but let others see it as well. We don’t hide it or apologize for it; rather we let it shine for all to see.
The reason that we use lights to decorate for Christmas is because Christ is described as the light of the world. Certainly not everyone who puts up Christmas lights is a Christian. Many people will spend tons of money on lavish decorations, and will give no thought as to what they mean—other than maybe that they look pretty.
But when we as Christians put up our Christmas lights, we can do so with a great purpose in mind. Just like John, we can give witness to the light that illumines our lives. As Christians, we are also sent by God to give witness to the light.
As I talk about this, I can't help but think about that Christmas cross out on our front lawn. That cross represents our message of light. It represents the love of our Saviour who came to this earth inBethlehem's manger. It represents his love that took him to the rough cross onCalvaryto pay the price for all of mankind's sin.
As good of a witness, and as meaningful as our lit cross can be, it is after all just a man-made symbol. The original lights on it were man-made and subject to failure, which they did. The new lights I put on it will last a good long time (or at least I hope they will), but they won't last forever either.
When we think of our text for today, we can look at the world that is in a state of ruin and destruction. But in the midst of the soot and rubble, we have a light; and regardless of how destructive the circumstances, it continues to shine through bright and clear. But unlike the failing lights of the cross out on our lawn, the light of Christ will always continue to burn bright. It will never break or wear out. It will always be shining bright, leading souls to heaven.
This year as you drive around and you see the various Christmas lights shining bright in the cold night air, you can be vividly reminded about the light of Christmas that shines in your life. No matter how dark, or cold, or inhospitable the surroundings may be, we have the light of Christ that continues to shine and cut through the darkness.
We might not think that we are very much in this world. But we are the only messengers and spokesmen that God has to use to spread his light.
The Holy Spirit, which gives us this light in the first place, now gives us the power to keep this light shining within us so the world may see this light and share the hope and joy we have.
Therefore, we are like John the Baptist in our text for today. We are sent by God to give witness to this light. May we continue to do this willingly and joyfully so all people may come to know Jesus Christ, the true light of the world, whom God has sent to dispel the darkness forever.