The Light of the World
As we prepare for Christmas among the most prominent symbols of the season are the lights. Perhaps it would seem almost a foregone conclusion that everyone makes the connection between lights and celebrating the birth of Christ. There are reasons we have trees and wreaths among the various decorations and certainly the Christmas characters in small manger scenes all the way to live displays. However, light precedes them all in order. For the announcement was made both with light and about a light, a light of the world.
In Matthew 2:1-2 we read, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him". Similarly, the angelic announcement to the shepherds came in a spectacular heavenly display of light. "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord".
Jesus spoke of Himself later as recorded in the Gospel of John, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
To more fully appreciate what Jesus meant consider the setting. Many Bible commentators believe that Jesus spoke these words at a very special moment in the life of the Jewish people. For seven days each year the Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. God had inaugurated this feast to help them remember that for 40 years their ancestors had wandered in the wilderness before God finally brought them into the promised land. At this celebration a large Menorah with bowls of oil was lit on the Temple grounds. The people were reminded that God had led them in the wilderness with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Scholars think Jesus may have spoken these words just as the Menorah was being lit at the Temple as a reminder that whoever followed Him would never be in darkness again.
Of course Jesus was not referring to the physical day and night, but rather the darkness of ignorance, injustice and sin. Let me offer some more specific thoughts about what He may have been saying and is still telling us today.
Just as their ancestors had been guided through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, He would be our guide and protector. I like the story of the grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment & the grandfather asked, "Do you know where we are?" The little boy said, "No."
The grandfather asked, "Do you know where we're going?" And the little boy again said, "No." The grandfather chuckled & said, "Well, I guess you're lost then." The boy looked up at his grandfather & said, "No, I'm not lost. I'm with you."
No matter what may happen to us in the world or where we find ourselves, the Lord is with us. And when Jesus is with us we are never lost. The Bible says, "He is our light and our salvation. Of whom should we be afraid?"
Even more importantly, I think these words of Jesus remind us of the Truth which is like a light in the dark world of religions and cults. I am reminded of a moving story from someone who had spent some time with missionaries in Thailand. He told about coming to a village nestled in the mountains of Thailand and seeing string everywhere stretched from all the poles and trees and around all the houses and buildings in the village. In fact, the whole village was wrapped in string.
When he asked "Why?" they learned that it was because the week before a girl had committed suicide there. The people, who are Buddhist and fear evil spirits, believed that because of her suicide evil spirits would soon be coming to their village. So they hired Buddhist monks to help them. These monks had wound string around their houses, around their yards and all around their community telling the people that the string would keep out the evil spirits.
When the visitors went by the Buddhist temple they saw many idols and people bowing down to them. They also noticed that deep little holes had been dug here and there all around the temple grounds. When they asked "Why?" they were told that the priests had dug them and that they would be putting lighted candles down in the holes because the priests believed that the flickering light would frighten away the evil spirits.
This is the kind of superstition and fear Jesus came to replace in people's lives. He is the true light and in Him is no darkness. He came to offer hope through redemption from our sins. With Jesus in our lives we do not have to live in fear of evil or the thought of an eternity apart from God.
While many of us are the recipients of the light and hope Christ came to offer, many have not yet heard. In John 1:4, writing about Jesus, the apostle John says, "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." Further we read in verses nine through eleven, John says, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
Just as in that day not everyone today will recognize Christ as Savior. Our job is not to force the Gospel on anyone, but to give witness of the light in our lives. What people do with Christ is up to them. One of the certain characteristics of all who have the light of Christ in their heart is to wish it for others. In this season we should be especially prayerful for people of the world who have never yet heard of Christ or of the God who loved them so much He sent His only Son to die on the cross for their sins. They do live in a world of darkness without eternal hope. My prayer is that the light of Christ might be reflected from us into our culture and to the extremes of the earth so that no one will ever miss the opportunity to know the One who is the Light of the World.
One day Jesus Christ will pull back the curtain of time and space, then the light of His presence, the glow of His glory & the brilliance of His splendor will radiate forth as He breaks the fabric of the eastern sky to reveal His eternal victory and claim His reward, His Church. Then we too will shine forth in the beauty of His holiness. I hope this coming transformation of His true church will include you also.