I can’t tell you how many people I hear every week talk about how awful and dark the world is now. Focusing on that too much is not good for one’s mental health. The world has always been a dark place. Nature can be cruel. Accidents happen. Loved ones become ill. Human beings sin. That is our reality with the cycle of life and death. Still, hope is so important to hold onto as a Christian people, as is bringing that hope to as many others as we can. Yet, the fact of the matter is that we do hear much bad news, sometimes daily. We may feel bombarded by it. With technology the way it is, at times we know of something minutes after it happens anywhere in the world. We definitely can feel weighed down by it all.
The Advent Season which we start today, reminds us that hope is still alive, for we will soon celebrate the birth of the light of the world, Jesus Christ. We also need to know that Advent is far more than that. Advent reminds us of a precursor coming to prepare the way for Jesus, as we heard in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. That precursor was John the Baptist. John doesn’t come across as the warm and fuzzy or joyous feeling we like to have at this time of the year, does he? He seems blustery and crude, living in the desert, eating insects and acting a little crazy. And too, his message was harsh. It was a warning to take notice: the Messiah is coming and knows of the sins of humankind. This was Jesus—who is God—born a child, growing to a man who would save. It also is Jesus who will come again to judge us all. I don’t think being judged by Jesus will be fun. I’m concerned about too often failing the light of the world. Still, as we prepare our hearts and minds, Jesus as judge is another important image for us to retain. It may well inform our behavior and attitudes, opinions and words.
When I hear difficult, dreadful and downright depressing things going on in our community, or anywhere in this world, I so often wonder what Jesus thinks about them. What does Jesus think about the abuse of drugs and alcohol in our community and around the nation? What does Jesus think about those who cry out in distress during the holiday season and no one hears them? What does Jesus think about leaders setting bad examples of behavior? What does Jesus think about our complicity with the way things are? What does Jesus say about how well we welcome the stranger? I’m sure you could think of many such examples of what does Jesus think. We will be judged for these things and much more. Are we a light or do we add to the darkness?
During the Advent Season, similar to the Lenten Season, we need to be honest with ourselves as we prepare for Christ among us, the incarnation of God as a helpless infant child. Are we following Christ as closely as we should? During this Season as we prepare yourself amidst all the hustle and bustle of our society, the shopping, the cooking, the parties, the gifts, the decorating, we can easily allow Jesus to get lost in the hustle and bustle. It brings up a good reason to get yourself an Advent booklet to use as something to encourage you to pause a few precious minutes and think of God and Jesus, and what it means to prepare our hearts and minds during Advent.
I hope that thinking of Jesus as the light of the world will bring light into the darkness that surrounds us. In John, chapter 8 we read, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.’” What does it mean that Jesus is the light of the world, giving us light for our lives? One way we can be informed about this notion is through poetry. I haven’t used poetry for quite a while in my sermons and this morning you will hear two poems. I think poetry can give us a window into understanding what we may not otherwise understand. Cindy Wyatt, a 21st century poet, wrote a poem called “Jesus Is the Light” in which she says:
Jesus came into the world
to be the light
So people blinded by darkness
could receive their sight
We were once lost in sin
until one glorious day
When Jesus’ light shone in
and washed our sins away
Since Jesus’ light
came into our hearts to shine
his Word has become alive
while we commune with him and dine
[most appropriate for our communion Sun.]
As we walk in the light of Jesus
the world becomes so dim
We just want to have more light
and be closer and closer to him
While walking in His light
Jesus gives us joy that overflows
He makes our heart so happy
that even our face glows
The wondrous light of Jesus
what a wonderful thing
It makes us full of joy unspeakable
and makes us want to sing
Cindy’s poem is about the joy we find in Jesus, the light of the world, and appropriately so, for all would be lost otherwise. If you are like me, when I worship during Advent and on Christmas Eve, my heart and mind are full of thanksgiving and praise for so precious a gift. It is just that: the baby in a manger is purely a gift expressing God’s great love for all. This marvelous, good news does make us want to sing of or speak of our joy. However, joy is only a part of Advent.
The author of the Gospel of John believes the Word becoming flesh through the birth of Jesus is the “decisive event in human history because it changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God.”[The New Interpreter’s Bible] Through the incarnation, people can hear, see, and know God in ways not previously available. God came to live among us, full of grace and truth, from verse 14 of our passage. Jesus as the light of the world is the truth we believers are to follow, not only when we feel like it or it goes along with our opinion. God’s Word become flesh is the truth in which we believe. Our incarnate God still has much to teach us throughout our entire lives. All people are blinded by the darkness, just as Cindy Wyatt posited in her poem, but when we walk in the light of Jesus, joy will overflow in hearts and minds. As we all know, there are certainly difficult times in life and some people have it much harder than others so, we need the hope of that light in our lives and to spread that light to others.
The author of the Gospel of John, called the Fourth Evangelist, “claims for himself and his community the wonder and mystery of the incarnation.”[The New Interpreter’s Bible] That is where he stood in the “drama of acceptance and rejection.” If we truly see and don’t reject the Word made flesh through the incarnation of God into a tiny babe, we will see the light even when things seem overwhelmingly dark.
Rodger read to you the story of Simeon, a righteous and devout Jewish man, found only in the Gospel of Luke. He longed for the promised salvation for the Jewish people. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. Simeon was filled with great joy and believed he could now die in peace as he proclaimed: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon attested to the light of the world too as he recognized the baby savior when he was brought by his parents into the Temple for circumcision. Eyes have seen the light, Simeon states, and we too must see the light and allow it to shine in the darkness of the world. This grants us the ability to be a light piercing the darkness in the world around us, and the world we impact that is much larger in scope.
The second poem I’d like to share with you, concerning Jesus as light of the world, will lead us into our communion service. It is written by Denis Martindale, another 21st century poet. I hope you will focus on its meaning for your life. It is very thoughtful, for he based it on a painting by William Holman Hunt you will probably recognize. A version of it is one of our stain glass windows in the sanctuary. This is a post-resurrection painting. Jesus is wearing a crown of thorns and in a circle behind his head is a bright light. He is in darkness holding a lantern of vivid light in his left hand as he seemingly goes to knock on the door. Jesus is standing at a door that is overgrown with weeds and there is no handle on the door. It can only be opened from the inside.
As he gazed at that picture, William wrote this poem:
A nightly vision came to me, as in the dream I slept,
Pertaining to humanity and every tear once wept…
But God refused to let it lie, without a hope or prayer
And on the future, let me spy, my broken heart to spare.
I saw the Earth amid the stars… and sun and moon above,
It teemed with life, as if not sparse, yet here, more than enough.
And this new Earth was beaming light, just like the sun and moon,
It truly was a wondrous sight and to my eyes, a boon!
It simply took my breath away! I asked God to explain…
He said the vision won’t delay, the Earth will smile again…
With humans by the billions now, awaiting Christ’s return,
Beyond the times God must allow and lessons still to learn…
The Earth was filled with melodies, from both the young and old,
The creatures forming harmonies of greater worth than gold…
(People) prayed, Lord, heal the planet, too, let planet Earth be blessed!
Yes, this was what my eyes could view, a new Earth at its best…//
Then darkness melted in my mind, to steal the dream within,
As if my very soul was blind, by doubts and pain and sin.
When I awoke upon my bed, the blankets I unfurled
And at God’s painting smiled instead: Christ: the Light of the World!
May we smile and remember Christ the Light of the World even as we pass his peace to one another.