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Dec 24, 2017

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Light In the Darkness: Christmas 2017

Keywords: baby jesus, darkness, light, shepherds, trust, wise men, joseph & mary, 1st christmas, night shift

Summary:

Being the bearer of the Light of the World did not mean being exempt from the darkness of disappointment, difficulty, criticism or threatening evil. That first Christmas and the birth of Jesus has so much to teach us about being today lights in a dark world.

Detail:

Light in the Darkness

Christmas 2017, #3

December 24, 2017

 

READING: Matthew 1:18-25

SONG SET #1

READING #2: Luke 2:1-7

MEDITATION #1:  Over the past three weeks, we’ve been looking at what God’s Word has to say about darkness and light in our Advent focus.  I chose that theme because so much of the Christmas story has to do with darkness and light. 

The coming of God into this world in the person of the baby Jesus was the greatest invasion of divine light into a sinful  world ever experienced in human history.  That is perhaps why so many of the events of the Christmas story display the light of God’s glory encased in a world of darkness. 

That is the same kind of world we live in today.  Every one of us feels that same darkness of disappointment, of evil and even of death all around us.  Yet God, “the light of the world” is right here, time after time, dark night after dark night. 

Tonight let us begin our Christmas story in the darkness of faith.  Having faith in God does not always dispel the darkness; sometimes it increases it.  But at the same time, it deepens the light of faith and the light of the presence of God himself. 

Tonight I want to invite you to peer into the darkness and see the light.  And as you see God’s light that blazed and flashed some 2,000 years ago, I trust you will also be able to see with the eyes of faith the light of Jesus Christ in your own story and your own dark times.

Let’s start with that young, insecure, probably nervous and certainly confused young couple, Mary and Joseph.  Those two found themselves, I think, walking through more darkness than light that first Christmas.  This chapter in their lives was supposed to be a time of tremendous joy and anticipation.  They were a young couple anticipating marriage just like most young couples do.  They were both two of the most God-fearing and God-centered young people alive in a very religious nation. 

MARY was likely a young woman who Luke 1:28 tells us was “highly favored” in the eyes of God.  And since God does not play favorites but does draw near to those who seek Him, we can assume that Mary, poor though she obviously was, was a teenager rich in faith and love of God.  Twice in that passage the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she has “found favor with God” (vs. 30). 

How does it feel to “find favor” in the eyes of someone?

  • The landlord when you are trying to rent an apartment or house?
  • The bank when you are applying for a loan?
  • A friend when you have not been a very good friend but they keep showing you favor?
  • Some man or woman who shows you favor over every other man or woman in the world and ask you to marry them?

God’s favor is even more amazing!  Mary must have felt blessed beyond belief to have known that favor.

JOSEPH was no spiritual slouch either.  When the dark news of his betrothed beloved’s pregnancy reached his ears, before receiving any divine or angelic word about the miraculous nature of Mary’s pregnancy, he determined to still protect the woman who he believed had somehow been unfaithful to him.  His love was not so wounded and bruised by this brutal news that he stopped loving Mary.  In the darkness of deep disappointment and what must have been feelings of betrayal, Joseph keeps loving this young woman while grieving the loss of his entire expected future with her.  In a shame-based culture where simply news of lost virginity was a stain that would endure for a lifetime, he refused to shame the one who was causing him such pain and shame. 

            It was precisely because both of these young people were people of faith in God that God’s hand upon them looked, at first, very dark.  Life has a way of doing that.  Faith has a way of leading us into trials we never expected.  Faith so often seems rewarded by rigorous challenges, not comfortable pleasures. 

            Darkness began to descend on Mary & Joseph well before they even knew each other.  It is virtually assured that they both grew up in poverty.  And apparently neither of them ever escaped that economic poverty before their deaths.  Those of you who have lived with grinding poverty know how dark a place it can be. 

Then think about some the darkness Joseph and Mary endured that first year of their life together.  In what everyone dreams will be the happiest days of life, this young couple experienced more darkness than anyone should have to know, especially a young man and woman of their spiritual caliber and character.

  • Mary becomes supernaturally and utterly surprisingly pregnant apart from Joseph. Darkness of an unplanned (and perhaps unwanted, at first) pregnancy?
  • The small-town gossip mill starts churning out the ugly whispers and awkwardly averted glances of previously trusted friends. How dark and lonely must those days have been for this faithful 15 or 16 year old young woman and her young husband? Darkness of loneliness and criticism?
  • Joseph’s life-dream of taking an honorable bride which others would celebrate with him and a lifetime of faithful companionship was washed away by defining silence from friends. Darkness of disappointment?
  • And then imagine the darkness the developed between these two good and gracious people as Mary tries to convince Joseph of the impossible (a virgin pregnancy) and Joseph tries not to hurt Mary with the inevitable (a divorce decree). How dark the loneliness and betrayal must have felt to both of these children of light. 

In fact, there is not a lot of “light” that shines in the life of this not-fully-married couple those first few years.  “Light” that first year is limited to one angel-encounter for Mary and two angel-dreams for Joseph plus one birthing-stable visit by some very unlikely light-bearers.   

APP:   God brings just enough light of His presence for us to make it through the dark times of life.  If it had been me in Joseph’s sandals, I’d have likely been wondering if that dream was simply my mind’s attempt to untangle in the darkness of this mess what my fiancée had just dumped in my lap.  But Joseph chose to see God’s hand in a difficult dream more than many of us see God in a boatload of divine blessings every day! 

So with those fleeting supernatural lightening bolts of divine encounter, this inexperienced couple dives into the darkness of divine mystery and disappointed expectations.

  • Joseph quietly and privately moves his bride into his home without the normal fanfare of a wonderful wedding week of celebrations, dinners and toasts. Welcome to the darkness of destroyed expectations that every bride and groom dream of on their own wedding week.
  • What would normally have been a season of intimacy gave way to months of continued celibacy. I wonder if they ever asked God, “Is this the prize for a lifetime of youthful purity and faith in You?”
  • As if that were not enough, just when Mary is in her 3rd trimester, they receive the unwanted news and summons they to make the nearly 100-mile trip to Bethlehem just to pay a new tax to their despised Roman occupiers. Now even hopes to be at home and around family in Nazareth for the birth of this miracle-child is darkened by a complete rearrangement of their lives.  Joseph is forced to shut down his fledgling, barely-stable, self-employing little carpentry business, lose who knows how many weeks of wages without any other source of income, all for the “privilege” of paying another odious foreign tax!  Factor in maybe 20 miles a day of on-foot travel in hot and sometimes hostile landscape, multiply by 5 days, and you have one very disappointing and dark first shared matrimonial trip.  Their minds must have been reeling with questions about why God would allow all this to happen to them when they were just trying to be obedient. 
  • Ladies, from my limited exposure to travel with a pregnant wife, I can’t imagine the pain and fatigue of riding a bony donkey 6-8 hours a day for a solid week, especially in the last week of your pregnancy!
  • Then, just as you pull into town after five long days on the road, your water breaks. In a strange town full of unknown people, there is not a single household offering to open their door to you.  For crying out loud, these folks are supposed to be your distant relatives!
  • By now the contractions are steady…and still you have no place to dismount and give birth.

If you are Mary, where is the light of God now? 

If you are Joseph, how are you feeling about God’s provision?  Surely they could feel the sense of panic rising in their throats, almost chocking out any notions of God’s good hand on them in this darkness. 

The only “space available” anywhere turned out to be the animal parking garage, likely under the 2st floor living quarters at some stranger’s house…or in a dark and dimly-lit cave in an adjacent hillside, packed with beasts of burden. 

I’m afraid we have this very romanticized view of that stable turned “delivery room.” 

Somehow our minds see it as if bathed in divine light, watched over by warm, furry, sanitary and odorless animals.  We see a baby who didn’t even cry and a new mother and dad who looked like they just got back from a week’s vacation in the Bahamas! 

The reality was there were 2 exhausted and unprepared parents, a wife in extreme pain, a bloody newborn who didn’t get a decent bath after his birth or even real diapers.  This little family of three must have felt very alone in a dark city without hospitality, all in a manure and hay-filled “birthing suite.” Talk about the darkness of disappointment!

But GOD was right in the middle of what looked like a mess.  He knew that there was one little obscure prophecy in the O.T. book of the prophet Micah (5:2) that needed to be fulfilled.  Listen to what Micah predicted some 700 years before the birth of Jesus that night: 

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Bethlehem had to be Jesus’ birthing room.  So God used a dark Roman governor in a dark period of Jewish history to bring the Light of the World into our world.

[SONG SET #2]

SCRIPTURE #3:  Luke 2:8-20

MEDITATION #2:  Shepherds & Angels

Has God ever confirmed the fact that He is “working the night shift” with you in some way?  Has he ever brought something or someone into your life to remind you and give you just enough hope to believe that what you’re going through is not out of His control?  Not unseen by God?  Not distance from His presence in the darkness?

ILL: Glen Johnson’s little family experiences last week that confirmed to them God was even in Glen’s sudden and surprising passing to Glory week before last.

  • A pair of Glen’s socks in one son’s suitcase when he arrived and unpacked here.
  • One of Glen’s handkerchief’s folded on the floor next to another son’s bed the first morning here.
  • The last photo of Glen—the church directory photo taken just the day before the accident.

All those things can be explained away by those who refuse to see God in the dark places of life.  Or they can be pencil beams of light that remind us, God brings light IN the darkness.

            It was the darkness of night into which God sent his angelic messengers—messengers of light, the night of Jesus’ birth.  He sent them to the most unlikely of people:  shepherds.  Shepherds were one of the lowest of occupations you could have.  Though King David was called when he was a shepherd boy, that too was the most unlikely crowning of royalty in Israel’s history. 

So this night, the night when the Good Shepherd of the soul of every human being in all human history was making his entrance, no wonder God chose these rough, uncouth and unkempt field hands to include in this Divine mystery. 

The light and glory of the Lord shown around the first angel to appear.  According to the text, God allowed them to see only one angel at first.  But even with just one, that angel had to calm them with assurances and encouragements that he was not there to destroy them but to announce to them the greatest birth in human history. 

Only when their hearts stopped missing beats did that “great company of the heavenly hosts” appear, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

So God sent angels of light to shepherds in the darkness of night, men who had not a clue of what was transpiring that night to change the world.  But God chose them, in the darkness of their poverty, their despised careers and their filthy condition.  He chose those men as recipients of the light and angelic beings reflecting His blazing glory.  

Maybe you are in the darkness of a dreary job or occupation?  You struggling with meaning or significance in the dark monotony of what life has dished out?  God longs to come to you today and cause the light of the glory of His presence to shine on you.  He wants to bring the Good News of Jesus to you in that dark and dreary place.  And then, just like He did with these simple shepherds, he wants you to simply tell others about what you have experienced of His love, His light and His life.    

            This is precisely where Mary and Joseph got a much needed experience with God’s light.  These same, now wide-awake shepherds, headed into Bethlehem, not to search the inns and fine houses of the wealth.  They didn’t even have to knock on the doors of the poor people’s places.  The angels had told them they would find the Messiah, “the Lord,” “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” (Luke 2:12).  Their search was limited to all the horse and cattle stalls in Bethlehem. And there would be only one with a baby using a feed box as a crib. 

            We have no record of angels singing in that stable.  No record of religious leaders seeking out the Savior. As far as we know, there were zero visitors there to help this displaced young couple find their footing.  The only people on the record as showing up that night to provide any encouragement, any light, to Mary, Joseph and Jesus were these rough and tumble shepherds. And the only gift they brought was the story of the blazingly glorious angelic visitation they had received that night.  But now Joseph and Mary had one more window of light by which to take the next step into an unknown and dark future. 

APP:  Sometimes we all need to embrace the experience and God-stories of others who are experiencing the light of God in their lives even when we are not. And when God gives us light that changes us, we need to share that light and those stories with those who may be feeling very much alone in their darkness. Don’t be surprised if those stories of God-sightings come through people you would least expect to be God’s messengers during those dark night shifts of your soul.  

MUSIC SET #3

SCRIPTURE #4:  Matthew 2:1-12

MEDITATION #3

From the story of the visiting Magi that we just heard (in Matthew 2) we learn the important historical fact that this expected short-stay taxing “vacation” somehow actually turned into nearly a 2-year sojourn in this backwater of Bethlehem.  For whatever reasons, this new little family didn’t return to Nazareth as anticipated a week or two later.  Instead, Joseph must have restarted his carpentry business in Bethlehem or hired himself out to another.  He and Mary went through the arduous task of finding a house to rent, making furniture that would make it habitable and making new friends and acquaintances in a strange city nearly a week’s journey away from their hometown and family.  Don’t you suppose there were a few dark days of loneliness in all that? 

            Matthew 2 does tell us that their two-year sojourn in Bethlehem did have one very curious and significant encounter in it somewhere.  “Magi” or “wise men” from the east who had been following the star, landed in Jerusalem and went directly to King Herod.  They explained to this paranoid and maniacal potentate that they had come to his country looking for a child who, by their wisdom, they knew was born “king of the Jews.”  That title caused quite a stir throughout the entire city of Jerusalem and certainly Herod’s evil heart.  So he summoned the Jewish leaders and asked them where this “messiah” was to be born.  And they, Jewish leaders, took him back to Micah 5 which we just read and told him, “In Bethlehem in Judea, for that is what the prophet has written….” 

            You know the rest of that part of the story.  Herod feigns interest in this Messiah and asks the Magi to come back and tell him where this child is once they find him in Bethlehem, supposedly so he, too, can go and worship. 

            We don’t know exactly how many Magi there were.  The legend of three and the song “We 3 Kings” probably surmise three because of the 3 gifts Matthew mentions they brought (gold, frankincense and myrrh).  Regardless, God warns them in a dream not to return to Herod to tell him where the child resides.  So as they leave Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph are left with a little more light…one brief flash of light… about why God would have so arranged national events and their personal sojourn as He did.  Certainly these wise men from another land far away, who had begun their preparations some two years earlier, reminded them of Micah’s prophecy and helped them realize God was still in their darkness.  

They left and life returned to “normal”…but it would be for a very few days. 

On one of those average nights, Joseph’s sleep was invaded by a terrifying dream which left him so shaken that he not only could not go back to sleep; he woke his probably sleep-deprived wife, Mary, in the middle of the night and informed her that they were fleeing their home and even their nation before dawn!  They were leaving The City of David, Bethlehem, the very place God had prophesied their boy would be born.  They were leaving it for the nation of their former oppressors—Egypt. 

Q:  Ladies, how many of you would have joyfully and respectfully abandoned your 2nd home in the space of 2 years and packed what could only fit on a donkey…at 3 a.m....for a trip to Tijuana?!  Now it was Mary’s turn to trust her spouse about something that made absolutely no sense to a tired, young and soon-to-be homeless-again teenage mom.  Wouldn’t most of us have been thinking, “We’re no threat to mad King Herod!  He doesn’t even know we exist.  Joseph, you’re delusional!  Go back to bed!”  Not Mary.  She was a women submitted to God and thus trusting of her God and her godly husband in the dark of night.   

            Darkness comes in many forms and at very unexpected moments in life. 

            They traveled the 40+ miles to Egypt and found some place to live and some work to do for the months or possibly years until Herod died (4 A.D.).  But God was working the night shift again.  Another obscure prophecy, this time from Hosea 11:1, stated that “out of Egypt” God would call “his son.”  Whether Mary & Joseph understood that prophecy or not, we don’t know.  But certainly the next great darkness that threatened to envelop this family of light must have triggered their memories of the words of Jeremiah 31:15--This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Perhaps it was on a day when they were most discouraged about finding a place to live or acquiring work or learning their new language of Egyptian.  Whatever day it was, the news arrived of their beloved Bethlehem:  The Roman soldiers, under order from King Herod, a true incarnation of evil, had swept into Bethlehem just hours after Mary, Joseph and Jesus had stolen away in the night to Egypt…and murdered every little toddler boy of every other couple they had gotten to know in the last two years in Bethlehem.  The darkness of infanticide by the wickedest of rulers descended over them like night.  And the light of the one or two dreams they remembered must have seemed very dim and distant in that darkness. 

            Evil’s horrific darkness threatened to stain everything they knew about God and life and hope. Yet in those dark days, the divine fire of the very presence of the Christ-child must have kept the lamp of their growing faith burning.  No matter how dark it was, the darkness could not overcome the light of God they sheltered in their arms. 

The Apostle John wrote about it in The Gospel of John 1:5—

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

The light of Jesus Christ shines even brighter today in what is possibly an even darker world than that time in human history.   

You can hide from it.  You can ignore it.  You can fight against it.  But nobody has or ever will be able to overcome the light of Jesus Christ. 

But to all of us who long for more light, Jesus Christ offers more and more of himself.  He doesn’t offer a flashlight.  He doesn’t give us a street light.  He offers himself, “the light of the world,” come to replace the darkness of our disappointment and sin with the light of His own presence by His Holy Spirit.

Speaking to the crowds gathered around him, Jesus said this of himself in John 8:12-- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

            Will you invite Him in today…forever?  Will you call out to him to relieve you of your sin and guilt and replace it with the eternal life Jesus came to give? 

[PRAYER of BELIEF in Jesus.]