Sermon audio here.
St. John says Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the Light.[i] We don’t mean to; the trouble is we often fail to recognize the darkness for what it is. Like someone in a dark room whose eyes have adjusted to his surroundings, we routinely choose that to which we’ve become accustomed.
It’s like when I want to wake my kids up in a hurry. They’re all snuggled into their beds in a nice, deep slumber on a cold winter’s night. Then I come into the room, barking like a drill sergeant and flipping on every light switch I can find.
When you’re just waking up, there’s nothing worse than 150 watts of artificial light shining into your sleepy, red eyes. Ruth especially hates it when I put the lights on. When she’s cozy in bed, those lights are public enemy number one.
We’ve become so cozy with sin, so comfortable with the darkness of our own hearts that Christ’s Light, His efforts to awaken us from our spiritual slumber, are just as oppressive to our flesh as being startled out of a sound sleep.
The first thing we need, then, is repentance. Christ is the Light, but the heart of man is filled with darkness. Confessing our sin, bringing it to light may not be pleasant, but the alternative is to live in a spiritual coma—to be awake, and yet, to miss out on even more than poor old Rip Van Winkle.
Christ shines His light into our darkness. Simeon calls Jesus a light to lighten the nations. Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world. We call Him God of God, Light of Light. But He doesn’t shine His light in quite the way we’d expect.
Consider the magi. Magi were pagan sorcerers. The word “magician” comes from magi. They were magi-cians, magicians of the Satanic arts.
We hear about magi in Scripture first in Daniel chapters 4 and 5, when they’re trying—and failing—to interpret the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar.[ii] In the book of Acts, we find magi actively working to turn people away from Christ.[iii]
Needless to say, magi were among the least likely candidates for the Light of Christ to shine.
But this is how our Lord works. He doesn’t shine His Light in quite the way we’d expect. Jesus once thanked His heavenly Father that He had hidden the Gospel (!)—not something we’d expect Him to do—from the wise and learned, but revealed it to the little children.[iv]
In fact, no one gets into His Kingdom, He says, unless he is as needy and dependent on His provision as a little child. [v] In other words, the only people who get into His Kingdom are beggars—those who have nothing to give and everything to receive.
Christ shines His light in the darkest places, even in the heart of sinners. Our hearts are so dark that in Isaiah, God laments that even the animals were more responsive to Him than His own children. He says:
“Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.”[vi]
Or recall how Balaam’s donkey was a better prophet than Balaam,[vii] or how even the Ninevite animals were more contrite than the Israelite prophet Jonah. While the prophet was throwing a fit over the unfairness of God’s mercy (!), the animals were fasting in sackcloth and ashes.[viii] Those who should see God’s light don’t, and those who shouldn’t, do.
You have expected the Almighty King of creation to reveal His Light in a display of great power. Instead, the Light of the world was born into poverty and lowliness. You might have expected the day Christ won our salvation to be one of those days where the sun didn’t stop shining. Instead, it was a day where deep darkness covered the land in the middle of the day.[ix]
God’s light shines today through His Word, which is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.[x] Satan is constantly trying to convince us to seek the light of Christ apart from His Word, be it inward in our hearts or upward at the stars. The devil is happy for you to look for Jesus in your experiences, in the world around you, or anywhere else, so long as you don’t look for Him in His Word.
Even the magi were guided to Bethlehem by God’s Word. The star, you’ll recall, guided them first to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. And it was there in Jerusalem that the magi heard God’s Word—from Herod, of all people—which foretold the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem.
It was only after Scripture had pointed them to Bethlehem did the star reappear and guide them the rest of the way. Luther once remarked that the star brought the magi to Jerusalem and not Bethlehem because God wants to show us that Christ can only be found in the Scriptures.
Just as Christ shined His light on the magi through His Word, so also the light of His Word has shined on you at the font. There, He declared you to be His child, transferring you from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son.[xi]
The baptismal candles we give out are a reminder to live always in the Light of Christ, who opens your eyes to see His Light in the breaking of the bread, just as He did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. [xii]
God shines His light in the least likely of places: in a manger, in the unjust, criminal execution of His Son, in His mundane and ordinary-looking Sacraments, and in the foolishness of preaching. He shines the light of His Word on pagan magi and even puts His Word on the lips of the likes of Herod, sinful pastors, and you.
Though we’ve loved the darkness, Christ shines His light on you that others might see His light in your life. He calls you to be like Moses, who, after talking with God on Mt. Sinai, came down from the mountain with the glory of God radiating on His face. Exodus 34 tells us Moses didn’t know the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.[xiii]
In the same way, Christ shines the Light of His Gospel upon you so that you, like Moses, might radiate His glory.[xiv] Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[xv]
And again, it is written: [God has] called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.[xvi]
Though we dwell in a land of deep darkness, the Light of Christ is already shining, even now. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.[xvii]
The light of Christ may not always seem very bright, and there may even be times when you can’t see it at all, but it’s not as if we can extinguish the Gospel’s light by failing to see it. Don’t trust your eyes or your feelings. Trust Christ.
And the days are coming when the darkness will be gone for good. On the Third Day, Life and Light burst forth from a place normally filled with darkness and death. He makes you to share in His life at the font,[xviii] from which nothing in this world can separate you.[xix]
And in the world to come, there will be no darkness at all. The days of the night are numbered. Neither lamp nor sun will exist in the New Creation. As it is written:
“Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign forever and ever.”[xx]
Jesus makes you to share in His light and in His reign. The radiance of Christ’s glory in you is so brilliant that Isaiah says whole nations and even kings will come to your light, to the brightness of your rising.[xxi]
Indeed, in Christ, you are royalty, as St. Paul says: already become rich, you have already become kings.[xxii] And it’s only fitting that, as royalty, you would reign with Christ on His throne. As our Lord promises:
To the one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne.[xxiii]
Arise, shine, for your Light has come, and you will share in His reign of light forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] St. John 3:19
[ii] Daniel 4:7, 5:15
[iii] Acts 13:6, 8
[iv] St. Matthew 11:25
[v] St. Mark 10:15
[vi] Isaiah 1:2-3
[vii] Numbers 22:23
[viii] Jonah 3-4
[ix] St. Matthew 27:45
[x] Psalm 119:105
[xi] Colossians 1:13
[xii] St. Luke 24
[xiii] Exodus 34:29-35
[xiv] St. Matthew 5:14-16
[xv] St. Matthew 5:14–16
[xvi] 1 Peter 2:9
[xvii] St. John 1:5
[xviii] Romans 6
[xix] Romans 8
[xx] Revelation 22:5
[xxi] Isaiah 60:3
[xxii] 1 Corinthians 4:8
[xxiii] Revelation 3:21