(watch here: https://youtu.be/sScrEl1k3to)
2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Darkness…what is so wrong with darkness? Why has darkness been given such a bum rap over the years? When we think of all that is evil in this world…all the sins of this world like hatred and envy and pride and anger and jealousy and lust and murder and greed…all the terrible things of this world, we invariably root them in the darkness of this world. We tell ourselves that it is because of darkness we have evil in this world. If only we could somehow get rid of the darkness then there would be no more evil and sin, or so we want to believe. Why has darkness been credited with all that is wrong with our world? Is this fair to darkness?
In our passage from Isaiah, we hear of how the people were walking in darkness until they saw a “great light.” Suddenly, the light multiplied the nation, increased its joy, and supposedly took away the burdens of the darkness. The people rejoice in the coming of the light…WE rejoice in the coming of the light! Yet so quickly we forget the supporting role that darkness plays in the coming of the light. We quickly forget how the light wouldn’t be so “great” if it weren’t for the darkness setting the stage, so to speak. The light wouldn’t be so “great” if it weren’t put up against an equally “great” darkness. No, the light would simply be light…no greatness whatsoever…without darkness. The two need each other, the two complement each other, and the two mirror each other. If one is “great,” so, too, must the other one be as well. So why the bum rap for darkness?
Perhaps darkness gets a bad reputation because of what we hear in the opening verses of the Bible. We hear in Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” Because God declares light “good” and goes on to separate light from darkness, we infer that God considers darkness “bad.” Yet nowhere in the verses does God declare darkness “bad!” WE place that adjective on darkness…and unjustly so!
On the eve of our Lord and Savior’s birth, we, too, are walking in the darkness. WE are dwelling in the darkness just like all the characters in the Christmas narrative. Are we “bad” people for dwelling in the darkness? Are we “evil” people because we’re anticipating the coming of our Lord? No, of course not. We’re simply people living in the darkness. We’re simply people living in a place that complements a place of light. Believe it or not, there are good qualities to darkness. Even though God doesn’t come out and say it in those opening verses of Genesis, darkness can be “good” too.
Luke 1:26-35, 38
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The darkness is not all that bad of a place. Good things can come out of the darkness. For instance, scientists have recently discovered that our bodies produce the hormone, melatonin, only when our bodies are in really dark surroundings. Melatonin is an important hormone that helps fight cancer by turning off the growth of cancer cells. If there’s even the slightest bit of light by our beds, our bodies will stop producing melatonin. Also, our immune systems need times of darkness to replenish themselves. Sleeping in lighted areas just doesn’t allow for our bodies to rebuild all of its protective resources. We need darkness so that our bodies can focus on rebuilding from the day’s activities. Exposure to constant light can be just as harmful on e body as not being exposed to enough light. The body needs times of rest from light.
Our earliest homes were in the darkness of our mothers’ wombs. There’s a reason why nature gave us those first few months of life in the womb. It was so that our mothers’ bodies could focus on nourishing and protecting our ever-growing yet fragile bodies. At such an early age, we are completely vulnerable to the elements of the world. We can’t think for ourselves. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t support ourselves. The darkness protects us from the elements of the world. We might not be able to sense the harmful forces but, at the same time, the harmful forces can’t sense us. Darkness provides safety.
Mary lived in a world of safety. Mary lived in a world of darkness. We assume she hadn’t been visited by an angel before her encounter with Gabriel because of her perplexed reaction to his visit. Mary’s virginal status meant she had never been “visited” by a man. Her womb was a pure sanctuary of darkness and it was in such a sanctuary that our Lord chose to begin his life in our world. The darkest of wombs provided the purest of sanctuaries and out of such darkness came the greatest of all lights! Shouldn’t we be just a little more appreciative of the darkness? The darkness within Mary brought forth such lightness! The darkness within Mary protected and nourished our Lord. The darkness within Mary enabled our Lord to come into our world. No, the darkness within Mary plays a key role in the life of our Lord. Good things can come out of darkness!
2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
All throughout human history in all the world there have been times of greater darkness and times of lesser darkness. Certain diseases, certain rulers, certain disasters, and certain circumstances have each brought injustice and uncertainty to the respective times. These have caused greater darkness to descend on the land and the people. The unknown and the unfairness of the darkness can be frightening to some yet exciting to others. It is hard to determine whether darkness is “good” or “bad.” What limits the opportunities of some people may create opportunities for other people. Darkness can limit some while liberate others.
Emperor Augustus ruled in darkness. Emperor Augustus imposed darkness on his people. Emperor Augustus established a registration as a means of imposing darkness…as a means of imposing limiting darkness. He wanted to tighten the rein on his people. He felt a world-wide registration would convey a sense of his omniscience and omnipresence. The Emperor would know your name and where you live so you better behave right or else the empire would come and persecute you. The registration was meant to impose fear, a very limited form of darkness. It wasn’t meant to protect. It wasn’t meant to nurture. It was meant to instill fear.
Joseph and Mary couldn’t avoid the registration. As good citizens of the empire, they dutifully went to register with the empire. But before the fear of the Emperor’s darkness could be felt by Joseph and Mary, God comes out of the darkness and an angel appears to shepherds in the fields. God comes out of the darkness in the form of a baby. God is not limited by Emperor Augustus’ darkness; God is liberated by it! The Emperor inadvertently created a liberating darkness! His registration brought Joseph and Mary out of Nazareth and into Bethlehem where the great Light enters the world. Out of great darkness comes great light! The light wouldn’t be nearly as great without a great darkness.
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Emperor Augustus wasn’t the only ruler serving a limiting darkness. King Herod, too, ruled in a limited darkness. King Herod lived in a limited darkness. King Herod lived in fear, perhaps the greatest agent of a limiting darkness. Fear constrains a person like no other emotion. It destroys love. It breaks apart reasoning. It crumbles hope. There is good darkness-the kind of darkness that protects and nurtures new life until it can come into the light. But there is also bad darkness-the kind that consumes and destroys. Fear enables bad darkness to enter into our relationships. Fear enables rulers like King Herod to set about killing Jesus. Fear enables rulers like King Herod to try and manipulate the wise men into telling him where Jesus was born so that he could kill him…er, “pay him homage.”
But again, God enters into Herod’s darkness and guides the wise men safely to Jesus without Herod knowing. Again, God turns a limiting darkness into a liberating darkness. God uses the darkness to bring forth the best light the world has ever seen! God doesn’t judge the darkness. God knows it is necessary for the light. God knows we can’t have light without darkness and vice versa. The two are in constant tension with each other, one neither better nor worse. Sin and evil can thrive in both the light and the darkness. We’d be fools to believe sin and evil dwell only in the darkness. We’d be even bigger fools to judge all darkness as “bad.” There is both limiting and liberating darkness. Darkness can refresh and replenish. Darkness can nurture and protect. Darkness can free and encourage. Believe it or not, we need darkness just as much as we need light. We need to find a healthy balance of light and darkness within ourselves. We need to stop giving darkness such a bad rap! Darkness sets the stage for God’s “good” light to come into our world and into our lives. As we celebrate Jesus coming into our lives yet again, let us not forget the importance and value of the darkness of this night. Let us embrace darkness for all its reviving, restoring, empowering qualities.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.