Psalm 126, Isaiah 6: 1-4,8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24, John 1: 6-8,19-28
As we travel though Advent and approach Christmas in this odd year, we can of course still look forward to the birth of Jesus with joy and appreciate all the positive things in life. We want to celebrate and we should be happy and, as good Christians, we should also try to see how we can look after others who may not be as fortunate as ourselves. The run up to Christmas should be a time of contentment and preparation and gratitude to God for his enormous gift of Christ and all the good things we enjoy.
Even in a normal year it is also a time when the problems of life can seem more acute than normal, when those who are not happy feel they should be. When disagreements and rifts in families rise to the surface with all the stresses and strains and expense of all the preparations we seem to be expected to make, and perhaps the prospect of being cooped up with our supposedly nearest and dearest, may not always be the joy it should be for some.
And climatically, the run up to Christmas is also a dark time, around the shortest day of the year. The weather can be dreary and depressing and the warm days of Summer seem long ago and far into the future. We all need brightening up.
This year will be different, with all its restrictions and difficulties.
We have all had enough stress this year thank you very much.
But in the many different sorts of darkness, among the stresses and strains and chaos of it all – a candle is lit, a star is seen, and a prophet talks about the arrival of light.
In the verse before the Gospel Passage – in John 1 v 5 – we read
The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
When I was researching this sermon, I came across a particular account of the happenings in Romania in December 1989. I was living in Canada at the time and remember the news reports very well as I spent Christmas with my cousin and her family in Toronto. But a story that did not make the Canadian TV news was a bit of background to the fall of the Communist Dictator Ceausescu:
A Christian Pastor, Laszlo Tokes, had become a threat to the authority of the communist Romanian government. He preached the gospel bravely and his once small church had grown to 5,000 people. The authorities persecuted him and eventually the Police came to arrest him. His congregation tried to stop them, successfully for a while. During the standoff around midnight a young student named Daniel Garva, brought out a packet of candles. He lit one and passed it to his neighbour. One by one burning candles were passed through the crowd. The crowd stayed all through that night and the next, but eventually the Police did arrest Pastor Laszlo. This led to a huge demonstration against the Communist government. Once again, Daniel handed out candles. Troops were brought in and ordered to shoot into the crowd. Hundreds were shot and Daniel was very seriously wounded. But their brave example created a spark and inspired the entire population of Romania to rise up in protest. Within days the cruel dictator Ceausescu had been toppled. For the first time in half a century, Romania celebrated Christmas in freedom. A light, a candle and a devotion to Jesus had caused all this.
We enjoy greater religious freedom here. But we still live in a world of hostile darkness. And in it God calls us to be his witnesses, to shine his light. I wonder if Pastor Laszlo or Daniel ever dreamed that the lights they lit would have such a dramatic effect. When the witnesses to Jesus shone in the darkness of Romania, people saw the light and, like God in Genesis, they saw that it was good.
God reaches into the darkest corners of our lives. The light of his love is inescapable and who would want to escape it anyway.
The first person to be mentioned in John’s Gospel is John the Baptist. He was not any ordinary man and was actually a relation of the Virgin Mary. He was the unexpected, but much longed for son of a Priest, Zechariah and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. His birth too was foretold by the Angel Gabriel. John had been sent by God and had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation. He prepared the way for Jesus and directed people to his light.
John said that he is not the light. In fact, he was very clear about who he is not. He is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not one of the prophets. And then he talks with equally great conviction about who he is: "I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord.” Or in different words, Get ready, hand out the candles, the small lights must presage and bear witness to the coming light.
We need to follow his instructions to hold a candle, to be a light in the World. To stand out. To shine out.
Like John the Baptist and Daniel Garva, God has thrown the radiance of His eternal light on you and me. In our homes, in our relationships, at work, at church, and at play may we all be faithful witnesses to the light of God that is coming into our world. In the coming Christmas season let us remember that “there is no night so dark that a single candle cannot break its darkness.” Let us shine as lights for God in this World.
Maranatha – come Lord Jesus.