Christmas Lights

December 1, 2012

The time lapse photography is brief but stunning. As Hurricane Sandy bears down on Manhattan, a camera shows half the city suddenly plunged into almost total darkness, with only a few car headlights probing the blackness. But the bright lights of the unaffected half shine on, even more brightly. In moments, more than eight million homes and businesses found themselves without power. For many it was a condition that would endure for weeks, not hours. It was not, of course, the worst problem – some lost their lives, many lost their homes and everything they owned. But life in the darkness is difficult and disorienting, dangerous and even deadly. Yet, even though it was prolonged for many, it was only temporary. What a relief when the lights come back on and life returns to some semblance of normalcy!

There is a darkness far worse than physical darkness. Those who have struggled with depression struggle to tell us what it is like to feel an overwhelming sense of darkness. And there is the darkness of grief, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of failure, the darkness of fear, the darkness of guilt. That is why one of the great symbols of the Christmas story is light, God’s light, piercing into the darkness of our fallen world and the darkness of our broken lives.

The Christmas story is all about hope, about God’s light piercing the darkness. I’m impressed by how often the concept of light occurs in the Christmas story. 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah foretold his coming with these words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6). Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, reiterated those words as he celebrated the birth of his son and the Messiah, speaking “the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79). When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he not only declared “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; he is Christ the Lord,” but as he did “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9, 11), transforming the Bethlehem night. When Jesus was dedicated in the temple, an old man to whom God had given prophetic insight, Simeon, took the infant Jesus in his arms, declaring “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people” (Luke 2:31, 32).
No one says it better than John: at our Lord’s birth, “the genuine light was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Light is embodied in a person, the one who could say, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He who made light and the lights came as light to dissipate spiritual ignorance by revealing truth, to dispel despair by inspiring hope, and to drive out moral darkness by bringing forgiveness. Christmas lights don’t just decorate our houses and trees; they point us to he who is the Light!

Gary Inrig

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