I’m coaching basketball this year for Haygood Hoops. I’m coaching my five year old daughter’s team. I was walking back to the car with her after practice. As we were crossing over Sussex, she asks me, “Dad, is it time for bed?” I said, “No sweetie, it’s only 6:00.” She said, “But it’s so dark out here.” I said, “That’s because it’s winter and the nights are longer.” Then she asked, “When is the darkness going away?”
When is the darkness going away? Maybe some of you resonate with her question. It’s really dark outside and we’re ready for longer days. But maybe more keenly, we know what it’s like to have darkness and hardships in our lives. We wish it would go away.
When is the darkness going away?
There is good news.
“The light shines in the darkness. And the darkness did not overcome it!” (John 1:5). That’s God’s message for us at Christmas. That’s what John says in his gospel to describe the coming of Jesus. If you sit in darkness, the Lord will shine His light. If there is pain and struggle in our world, violence and heartache, it cannot overcome the light.
Luke’s gospel also gives an account of seemingly dark circumstances that God used to birth the savior of the world.
In Luke’s gospel, we learn about Mary. She and Joseph had her whole life ahead of them. She was about to be married. She could almost hear the wedding bells. She could envision settling down in Nazareth and could see Joseph helping run the local wood shop. And then an angel appears to tell Mary she is pregnant. And her joy turns to fear. Have you been in Mary’s situation where joy turns to fear?
Or maybe you can relate to Joseph. Joseph is a faithful servant of the Lord but is thrown into confusion and is hurt tremendously by the news of Mary’s pregnancy. The person he loves most has seemingly hurt him. Maybe some of you can relate to Joseph’s confusion and hurt. Have people you loved most hurt you?
For a moment, both Mary and Joseph sit in the darkness. They are unsure about their future. That’s what happens in life sometimes. Our plan unravels. But the good news for Mary and Joseph are the words spoken by the angel to them both. “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:30). The Lord found favor with them.
The angels tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife. They return to Nazareth. Even though the circumstances continue to change, God is there to guide them. Six months into Mary’s pregnancy, Roman soldiers appear and announce that all families must return to their hometown. For Mary and Joseph, that was Bethlehem, 90 miles away. Mary and Joseph did not choose this path. I’m sure some of us can relate to that story too. When have we found ourselves on a path we did not choose? Because of circumstances beyond our control or decisions we did not make, we find ourselves heading on a path we never anticipated.
When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, there’s no place for them to stay. Finally, they find a stable where the animals live. You can imagine the look on their faces at every turn. These circumstances seem to get worse and worse, disappointment around each corner.
But in that simple stable, Mary gives birth to her first born son. In the most humble and unexpected of circumstances, Jesus, the light of the world, was born. God can take the hardest of circumstances and give birth to hope. That’s what Mary did. She gave birth to the hope of the world.
Mary gave birth to Jesus in order that Jesus might give birth to us. Because this baby Jesus would become an adult. He once taught a man named Nicodemus in John chapter 3 that you can be born again. We can be born from above. Jesus gives birth to new and eternal life for all of us.
Maybe tonight, you’re in the darkness. Like Mary gave birth to Christ, Christ can give rebirth to you.
Jesus came to forgive our sins. Jesus came so that you might have life and have it abundantly. The second century theologian Iranaeus once wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” You are meant to be fully alive. God will birth something new in us. I think about people who have experienced rebirth in the hardest of circumstances.
Susy was part of our youth choir at a previous church. Susy’s parents were going through a divorce. Susy’s mother came to me and said, “Will, my husband has all sorts of addiction problems. Susy has seen her dad passed out on many occasions on the living room floor because of his drinking. She has had to help him to bed. She is feeling lost in all of this. She’s angry. To add to the heartache at home, she’s being picked on at school. And it gets worse. She has been eagerly looking forward to the homecoming dance and was hoping that a certain young man would invite her. Instead, he invited one of her other friends. She told me she feels like no one cares. No one gets her!”
I asked, “Well, is there any bright spot for her?”
The mother looked puzzled for a moment and then said, “She loves youth choir. The choir director told her that she has a gorgeous voice.”
Susy attended our youth choir tour that year to Florida. They were at the local homeless shelter singing to homeless men and women there. The choir started singing and then midway through the song came Susy’s solo. She stepped to the front and belted out, “No matter what the world says, I’m a child of God.” You could see the hearts moved in that audience. At the end of their performance, this homeless woman yelled out to Susy, “Girl, you can sing. You need to try out for The Voice.” A huge smile broke out on Susy’s face.
That night, Susy, who is usually quiet, said in tears, “Today I believed those words I sang. I’m a child of God.”
God can birth something new in the most unfavorable of circumstances. And I don’t mean to cast Susy’s father as the bad guy in this story. God is working in his life too. He has problems like we all do. Sin is like a wound. Wounds need healing. Our world is full of wounds. The Lord is full of mercy for our wounded world.
And when God does birth new life, I think about our shepherds in today’s story. The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy. Unto you is born in the city of David, a savior.” They traveled in haste to the manger. They placed their eyes on their messiah Jesus. They were fully alive. And having experienced this good news, they couldn’t keep quiet. They told everyone. All who heard it were amazed. The Lord is full of mercy. On this Christmas night, there is good news for all people. There is good news for you.
We have a saying at Haygood. There’s a place for you. Each of you has a place in sharing this good news. I think of Alice Gepp. Alice is a church member. She had an idea this past year. She said, “We usually decorate the inside of the church, but a lot of people won’t ever see all the pretty lights and tree. Let’s decorate the plaza outside.” So she took to decorating the plaza with a tree and lights for people to enjoy. She knew this good news was not just for people who worshiped into our sanctuary, but for all people. People outside the church walls. She literally helped shine light into the darkness.
Or I think about Owen Daum. Owen is a 4th grader. One Sunday, I saw him sitting in the balcony with the sound team. After worship, he stops me and says, “I learned a lot in church today.” I said, “Well, I’m glad you were listening to the sermon.” He pulls out this big old book and says, “No. I was reading this manual about the sound system. It’s interesting stuff. I wanted to see if I could take it home and study it.”
Owen took home this manual and read it backwards and forwards. He said, “Pastor Will, I want to make sure you sound good. Your words are important.” In fact, his dad was telling me the other day that they were running a little late for church. Owen was pacing at the front door and saying, “Come on dad. God needs me at church.” God does need Owen.
And God needs you too. Whether it’s lighting lights for our community to see, serving on a volunteer sound team, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, showing kindness to that awkward family member, we each can shine light into the darkness in our own way.
Adam Hamilton tells the story about Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is said that he was a man who never enjoyed good health. He spent a lot of time in his room as a child. He was always looking out the window. One night he looked out. These were the days of gas streetlights and there, at the street, was the town lamplighter. He was carefully putting his ladder up against the lamppost, climbing up the ladder, and lighting the lantern. He would take it down, move down the street, and light the next one.
His nurse asked him on this night, “Robert, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m watching that old man knock holes in the darkness.”
Knocking holes in the darkness. The light has come to us in Jesus Christ. He has come to forgive your sins and save you. God has given us this light to share with others this Christmas. Bring out your ladders this Christmas. Lean them against those dark places in our world. Climb up and knock holes in the darkness.