Were you unusually tired on Friday? Wondering why it seemed darkness came so quick? The afternoon seemed to slip away. With more darkness came cold too. Probably had to wear a sweatshirt or coat. Driving was tough. Maybe went to work in the dark and came home in the dark too. Well, it was December 21st. The shortest day of the year with the least number of light hours. You were tired because the sun was up for only 10 hours on Friday. Some parts further north got even less. In Fairbanks, Alaska the sun rose at 11 in the morning and set at 2:30 in the afternoon. Bunch of tired people who only saw the sun for three and a half hours. Twenty hours of darkness. Long, dark days are tough. Hardly any light in the darkness.
Is this world a dark place? And I mean on more than just the shortest day of the year. Natural disasters, terrorists, and political arguments threaten to drag us into a different kind of darkness and not let us out. So we try and focus on the good we see in people. They donate to relief efforts in a nearby community. The good of foster parents. The good of people who smile and hold doors. We want to believe there’s still good in the world, still light in the darkness. To leave our houses each day we have to believe that yes there are problems, but things aren’t pitch dark. There’s at least a little light out there.
Isaiah served as a prophet of God to the people of Judah about 700 years before Christ came down from heaven and was born in Bethlehem. Things in Judah were as pitch dark as they could be. The people of Judah were becoming very self-centered. Neighbors didn’t care about each other anymore. As people turned in on themselves they became consumed with substances to make them forget how dark things were. Alcohol and sexual gratification were popular. Poverty was everywhere. The elderly weren’t cared for. And people walked away from organized true religion. On top of all that, Judah was about to be invaded and put into captivity by a nation that didn’t shrink from torture and other evils. There was no light among the people of Judah. The world of Isaiah’s day was dark.
That doesn’t sound that different from our day, does it? Whatever darkness there is in our world, it’s only natural to want to protect ourselves from it. To say, yes, it’s dark, but…it’s not as dark as it could be. It’s not total darkness. We can keep the darkness from us. We recognize there are some who are self-centered. Sure we don’t always know everyone in the neighborhood. Perhaps we don’t always speak so nicely about our neighbors. Of course, others have alcohol problems, but not us. Sex in our culture is being recognized differently, so we just go with it. Poverty is contained to certain areas, certain places out of sight. Same with the elderly. And organized true religion has taken a dip in the last decades, but we’re still here tonight. We become convinced darkness can be controlled. We feel it hasn’t totally consumed us. It’s not that bad. There’s still a little light.
Isaiah would disagree. “The people walking in darkness …” Isaiah could understand our motives. But that’s exactly how people walking in darkness would react. Walking in darkness means living in darkness. Living in darkness means being surrounded so much we accept it. Embrace it at times. We’ll be self-centered. We’ll ignore alcohol problems. We explain away ignoring true religion. What we do that doesn’t bother anyone else, isn’t their problem. That’s our excuse. Maybe we’ve become okay with a little bit of darkness.
Except it’s not just a little bit. “On those living in the land of the shadow of death…” The shadow of death casts a whole lot of darkness. Deep darkness that touches everyone. We’re dying. Each and every one of us. We can try and ignore it or put it out of our minds. But the truth is we can’t stop it. And that makes it scary. Death casts a shadow of darkness on our entire lives. Darkness where there is no light.
A popular thing for tours running in caves is to have everyone stop while the lights get turned out completely. If you’ve ever experienced it, that’s deep darkness. But every tour group gets warned. Because they know some will panic. Some will become so afraid of the darkness. People worry when there’s no light. But when the light shines in the darkness, their panic eases and they aren’t afraid. Just the introduction of light into the darkness makes all the difference.
Your life is one of being in that deepest darkest part of a cave. Sin encloses around you. Self-centeredness, lying, greed, anger. One or more is bound to describe you. And death stalks you. You’re powerless to stop it, powerless to change your life and get rid of the darkness of sin and death. Into that darkness came a light. “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.” A light in the darkness.
The promise God was making through the prophet Isaiah came about 700 years before that light dawned. Isaiah spoke of Jesus. The birth of a baby boy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Born of a human being he was so much more. Jesus wasn’t just the son of Mary, he was the son of God. He was given titles and responsibilities that demonstrate clearly what God’s intentions for him were. He would be a counselor who knew everything, with God’s complete power, who had always existed and was the source of life itself. And his arrival would result in peace. Not the end of wars. Not the end of disagreements between family members or negotiations that go nowhere. The “Prince of peace” would bring harmony between God and humanity. The God who can’t exist with sin or sinners like you and me would have a relationship with you and me again. It would come through this baby, this Christ. Peace like the angels sang about on the night he was born. A light in the darkness to restore peace between you and God.
Since light and darkness cannot coexist, you didn’t need someone who could only provide temporary relief from the darkness. You needed one who could snuff it out. You’re probably familiar with light getting snuffed, completely put out, so there’s none left. Jesus had to do that with those things against you. Sin and its consequences, death. Jesus faced those for you. All of the darkness of your life, the darkness of your sins and your death were all snuffed out in the death of Christ. Completely gone. Nothing left. Because Jesus’ light was never snuffed out. Jesus was called “Everlasting Father,” because though he died, he lives again. The light of his life shines brighter still, even today. Jesus is the light you need. A light in the darkness. A Savior from sin. A light no darkness can overcome. That’s just what was born that night of the first Christmas. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”
As you leave here tonight it will be dark. We can’t stop that darkness from setting in. Our lights are an attempt at helping. Big stand lights in the back for the parking area. Lighted curbs to aid drivers. Lights from the sign announcing where you wanted to get to. Lights on the trees, street lights, and lights on your homes and inside too. All trying to push back against the dark. They work, but only temporarily. It’s still a dark world out there. You’re not alone in that darkness. “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest.” God wants his kingdom of believers to expand. He wants more to know their Savior. He wants you to know the joy Jesus brings. You don’t walk alone, together we walk in the light of Christ. There is community here. There is love to share and joys to express among each other. There is support to give and encouragement to be had. Everyone here needs everyone else here. Believers grow in faith through the Word, but they grow in fellowship with each other when they share time and worship together.
Thankfully the days only start to get longer from here. More and more light each day will push back against the darkness. What pushes back against spiritual darkness in your life and in this world? You can’t do it. But God can, and he has. Christ Jesus is a light in the darkness. A connection with him brings you forgiveness for your sins, lets you escape the darkness of guilt, and gives you perspective on this world’s darkness. That’s the Savior you need. One who so completely shines in the dark, that he snuffs it out for you. He loves nothing more than to be for you a light in the darkness.