This was the 3rd part (my part) of the Christmas sermon this Sunday. This was my first go at a manuscript form for preaching, and I must say I really enjoyed it. I might even try to make it a regular style for my preaching. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed participating in preparing and giving it.
Thanks for reading!
Israel’s world was burning right in front of their eyes. The Israelites were a proud people. They had a long history of prophets, kings and victories, but the moments the were living through were not filled with the powerful stories and figures that their history had been filled with. Until John the Baptist, it had been 400 years since a prophet spoken a divine word. Israel was in the middle of “The Dark Period.” During this period all seemed lost.
When our story picks up in Matthew, Israel is under the rule of the Roman Empire. Israel has been conquered and reconquered by many foreign Kings. They are now under the reign of a Caesar (Augustus) who is ruthless, and a governor (Herod) who is jealous and insecure. Israel’s world was dark. Israel’s world was hopeless.
During this time, Rome was in the middle of what’s called Pax Romana. Though it means, “Roman Peace” it was obtained in the most violent way possible. The world that Rome conquered was not just defeated, but Rome would break the will of those they conquer. They destroyed their opponent so fully, so completely, that there was only enough left to mutter the words, “Caesar is lord.”
Bringing the suffering to a sad climax, the birth of Jesus took place right before the mass murder of countless infants by Herod, a power hungry, insecure governor.
Into this dark and broken world, a light was born…
In Israel’s mind, the worst part of all of this had to be the not knowing. Israel had not seen any hint of change in 400 years. They worshiped a silent God who seemed to have completely abandoned them. Israel was once a world power, but they had become a commodity that was passed from King to King when a new country conquered the old one. By earthly standards Israel had no reason to hope.
How often do we feel this sort of hopelessness in our lives? We know something is wrong, but nothing seems to come from our prayers. Our search for answers give us only more questions. God seems to be distant, and He seems to not care. Maybe you have not heard from him in a long time, or maybe you don’t like the things he says to you. For so many of us, God’s voice has become a distant memory, and like a friend you once knew years and years ago, you aren’t sure you’d even know God’s voice if you heard it today.
The reason hopelessness is so dark is because it works its way into the deepest parts of us and makes us believe that nothing will change. It convinces us that our problem is too big for God or that He doesn’t care. Hopelessness pulls you away from God and from others and instead drives you deeper into yourself. It separates you from the community that God has given to us. Hopelessness is a suffocating darkness.
The Light of the World
In John 9, Jesus said that, “…I am the light of the world.” Through this statement, Jesus is saying that all of the hopelessness that you and I will find in this world, all the unjust darkness that you can’t control, and the conflict that you can’t seem to avoid finds it’s end, it’s ultimate destruction, in Him. He is saying that darkness isn’t just a dual force, equal in strength and power to Christ, but instead, darkness is only the absence of light. Darkness is completely broken and defeated by light. Christ is telling us that our hopelessness can and will find its end in Him.
Maybe it is a work situation that makes you feel sick every time you think about it. Maybe it is a home situation that has your heart broken. Maybe money or sex has a grip on you that you can’t seem to break away from. Maybe an addiction has rooted itself so deeply inside of you that you can’t imagine a world in which you live free from that hold. Maybe you feel like possessions, friends, or social status or standing will give you the purpose and meaning you have been searching for. And maybe, just maybe, you are realizing that none of those will light that dark place in your soul.
As we planned this service, we wanted it to be a full representation of what Christ’s birth means to us as people. Words can be important, but when you actually think about it, it so often is music, or art, or action that truly changes us. Words can be hollow. When we don’t like what we hear, we can tune out words. But actions and examples can revolutionize the ordinary or mundane. Actions are hard to ignore and, when they are done through the power of Christ, they are impossible to witness and not cause change.
The candle you watched be brought in at the beginning of the service represents the delicate light that was birthed into the world on that miraculous Christmas day 2000 years ago. This candle represents “the Light” that powerful men traveled across great distances to see, and that other powerful men killed to extinguish. This represents “the Light” that had a star announce its arrival, and angels to tell of its coming.
The miracle of Christmas is that the light embodied in the baby Jesus, our Savior, was only a small, delicate light when it first made its appearance some 2000 years ago. It was not, at that moment, the light that cast out demons and the light that defeated death. It was the naked, vulnerable light that could not fight for itself. It could not find a decent place to sleep and could not feed itself. The light of the world was as fragile as life itself.
As for the painting. The majority of Israelites had no idea that they were living through the change that they, their parents, and their grandparents before them, had spent their lives praying for. They were witness to the overthrowing of the kingdom of earth, and they had no idea.
You see, the beauty of the way our God works is that we can’t see his working when we are in the middle of it. Our role in the shaping of the earth is represented by the artists who are painting this picture. As people who follow Christ, we only participate in a small part of a MUCH bigger picture. A picture that has taken thousands of years to create. In our life we might make a stroke or two, but nothing that brings about massive change. But through us, God is working on this painting. He is changing the darkness and, from the threads of the canvas of our world, is using His perfect artistic taste to seduce out of the canvas a picture that the world has never seen and has always hoped for.
This brings us to the artists, a truly amazing part of this whole story.
In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus tells his disciples that,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Throughout the service you have seen many people become artists and participate in the transformation of a canvas. They each came with an unlit candle, then joining with the light of Christ, they took that light to participate in the painting of a beautiful picture. No one person did this whole painting, and no one person holds the only light. We are all participating in this together.
When Christ was born, and as he lived, he passed His light on to new artists.
If you notice, the explosion of Christianity happened after Christ had ascended into heaven. The birth of Christ signaled something that was to come; the final conquering of darkness and death. The birth of Christ means the death of hopelessness.
The crazy part of this whole story is that we, the Church, are invited to participate in the spreading of hope and light. It doesn’t matter how qualified we feel we are, or how much we can bring to the painting. What matters is that we walk in the light of Christ and the community of other artists.
When we follow Christ and do our best with the 2 or 3 paint strokes we are given, we can change the canvas of our world. As the Church, this is what we are about. The Kingdom of God is not about material possessions, and it is not about power or prestige. Those things destroy us, and through us they destroy others. What we were created for, and invited to participate in, is the creation of something infinitely beautiful.
In closing, I want to challenge you, this Christmas, to think about what Christ gave to us. Christ’s birth 2000 years ago gave us 2 options. We can choose to become artists and work to create beauty, or we can become arsonists, and work towards the destruction of beauty. I challenge you- each one of you- to become artists.
Mother Theresa once said, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.”
Church lets take this light, and with our one or two brush strokes, do something beautiful for God.