But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Christmas Eve – 2023

One of the lessons that we will read in tomorrow’s Christmas Day service, from the Prophet Isaiah, says this:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”

And on Epiphany, which is sometimes called the Christmas of the Gentiles, we will hear these words, also from Isaiah:

“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Indeed, the imagery of light entering the darkness is imagery that has always been seen as very fitting for the celebration of God’s personal entrance into this world – and into the human race – in the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.

Some of the hymns and carols we sing at Christmas use this imagery. For example, in Silent Night, we sing:

“Son of God, love’s pure light radiant, beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.”

And to the little town of Bethlehem, we sing:

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

The much-loved custom of having a candlelight service on Christmas Eve presents tangible evidence of how suitable the picture of light shining in the darkness is, as an illustration of what Christmas is all about.

But in order for the image of light, and more specifically of the light of Christ, to be as meaningful and comforting as it is supposed to be, we need to grapple with what the image of darkness really means, and with how dark the darkness actually is.

The spiritual darkness of human sin and sinfulness is not something like the darkness of dusk or dawn: where it might be a little harder to see things than it is in broad daylight, but with a little squinting you can still make out the basic outline of things.

No. When the Bible says that those who are lost, who are without God in the world, and who are in a state of rebellion against God, are in the darkness, it’s a much more frightening situation than that.

Spiritually, they are in pitch darkness. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says this, regarding himself as God’s Son, and his coming into the world:

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light…”

If your life is filled with lust and wickedness, selfishness and pride, anger and bitterness, then you are in the darkness, whether you realize it or not.

And if God is not a part of your life – or if he is not as much a part of your life as he should be; and if you at the same time feel that you are trapped in a scary dark place where you can see no way out, to a happy and content future: there is a connection between those two things.

Consider that the reason why you feel that you are in a dark and hopeless place, is because shadows of unbelief remain in your mind, and the light of God’s Word and Spirit is not filling your spirit.

But the message of Christmas – which is also the message of the Christian faith in general – is that the light of Christ has now come into this dark world; and that the light of God’s forgiveness, regeneration, and adoption in Christ, can now also come into you: to sooth your troubled conscience, to enliven your slumbering spirit, and to bring clarity to your confused mind.

When Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road, as the Book of Acts reports it, this is how he described the apostolic preaching ministry that he was entrusting to Saul – soon to be known as Paul:

“I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

Tonight, as you hear and believe the Christmas gospel, your eyes are likewise opened. When the angelic announcement is made to the shepherds and also to you, that “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” you too are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.

When you follow the shepherds, as they seek out Jesus to worship and adore him, you – with them – will find the Savior who has been born for you. You will bask in the light of his gracious and redeeming love, and from him, you will receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in him.

In the words of Psalm 18, your joyful confession this night will be: “The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.”

God’s Word is truth. God’s truth is light. The Babe of Bethlehem, of whom the angel spoke, now speaks truth and light to us.

Jesus, the obedient child who grew to moral manhood, speaks goodness and purity into our corruption and chaos.

Jesus, the sinless man who sacrificed himself for transgressors, speaks pardon and reconciliation into our guilt and shame.

Jesus, the victor over death and the grave, speaks hope and peace into our fear and despair.

Jesus, the Lord of his church, speaks in this sanctuary on every Lord’s Day, when his church gathers to hear his voice in Scripture and in hymns, in sermons, and in sacrament. You, too, can come, and hear.

Everything he says is truth and light, to be humbly believed for our salvation. Therefore his warnings about sin and the wages of sin we have believed. His promises about the gift of eternal life we have believed.

As we have believed, so too have we “seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” As we have believed, so too have we exclaimed in song:

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild, He leaves His throne on high, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth; Born to give them second birth,
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!” Amen.