Publication:Pastoral Letter,December 2017
Dear Friend in Christ:
A few days ago, I sat with two close friends talking about the things of God, and the subject of light came up. I had been thinking about light as it related to the birth of Jesus. I find this a most intriguing subject and want to share some of my thoughts with you. I pray that you will enjoy “Christmas Light” and not just “Christmas Lite.” Let’s first look at what Christmas is NOT about ….
There many trappings and traditions around Christmas, some genuine and some not. Some traditions actually stem from paganism. But this letter is not about that. “Is December 25 the actual date?” Probably not. “Do Christmas trees really belong to the story of Jesus’ birth?” No. “Is Christmas too commercial?” Yes. “Is it really about giving gifts to each other?” No. “Is the birth of Jesus a “holy day” and not just a holiday?” Certainly. “Would I celebrate Christmas if it was not a holiday?” I would. “Is Christmas even the correct name for Jesus’ birth?” Probably not. So what should we call it? How about Jesus’ Birthday?
Now we are done here with those questions, let’s look at the real issue. I am not trying to change how we celebrate this joyful season; I simply pray that we celebrate its real essence; what actually affected the world.
The New Testament gives us four Gospel stories of Jesus’ life. The “Christmas Story” comes primarily from Matthew and Luke. Matthew gives us the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham and David, which is very important information. Luke gives us the activity of the Holy Spirit and angels surrounding Jesus’ birth. Mark begins his gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist and omits the birth of Jesus.
The Gospel of John takes a different approach; he begins before the beginning. When the beginning began, Jesus already was the Eternal Word of God Who was made flesh dwelling among us. He was the Creator of all things, the life that was the “Light of men.”
So, this Baby is life and light in a darkened world. Darkness has tried but fails to overcome the Light! I find it fascinating that the Jews, who are the people from whom Jesus came, and Christians who have received Jesus have remained the most persecuted groups for 2000 years. Yet, the Light shines more and more. From Herod to Hitler, from Nero until now, the destroyer has failed. People still live and even die for the Light and the liberty it brings. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we celebrate the Light from heaven and that life that He gives.
“Let There Be Light”
Light is mysterious, creative, and powerful. Genesis is the book of beginnings. Creation as we see it began with the Spirit of God “hovering over” the formless and lifeless darkness. The first order of creation was “Let there be light, and there was light.” It was good!
So where did light come from? “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This truth came from John the apostle. I find it interesting that he who gave us the fact that Jesus is light also equates God with light. John had a very close relationship with Jesus and saw the light of God in Him.
The Apostle Paul tells us that God dwells in “unapproachable light” (see 1Timothy 6:16). Paul had a personal experience with Jesus’ blinding light on the road to Damascus. That light reordered his life thereafter. Light sets things in order as it did in the very beginning.
Light is so much more than we actually see, but it enables us to see. Without light there is no sight. Light makes visible what is hidden in darkness. It brings sight, awakening, guidance, and so much more. It conducts messages!
Light ignites, draws, divides, and even gives life. Plant, animal, and human life depend upon light. All this is amazing, awesome, and worthy of great celebration. Jesus is the Light of the World!
Shepherds Saw the Light
At the same time that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their flocks nearby and “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” What is the glory of the Lord? It is extremely bright light; it is His radiance and it is awesome. It frightened them! In that light, they saw and heard the angel of the Lord give them the good news of great joy for ALL the people, a “Savior Who is Christ the Lord.” The angel told them where to find the Savior. Then they saw a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will toward men.”
All of the above came from LIGHT. The evidence of that event was that the shepherds found Jesus and worshipped Him. The light that shined in Genesis chapter one was shining again, reordering a creation that had fallen into darkness. Darkness would try, but fail to extinguish it.
“The earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). Then there was light. Light is good! But it also separates. Light separated night and day. It separated the waters above from the waters below. It separated land from the sea. It separated the seasons, then it began to give birth to life. Unfortunately light often separates people.
One could wish that everyone would see what the shepherds saw, the glory of the Lord, or that everyone could see what the apostle Paul saw on the road to Damascus. But, not everyone does. Many people walk in darkness and are separated from those who walk in the Light. Religion is not the light of the world; Jesus and His Spirit are light.
So, we find ourselves divided, darkness from light. The brighter our light and the darker the darkness, the greater the separation. Deep darkness resists and even attacks the light. Why? Light can be painful to one’s eyes. Truth can hurt but also can heal. When light is received, a whole new perspective comes, as in the case of Paul or millions of others who celebrate the Light of the World. So what do we do?
Celebrate The Light
Jesus said we are the light of the world (see Matthew 5:14). We are “a city set on a hill.” Celebrating Jesus and all that His light has given draws people. “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). We need to lift up Jesus during this season and in every season. Remember, it is His birthday that we celebrate, regardless of all the other issues. And we celebrate all that His light brought to us and to the world.
It does no good to curse the darkness. As William L. Watkinson said in 1907, while preaching The Invisible Strategy, “It is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” Cursing the darkness is easy, a natural response to evil, but it does not bring light. Exalting Jesus does bring light. We exalt Him by our lives that proceed from His light. We exalt Him by our testimony and demonstrating our salvation to the world. Such light draws those in darkness even when they resist it.
We have a tree in our yard that was bent over by the wind, but I notice that it still grew upward toward the sun. We did not straighten it up; the light did. Even plants seek light.
I have sometimes gone around in past years trying to straighten “bent trees” when I should have allowed the light to do that. It can, you know. While I applaud every effort to set things right, I notice that those who celebrate the light are most effective, not those who curse the darkness.
We can go about describing all that is wrong about Christmas or even not celebrating it all, given that “the date is wrong” or “trees are wrong”; or we can light up our lives with the glory of God by focusing on Jesus the Light. I advocate the latter. It is better to light your candle! Do good, bless others with peace, and say “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Oh yes, there is darkness and it still tries to overcome the light, but it never has and never will!
“The path of the just is as a bright and shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). “Glory to God in the Highest!”
I mentioned earlier that light conducts messages. “Fiber optics” is a relatively new science, but for many years, signals were sent by light. Lighthouses were used to warn or guide seagoing vessels. But long before any of that, God sent a message to the world by light. Jesus is light and He is the message that God loves us, even those who do not know Him. The Gospels give us His message that came through “The Light.” We celebrate Him, the light of the world, and the message He brought. He is God made flesh and dwelling among us; He showed us Who God is and what He is like up close: Divine, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Deliverer, Provider and all that we need.
His Spirit and His Word are still here, never leaving nor forsaking us, still speaking to us, setting things in order, bringing peace and joy. What message is the light bringing to you now? His Word creates a whole new beginning. I pray that we can hear Him and respond to His creative message.
A new year is very close. It can be truly new when the light comes; may it come powerfully to us and truly make us, His Body, light in a world of darkness.
P.S. Would you prayerfully consider a special-year end gift to support the mission of CSM? All gifts are tax-deductible and deeply appreciated! This season of the year is very important to sustain our mission into the New Year. Speaking of the New Year, please mark your calendar for the May 8-10 CSM Leadership Conference in beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee! Our theme will be “Celebrating the Goodness of God” with many powerful testimonies, times of prayer and praise, and rich fellowship.
Scripture reference: 1 John 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:16; Genesis 1:2; Matthew 5:14; John 12:32; Proverbs 4:18