Showing the Way to the Life-Light

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Advent 3
February 25, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Like the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist was not himself the light. He came to show the way to the light. In the same way, we are challenged to share the life and the light of Jesus with others.

Today is one of the darkest days of the year. We will experience only nine hours and 27 minutes of daylight, which leaves us with more than 14 hours of darkness. At this time of year, we experience much more darkness than light each day. On top of this, the world around us seems to be dark. We've got climate change, disinformation, international conflict, natural disasters and personal insecurity about relationships, jobs, health and retirement. We are living in a world that feels like the line from the Christmas carol "The First Noel," which speaks of "a cold winter's night that was so deep."1

Deep, deep darkness. We know what it feels like. But we are not the first people to face dark days. In the time of the prophet Isaiah, about 700 years before the birth of Christ, the people of Israel were walking in darkness -- they "lived in a land of deep darkness."2 They were "greatly distressed and hungry," experiencing "distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish."3 Our current challenges of climate change, disinformation, conflict and disasters make us feel equally distressed and anguished. Like the people of Isaiah's time, we need some illumination.

Fortunately, the people of Israel saw a ray of light in the birth of a king, a descendent of David. "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us," says prophet Isaiah; "authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." His kingdom, says Isaiah, shall be established "with justice and with righteousness."4 This king was the hope of the people of Israel -- the one who would rule them with justice and righteousness. He was a great light, a "life-light," sent to them by God.

Glimmers of light

Like the people of Israel, we should always be on the lookout for glimmers of light. Fortunately, they pop up all around us. A writer named Baratunde Thurston talks about an 18-year-old named Taylor Wilson, who said to himself, "I'm going to design a new, safer, more efficient nuclear reactor." And then he did it. A Kenyan teenager named Richard Turere feared that lions would devour his family's livestock, so he built an automated security system. Jack Andraka, just 16 years old, became angry about pancreatic cancer after it killed a family friend. But instead of cursing the darkness, he lit a candle. He developed a protein-based blood test that is much faster, more effective and cheaper than the current option. And he did this, says Thurston, "while dealing with homework, parents and puberty."5

Such young people can give us hope during dark days. They are lighting candles that bring light into darkness and give us hope for the future. "A child has been born for us, a son given to us," said the prophet Isaiah to the people of his day.6 Children are still being born who are succeeding in making the world a safer, more secure and healthier place. God's kingdom of justice and righteousness is being advanced one innovation at a time. The creativity of these young people offers not just light, but life-light.

Pointing the way to the life-light

Seven centuries after Isaiah, a child was born in the little town of Bethlehem. We sing about this birth in a Christmas carol, "Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."7 For many years, the people of Israel were filled with hopes and fears. Then, in Bethlehem, Jesus was born to show God's love and salvation. In the middle of a dark, dark night, he came to be our everlasting light.

The Gospel of John picks up on this understanding of Jesus as the light. "What has come into being in him was life," says John, "and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it."8 Notice how John makes a connection between life and light. Jesus is doing more than bringing illumination into the world. He is offering life-light.

The one who points us directly to Jesus is the man called John the Baptist. In Eugene Peterson's contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message, the first verses of today's passage say, "There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light."9

Like the prophet Isaiah, John was not himself the light. He came to show the way to the light. And the light that John pointed us toward is a light that gives and sustains all life. Like the sunlight that shines on Earth, this light is the source of all the energy that is necessary for life. Jesus is not just a shining star on a dark night. He is our life-light.

When priests and Levites traveled to the town of Bethany to find out who John was, he did not say that he was the "life-light." He said very clearly that he was not the Messiah. "What then?" they asked him. "Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." Then they asked him, "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

At this point, John made a connection with the ancient prophet Isaiah. Quoting the prophet, he said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" John made clear that he was not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet, not the life-light, not the Lord. No, he was the one who pointed the way to the life-light and prepared the way of the Lord. He said that a greater one was coming after him, and he was "not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."

Sharing the life and light of Christ

Like John, our challenge is not to be the Lord Jesus, but to share the life and the light of Jesus with others. We do this when we "show everyone where to look," as John did, when we show everyone "who to believe in."10 When people are feeling hopeless and looking for a sign that God is alive and well, we can speak to them about Jesus, the one who is "close to the Father's heart" and "who has made him known."11 When people are feeling the burden of guilt, we can offer them the grace of Jesus; when people are feeling the darkness of disinformation, we can share with them the truth of Jesus. In a world of hopelessness, guilt and dishonesty, we can point people to the life of Jesus Christ.

We can also offer people light by acting with the justice and the righteousness of Jesus. He came to treat everyone fairly, rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, immigrant and native-born. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was focused on people being in a right relationship with God and with each other. The core meaning of righteousness is "right-relationship" -- not so much following rules and regulations as being in loving, giving, just and committed relationships. This is the kind of relationship that Jesus has with each of us, and it is the kind that he wants us to have with him, with God and with each other.

Showing the way

At Christmas, our challenge is to show the way to the life-light. We do this by speaking about Jesus, offering his grace and sharing his truth. We do this by treating everyone fairly and focusing on living in loving and committed relationships. The birth of Jesus reminds us that we have the power to change things for the better, whether we are designing safer nuclear reactors or forgiving a friend who has hurt us. We have the power to share the life-light with others, whether we are developing better cancer blood tests or welcoming an immigrant family into our neighborhood.

During this upcoming Christmas season, you can receive the life-light that is entering the world! To those who are living in a land of deep darkness, the light of Christ is shining. To those who are feeling discouraged and hopeless, the life of Christ is coming. Jesus enters the lives of each of us today -- to show us God's love, to save us from our sins, to lead us in right paths. And, as we continue to struggle with dangers and difficulties, he gives us his grace and truth.

So, receive the life-light. Accept it, embrace it and then share it -- in whatever way you can. Reflect the light of Christ into the dark places that you see around you. Do whatever you can to make the world a safer, more secure and healthier place. Take actions that establish justice and righteousness in the world -- actions that help to build right relationships between people and God, and between people one to another.

You do not have to build a security system for livestock or develop a new blood test for cancer. But you can visit a lonely relative, invite a neighbor to church or tutor a troubled teenager. There are many good ways to show the way to the life-light. And all will make the world a brighter place.