December 24, 2005
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:1-4
Over the last couple of moments we’ve been seeing a lot of different types of light. We’ve seen strobe lights. We’ve seen flashing lights. We’ve seen laser lights. We’ve seen all sorts of lights. And every time Christmas rolls around, we roll out the lights, don’t we? We’re fascinated by lights. We are really into lights. Everybody’s talking about lights. I’m not sure what kind of lights you have on your house. Are you a flashing light type person? Or maybe your light is more stable and stationary and constant. Maybe you’re a constant light person.
I grew up in the Southeast, and in the Southeast, people kind of dial down when it comes to exterior illumination. It’s nothing really magical. It’s not that big of a deal. But in Texas, wow! When I moved to Texas a long time ago I was shocked! People in Texas, man, we know how to light it up, don’t we? It’s unbelievable. Big hair, big belt buckles, big cars, big ranches, and big lights! Isn’t it kind of weird that we spend all this time driving around looking at lights?
“Honey, let’s take the kids and drive around the Metroplex and look at lights.” And at a snail-like pace, we just look at lights. “Whoa, look at that house. Man, Clark Griswold on steroids! Unbelievable!”
Wouldn’t it seem odd if we said, “Hey, honey, let’s take the kids and drive around and look at darkened houses. Let’s just look at the houses in the dark. It’s really magical. It’s beautiful.”
That would seem rather odd, wouldn’t it? We’re fascinated by light.
You see me, and I see you. And really, we don’t see each other as objects. We’re really only seeing light. Our eyes are made for light. Our bodies are made for light. I can’t survive very long, nor can you, without light. And we’re drawn to light, especially during Christmas time. We talk about lights a lot. And Christmas is really mysterious in a lot of ways because the Christmas season illuminates a lot of stuff in our lives. Have you noticed that? It sheds light on our lives.
It sheds light on what we have and what we don’t have. We go to parties, or maybe we go to get-togethers, and we compare ourselves with others, and we get all upset. Or maybe we’re happy because we have more than the next person. Or maybe we think that they’re giving their kids this, and we’re not getting our kids the same thing. And we get upset. And everything gets all revved up. Everything gets illuminated and exaggerated during the Christmas season because Christmas lights everything up.
It lights up our loneliness. Maybe you’re here tonight and you’re saying, “Ed, I’m surrounded by a lot of people, but I feel lonely.” Or maybe you’re saying, “I’m depressed. I’m down.”
We love to think about Christmas. But if we really get deep, and we really have moments of introspection, we sometimes realize that everything is not right in our lives. And Christmas has a way of accentuating that.
We have come up with terms, though, about darkness and light. If someone birdied three straight holes on the golf course we say, “Hey, man, you’re lighting it up!”
Or years ago, when we saw that special someone, we would say, “You light up my life.”
Sometimes, if you’re around the office and maybe your coworker doesn’t get something, you say, “Man, you’re in the dark, aren’t you?”
Or you might say, “Well, I’m in the dark on that one.”
We have these phrases about light and darkness. It’s really kind of funny.
But during Christmas time, we think about that. We couldn’t see the light if there wasn’t darkness. So I want to talk to you a little bit about that because, obviously, light and darkness are major themes in our world today. And they’re also major themes in God’s economy as well.
Scripture is packed with illustrations, with words, with contrast about light and darkness. And as I read to you earlier, the first thing that God did was what? He corrected the darkness. He said, “Let there be light.” He spoke it into existence, “Let there be light.” And God separated the light from the darkness.
Well, the first thing that God did on that first Christmas was the same thing he did at the beginning of time. He corrected the darkness. Because if you think about that first Christmas, a lot of people were in the dark.
Think about Mary, a teenager, a virgin. And suddenly she’s ambushed by an angel who tells her she will give birth to the light of the world. You talk about moving from darkness to light! Unbelievable.
Then you’ve got these ancient astrologers just walking around. And they see this star, and they follow this star in the sky, this light, and they meet this guy name Herod. Herod is totally wheels off and totally in the dark. And they say, “Herod, man, we’re here in Jerusalem to see this Christ child, the Messiah.”
And Herod says, “Well, yeah, I’ve seen the star and everything,” but Herod wouldn’t even walk three miles to Bethlehem to check out the source. He just sent the wise men on their way and said, “Hey, guys, just tell me where this king is and I will go worship him too.” That’s what Herod said, but Herod remained in the dark.
The wise men, though, got in the light because they followed the light. And they met the Christ child. And Scripture tells us the wise men, after worshipping Jesus, returned by another route. Only when you’re walking in the light can you really return by another way. Every time we worship, every time we walk in the light, every time we walk in cadence with Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, what’s going to happen? We’re going to walk a different way.
Then I think about those shepherds out there, sipping stale and strong espresso, pulling an all-nighter with all these sheep. These guys were outcasts. They weren’t the intellectuals of the day. Suddenly, they were just overwhelmed by this light and all of these heavenly hosts praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men.” They moved from the darkness to the light, didn’t they?
And then Jesus, of course, the Christ child, the light of the world; he crawled out of the manger, grew up, became a man, and when he was 30 years old, he began his public ministry. And one day, the Bible says—specifically in John 8—that Jesus was standing in the temple, and he was in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles.
And let me give you a little bit of church history, a little bit of Israelite history. The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the movement of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. And during this festival, during this time, they would light these big honking candelabras in the temple. And every house had these candelabras. So all over Jerusalem, all over J-town, these lights were everywhere.
And Jesus was in this dialogue with the Jewish leaders in the temple, and here’s what he said. If you have your Bibles, turn to John 8:12. Here’s what Jesus said. This is very important. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And notice what Jesus did say. He did say, “I am the light of the world.” He said that in the temple against the backdrop of these giant candelabra.
This candelabra represented what? The pillar of fire that guided the Israelites from Egyptian slavery into the Promised Land. The pillar of fire in the sky that God placed there by night represented the presence of God. So, wait a minute. Take a step back. Fasten your seatbelts. When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” do you know what he was saying? “I’m God.” Because to a Jewish mind, when you said, “I’m light,” you’re saying you’re God. Jesus said, “I am,” not a light or another light or one of the lights or a flashing light or a strobe light or a laser light or a blinker.
He said, “I am the light of the world.”
And then he says, “Whoever…”
I have to confess. The other night, I went to the grocery store. I dropped my beautiful wife off and sat there in my truck and I watched her walk in. Have you ever seen those electronic doors at the grocery store? You walk up to them and then you walk past a little sensor, and they open and close automatically—every single time. It’s automatic, systematic, 100% of the time. I saw white people walk up. I saw Hispanic people walk up. I saw Asian people walk up. I saw African-American people walk up. I saw wealthy people walk up. I saw poor people walk up. The door always opened. It didn’t matter who walked up. Isn’t that amazing? That’s life-changing, earth-shattering. That door is a “whoever” door—whoever, whoever, whoever.
That’s what Jesus is driving at. He says, “I’m the light of the world, whoever follows me (whoever walks through the door) will never walk in darkness, but will have (I will possess, you will possess) the light of life.”
Jesus, being God (because Jesus was God and is God) could have compared himself to any other medium. Why did he choose light? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I’m a why guy. Why did Jesus choose light?
Well, I think he chose light because of several reasons. And I want to unpack those reasons very briefly for you tonight. But here’s what I want you to understand. If we understand what light is and what light isn’t, what light does and what light doesn’t, then we’ll understand the meaning of Christmas. Did you hear that? If we understand what light is and isn’t, what light does and doesn’t do, we’ll understand the meaning of Christmas. Conversely, if we understand what darkness is and what darkness isn’t and what darkness does and does not do, we’ll understand the meaning of Christmas. Light and dark. Are you in the dark? Or are you in the light? That’s a good question.
Here’s a statement I want you to consider: darkness frustrates, but light illuminates. Darkness frustrates; light illuminates. Say it with me. Darkness frustrates; light illuminates.
It was 2:00 a.m. Lisa and I were dead asleep. All of the sudden, she says, “Ed! Someone’s in the house. I know someone’s in the house!”
And you know, in the dark, everything is accentuated, isn’t it? I was just lying there still, listening. And sure enough, I heard this heavy breathing and these footsteps. I thought to myself, “There’s no way one of our kids can breathe like that. They’re not that big. Someone is in our den.”
So I’m thinking, “Okay, what do I do? What do I do? What do I do?” So I slip out of the bed, and when you’re in the dark you kind of walk like this. Are you like this? I feel kind of frozen for a second and I lose my depth perception. I bump my head, stub my toe. But I didn’t want to say anything—because I’m a pastor. And plus, it was dark, and there was this intruder in our den.
So I snuck out of the bedroom, opened the doors, and I thought, “Okay, this is it. I’m going to find the light and turn it on and see who this guy is. I can take him.” I’m pretty mean when I get riled up.
So I turned the light on, and there, sitting on the couch, was our 150-pound Bull Mastiff, Brute, as dumb as a stump. He had somehow pushed the door open, made his way to our couch for a more comfortable sleep, and he was looking at me just like, “What?”
I said, “Brute, what are you doing? Get off the couch! Go outside.” It scared me to death. But the light illuminated reality. It revealed reality. I was in the dark for a second, but then I turned the light on. And boom! I saw what the situation was.
That’s what I’ve been praying about during this Christmas season. I’ve been praying that scores of you who are in darkness would turn on the lights and see the reality of your life; that you would see the reality of others; that you would see the reality, more importantly, of God, because God is crazy about you. He loves you. He has a wonderful plan for your life. And that is the meaning of Christmas. It’s all about the fact that God walked down the staircase of Heaven with a baby in his arms. And that baby is the light of the world. And Jesus himself died on a cross and rose again so we can possess the light of life, so we can walk not in darkness, but in light.
Christmas, though, is mysterious. It exposes those areas in our life that we try to hide from other people. It exposes the reality about our existence. It exposes our loneliness. It exposes, maybe, relational challenges. It exposes all of these things.
The Bible says in Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
So in darkness, we can’t see. But we turn the light on, what do we see? We see things that have been there the whole time. But we would never know they were there until we turn the light on.
Could that be your life? Could it be that you’re in darkness right now, and you think you’re in light when in reality, you’re in darkness? Have you ever acquiesced and moved into the light? Have you ever stepped from the darkness into the light? Because once the lights come on, you’ll be able to see yourself for who you are. You’ll be able to see God. And then you’ll be able to see others.
I ask you, how can we make decisions about life in the dark? How can we make decisions about who we’re going to date, who we’re going to marry? How can we make decisions about our family? How can we make financial decisions in the dark? We need the light of life. But the darkness frustrates. Light, though, illuminates.
DARKNESS ALIENATES / LIGHT CAPTIVATES
Here’s something else we need to know. Darkness alienates, and light captivates. Turn the lights off for a second, all the lights off, just for a second, just for a second. Okay, okay. Now, you can hear me. But you can’t see me. Our communication has really been cut off because of darkness. Can you imagine how crazy it would be to live life in the darkness?
Now, hit me with the spotlight for a second, if you would. Let’s say, for example, this is the light of life. Let’s say this is the light of Jesus Christ. So many people I see day in and day out don’t have the light of Jesus. I see them, I look into their eyes, and I know they’re in the dark. When we’re in the dark, we’re separated from the light. And so many of us who live in the dark chase things in the dark.
I’ve got some matches in my pocket. Let me step out into the dark and do something. As I strike this match, look at this match. It gives me a source of light. Oh, look, look. You can see me! [the match burns out] Ahh!!!!!!!! See me? Well, I’ll just light another one. I’ll — I’ll — let me get this match out here. It’s tough in the dark. Here’s another one. Now, if I let this thing burn, it’ll burn my fingers. Am I going too quick for you?
How foolish do I look striking match after match? I mean, I look pretty dumb, don’t I? So many people say, “Oh, it’ll work. It’ll give me some light. Look, look. C’mon, stay there baby.” [the match goes out]
I’ve spent some time in my life, and maybe you’re there now, where I’ve looked to the wrong sources for light. People look to the wrong sources like, “Okay, if I have all these zeros in my portfolio, man, that will light up my life.” And it does for awhile. But then what happens? It goes out. It just burns out.
Maybe you say, “Well, okay, I’m going to hook up with this person. And if I can hook up with them, that will do it. That will be the source of light in my life. That will be the ultimate. That will really light it up for me because….” And that doesn’t work.
We put—watch this now—God-type pressure on manmade relationships. And you’re wondering why you don’t have it? You’re wondering why everything is a little bit sideways, why there’s this gnawing low-grade sensation you’re not there yet? It’s because you’re looking at the wrong source, to the wrong light source. It’s time to drop the matches and step into the light. It’s time to admit, “God, I’m frustrated. I’m fearful. I’m frozen. God, turn the light on in my life.” Light illuminates—externally and internally.
Light also captivates us, doesn’t it? We’re drawn to it. You can turn the lights back on now.
In Jeremiah 31:3 God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
You’ve been drawn to this service for some reason. Maybe you’ve been drawn because you see a light in someone’s life that was placed there by Jesus Christ. And maybe they’re sitting right next to you. Maybe they said, “Hey, come to Fellowship Church.” You’ve seen this light. You’ve observed this light, and you’ve followed them to Fellowship Church.
Maybe it’s an experience that you’re going through right now. Maybe you feel like you’ve lit this match and that match and you’re burned. And maybe that’s driven you. The frustration and alienation have driven you to the light.
Maybe this service is the light. Maybe through some words that Eric just sung, or maybe through the solo that Vanessa did or with some of the video or whatever, you’re drawn. Or maybe what I’m saying right now, maybe that’s drawing you to Jesus.
I’m telling you, it’s a God thing. You’re made, you’re designed for light. So am I, physically. We’re also designed for it spiritually. And the lights will never, ever come on in our lives until we drop the matchbook or box and step into the light.
Notice something else about the situation. Notice something else about light. When Jeremiah said that God has drawn us with loving kindness, Jeremiah is saying that the character and nature of God is all about love. It’s all about light.
Light is the fastest known entity in the universe. It travels in straight lines. It’ll go forever and ever and ever until it hits an object. Light is pure. Light is penetrating. It illuminates. That’s why God compared himself to light.
I was in Seattle, Washington a couple of weeks ago speaking, and I called a friend of mine who lives there. He’s originally from Texas and I said, “Kevin, man, how do you like Seattle?”
He said, “We love it. But,” he said, “my wife has SAD.”
I said, “Did you say your wife is sad?”
He goes, “No, she has SAD.”
I said, “What’s SAD?”
He said, “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” He said, “Ed, in Seattle, man, during the fall and winter, the sun doesn’t come out very much. And you know, our eyes are made for light. But not enough gets into her eyes. And because of that, it messes with the brain’s chemistry, and my wife does not release enough serotonin; thus, causing her depression.”
And I said, “Well, man, what do you do?”
He said, “We use light therapy.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “Light therapy.”
I said, “What do you mean light therapy?”
He said, “Well, I put her on a plane about twice a year, and she goes to a warmer climate where the sun is shining, and she gets her light.”
Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder? Are you in the dark? It’s time to get some light therapy.
DARKNESS INCARCERATES / LIGHT LIBERATES
And that brings me to something else I want to say. Yes, darkness frustrates, and light illuminates. Yes, darkness alienates, and light captivates. Notice this last one: Darkness incarcerates; light, though, liberates. Darkness incarcerates; light liberates.
If you ever want to bring a conversation to a screeching halt at a Christmas party or a family get-together, here’s what you do. Watch this. Just bring up the subject of death. Just try it over the Christmas holidays. Your family’s in town or whatever, “Let’s talk about death.” People will run from the conversation. They’ll awkwardly try to change the subject and get this weird look about them.
But here’s the deal. All of us die. We know that. One out of one die. All of us are going to clock out. The lights will go out one day, right? And when we die, the Bible says, it’s all about light and darkness. We move from this life to the next.
At this point, some are thinking, “Wait a minute. Is this skinny preacher going to talk about hell? Because if he does, man, I’ve had enough of this hell fire and brimstone.” No, no. I’m not going to talk about it that way. But I will talk about it in another way.
God does not slam dunk anybody to hell. I’ll say it again. God does not hurl anybody to hell. We make that choice. When it comes to matters of eternity, the Bible says, it’s simply a greater measure of what we had on planet earth.
If we received the light, if we walked in the light, when we die, what’s going to happen? We’ll have a greater measure of light. The book of Revelation says heaven will be so full of light that the glory of God will just illuminate and penetrate like we’ve never seen light before in our lives. We’ll get a greater measure of that ultimate light.
But if we walked in darkness; if we were frustrated and alienated and incarcerated; if we always kept the light at bay; if we were striking match after match after match, then when we die, we’ll simply get a greater measure of what we desired on this earth. The Bible calls hell eternal and utter darkness.
But here’s something to think about when I talk about hell. If any of you ever go to hell—and statistics would show that some of you will not receive the light—let me just tell you: you will go as an intruder. Hell is not designed for you. Although some of you will probably go to hell when you die, hell is not designed for you. Hell is designed for Satan and the demons. It’s not designed for human beings. We’re designed to live forever and ever with the Lord. So don’t ever say, “Well, man, God hurls people to hell.” He doesn’t do that. We make that choice.
But I’ve got to tell you that darkness has a way of incarcerating us and tying us up. You see, we think in the dark we’re going to find freedom. And those things we chase after end up mastering us and enslaving us. It’s really strange. We think we’re going to be liberated and freed up, but those things actually trip us up and cause bondage.
But here’s what the Bible says in John 8:36, “So if the Son (that’s Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Isn’t that cool? Jesus wants to set all of us free. And the moment we receive the light, what happens? We admit the fact that we’re frustrated and alienated and incarcerated. We move from the darkness, and we step into the light. We become Christ followers. It’s that step of faith, and Jesus comes into our lives. And then we’re able to see.
A couple of months ago, I went to Home Depot. I rarely go to Home Depot. My father-in-law could build the space shuttle in his spare time. I can barely even hammer a nail. But I did go to Home Depot. As I was walking through Home Depot, I was watching these people. They were picking up lumber, closing one eye and kind of looking down the length at these boards. And I said to myself, “They are measuring those boards with the naked eye. That’s pretty impressive.”
And then I thought, “You know what, they’re using light to measure the boards!” Because light is the most accurate source of measurement that we have.” They were seeing if the boards were straight or if they curved to the right or the left. And they were doing that. It was pretty impressive.
If we don’t have the light in our lives, we don’t have a measuring source. How are we going to make decisions? How are we going to make choices? How are we going to know what do in the dating relationship, in the marriage, with the kids, in the finances? We’ll never, ever know. We’ll spend our lives, here and eternity, in the darkness.
John 12:35-35 says, “The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”
It all begins with a step. Jesus says, “If you walk in the light, you have the light.” Well, how do you walk in the light? Well, to walk, you have got to take one step and the next step. And give me darkness again with the spotlight. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Give me some darkness, please. Now give me the spotlight just for one second. There we go.
Some of us are in the dark. God has led you here, and he’s prompted you, and he’s challenging you to make this decision. Some of us are walking right on the edge of the light. I beg you—I can’t force you, but I can beg you—take a step in the light. Because to walk in the light, you’ve got to take a step of faith. And as I just said, you’ve got to trust God.
What does trust mean? Trust means that I believe without conclusive proof but with convincing evidence. In other words, when I trust, I’m going to have some doubt. I even have doubt sometimes, and that’s cool. Doubt and faith go on parallel tracks. But we need to step out of the darkness into the light. Turn from our darkness and realize that Jesus Christ took our darkness on the cross and rose again. And if we turn from our darkness and walk in the light, we will understand what life is all about.
The first thing God did was what? He corrected the darkness. That’s the first thing he did on Christmas. And that’s what he wants to do in your life tonight.
[Ed closes in prayer]