Let me tell you a story. It's a story of light, and hope, and new beginnings. And I believe it's a story that can bring you joy after a really hard year.
The story begins with four simple words… "let there be light."
Light. This is how the creation story of Genesis begins. The first act God takes in creating the world is speaking light into the darkness.
From the very beginning, our God was a God of light.
In fact, throughout the Bible, God's presence and power has been captured by a single word related to light: glory. In the Old Testament, this glory shows up as a kind of "shiny heaviness."
It's powerful, it's blinding, it's overwhelming. The glory of God.
Whenever God shows up, his glory - his bright radiance - shows up too.
O LORD my God, how great you are!
You are robed with honor and majesty.
You are dressed in a robe of light.
Wherever God goes, his glory is sure to follow.
Here’s what’s amazing. From the very beginning of time, it has always been God's desire to share that glory - that light - with us and for us to share that light with the world. It's why he created humanity in the first place.
Have you ever thought about that? That you are meant to be a light bringer? You were made in the image of God, and you were meant to shine with his glory!
But let's get back to the story. Because God created humanity to share in his glory, but of course, it didn't take long for problems to arise. The light of God's presence began to be shrouded. Covered by humanity's brokenness. Darkened by our injustice and selfishness.
We wanted to stay in the shadows of sin, and so the world was covered in darkness yet again.
Until… chose a people to help him shine his glory in a brand new way.
The Israelites. He rescued them from the darkness of slavery in Egypt, and led them through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud during the day and a bright pillar of fire or light during the night.
Whenever the Israelites set up camp, this "glory" of God would descend on the Tabernacle, their portable temple. The people could look up and see the tabernacle shrouded in bright, smoky light and know their God was with them.
That light - that glory - meant protection, and provision, and guidance through an unknown land.
Listen to how King David described seeing God’s light filling the tabernacle:
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
Do you feel like you’ve been wandering through a parched and weary land this year? I mean, 2020 has been rough, right? It’s been a very dark time. Just like the ancient Israelites, we feel like we’re in the wilderness. We need to know that God is with us. We need a bit of light!
So, the glory of God filled the tabernacle. It was a source of hope for the people.
Unfortunately, as the story went on the Israelites started to drift. They started spreading darkness, instead of light. Yet again, they were unjust and violent and corrupt.
Their nation became so dark, that eventually God allowed the Babylonians to carry them away into exile. Jerusalem was conquered, and the temple - where God’s glory was supposed to dwell - was destroyed.
It seemed to some that God’s glory - God’s light - had been taken away for good.
But a few held onto hope. They believed that God was not finished yet. He was still working to bring his light - his presence - into the world.
For the LORD will rebuild Jerusalem.
He will appear in his glory.
He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.
He will not reject their pleas.
Something was coming and the world would one day see the light once more.
THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
For hundreds of years the people waited in darkness. They looked for God’s glory and longed for the world to be healed. I’m sure many started to lose hope.
But then one day in Bethlehem a humble baby was born. A baby that would change everything.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior… has been born!
Now, this is a familiar moment in the Christmas story. Linus explains it to Charlie Brown every year.
But did you notice what happened when the angel showed up? “The radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.”
Think about what that means. God’s glory - his bright and overwhelming presence - had returned! Light was entering our world yet again.
But not in the tabernacle. Not in the temple. Not isolated to a specific, holy space. But on a random hillside to some no-name shepherds!
God’s light was spilling into the world, but this time, it was available to everyone.
That’s what the birth of Jesus began. And it’s exactly what we see through his entire life.
Everywhere he went Jesus brought light. He helped the blind man see. He gave hope to those in despair. From the moment he was born, Jesus was a beacon for God’s glory.
He was a light-bringer. And after his death and resurrection, he made his disciples light-bringers as well.
On the day of Pentecost, all the disciples were together in one room, and then this happened:
What looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit.
God’s presence - his bright, shining glory - was now present in his followers. Every one of them was now a living tabernacle carrying God’s glory into their world. God’s presence, God’s provision, God’s power… It’s in us!
Every follower of Jesus, from the moment he was born until today, has been called to be a light bringer like him. It’s why we’re here.
The book of Revelation paints the picture of a day when all creation is made new, all brokenness will be healed, and there’s no longer a need for the sun and moon because God himself will be the light.
Now, we’re not there yet. But until we are, let me give you a few encouragements…
First, if you are a follower of Jesus remember: you are a light bringer in his name. What parts of your world are still in darkness? What injustice is around you? What broken relationships need to be healed? Who in your life needs to know that it’s going to be ok? That the Savior has been born!
As Jesus said, you are the light of the world. It’s time for that light to shine.
Second, though. Perhaps you don’t yet follow Jesus. Or maybe you’re just going through a really dark time in your life. You feel anxious, or depressed, or afraid… you’ve given up home.
If that’s you, I have good news that bring great joy to all people. The savior has been born!
There is hope. No matter what you’re facing, you are not alone. Our Creator - the one who spoke light into the darkness, the one who led the people through the wilderness - our God longs to bring you home. He wants to save you from the darkness.
Jesus himself said it best:
I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.
Don’t stay in the shadows, friend. Let this Christmas be a time of hope and life and light.
When you look around and see candles and Christmas lights and all the bright decorations, let it be a reminder of that moment in humble Bethlehem when the bright glory of God finally appeared.