Isaiah 9:1-7 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
When we think about things we can’t live without, we think of things like the Internet, ipads, computers, and smart phones. Technology has really become central to our communication and enables our connectivity and productivity. I recently talked to someone who was without cell phone service for a week due to a bad winter storm and it was really difficult for them. How many of you could last a week without your phone? I took a Facebook poll this week and asked people to list the top three things they couldn’t live without. Here were some of the answers:
God, family, friends, love, cell phone, tv, car, purpose, water, food, grace, books, exercise, pizza, garage door opener, peanut butter, hand sanitizer, music, coffee, laughter, the SEC, sweet tea, worship, Scripture and prayer. Someone polled their office for me, and the number one answer there was “money.”
Interesting that only person said they could live without light. Perhaps it is something we simply take for granted. Yet when you stop to think about it, unless you were sight impaired, one of the most basic things you need in order to operate your technology, in order to drive your car, in order to do your work, in order to find your garage door opener or peanut butter, or in order to get ready to be seen in public, you need light.
A few months back, we were sitting in the family room and my mom walked out of the room and into the kitchen. I heard a huge, “Ouch!” and wondered what on earth could have happened. She had walked into the door of the dishwasher which was wide open. She didn’t see it because she hadn’t turned on the light. I was quickly reminded that in the dark people get hurt.
Our family faithfully watches two shows together. One is “Once Upon a Time” and the other is “The Middle.” Thom and the kids watch “Duck Dynasty,” but I can’t bring myself to find the humor. (However, I digress.) Recently in an episode on “The Middle” the teenage daughter and middle school son were left home alone overnight. I think it was my favorite episode ever! In one scene the lights went out, and in a very comedic fashion the characters expressed how afraid they were. I was reminded that people become fearful in the dark.
Isaiah prophesied about the birth of Christ and in so doing he said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah prophesied during a dark time in Israel. Things were really bad. I don’t know if I am just more aware of the status of things and that’s why it seems there is so much darkness in our society today, but I interact with more than a handful of people every week who are hurting and afraid. People are still walking in darkness, and they need some light in order to see Jesus.
That first Christmas the Wisemen saw the light of the star which led them to Christ. Their pathway was illuminated to the manger. The way had to be clear if they were going to make it there. God made sure it was. God still has a plan to illuminate the way to Christ. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Jesus, the Light of the World, was born into the world to show us the way to the Father. However, He has accomplished His mission. He came, lived a perfect life and died on a cross to pay the price for the sins of the world. He was buried and rose again on the third day and then He ascended up through the clouds to His throne in Heaven where He is seated at God the Father’s right hand. He sent the Holy Spirit in His place to come into the hearts and minds and bodies of believers so that the next phase of the plan could be carried out by us.
Jesus, the Light of the world said of us: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Turn to Philippians 2. As you are turning there, let me share that the Apostle Paul said that as lights in the world we are to shine like stars in the universe to the world around us. (Philippians 2:15) There are so many hurting and fearful people in the world today, and God’s plan is that through you and me, His church, we would be the light they need in order to find Christ for themselves. People need to be exposed to the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. My question this morning is simply: Are we giving off enough light in order for them to see Him? How will they see Him in and through us this Christmas season? Paul sheds some light on this subject in Philippians 2.
Be Considerate-Philippians 2:3-8 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Stop right now and think of two people who are going through a tough time other than yourself. Maybe it is a person who lives alone. Maybe it is someone who will be going through their first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe it is someone who doesn’t have a lot. Maybe it is someone dealing with a health crises or a job loss. Maybe it is someone who is bullied and has been labeled an outcast. Maybe it is someone who is away from their family and home during the holidays. Maybe it is someone going through a divorce.
If they came to your mind just now perhaps that is God’s prompting that you are to reach out to them this Christmas. Perhaps a card, a gift, a call, a visit, a basket of fruit or gift card to Kroger or maybe even an invitation to join you around your table could mean the world. Maybe they need a good Christmas musical to attend!
When someone has reached out to me with that kind of intention it wasn’t the gift or the card of the invitation to a meal that impacted me, but it was the fact that they thought of me and took time to let me know through that act of kinds that ministered to my soul. I felt Jesus reminding me that He sees me through their actions.
Jesus was the Ultimate Servant because He was always looking for ways to minister to people’s souls, lift their burden and improve their condition. Isaiah 9:3 says Jesus would bring people reasons to rejoice. What have you done for someone else this past month that has caused them to rejoice? Isaiah 9:4 says Jesus would set people free, give them victory and relieve their suffering. As shining stars commissioned to point people to Him we are to find ways to do the same.
I really think the key to this kind of thoughtfulness and mindfulness about the condition of others is cultivated by doing “little things” daily in order to improve the outlook and frame of mind for other people. Paying for the coffee of the person in front of you, offering someone a compliment, letting someone with just a few items go ahead of you at the checkout, holding the door open for someone, wishing people “Merry Christmas,” telling people to have a blessed day, posting encouraging and Christ-like thoughts on your social media, taking that back parking space just so someone else can have the one in the front . . . all of those kinds of things are opportunities to train our minds to think about other people. So, shine and point people to Christ by being considerate this Christmas.
Second, Be Controlled Philippians 2:14-15 “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”
One of the main themes of Christmas is “Peace on Earth.” There is no peace in homes where there is constant complaining. There is no peace in offices and classrooms where there is constant complaining. There is no peace in a person’s heart who is constantly complaining.
“Cranky Christian” ought to be an oxymoron. Negative, critical and complaining Christians don’t create any light. Maya Angelou has said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
Don’t complain about the teacher that gave the test a different way than they did the time before. Don’t complain about the clothes you have to wear, wishing you could be like someone else. Don’t complain about your spouse to others in order to gain sympathy and support. Don’t complain about your in-laws or your out-laws! Don’t complain about having to help out around the house with chores. Don’t complain that the lines at the store are long. It IS Christmas. Everyone is shopping! You want to tarnish your shine in a hurry, get into an argument about politics! I’m not saying don’t have an opinion, and I’m not even saying don’t share it, but I’m saying don’t be argumentative. Don’t argue in order to win or coerce someone into believing you are right. And don’t react as if everyone else is idiotic if they don’t agree with you. It is fine to educate or point things out, but when it crosses the line to complaining and arguing our twinkle begins to fade.
Complaining does nothing to add light, peace or joy to any circumstance. It only brings gloom. And, it causes you to lose your ability to ever bring light or to be a witness because people don’t want to be around people who complain. Remember, Jesus said, In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 If you have a habit of complaining, what you say will overshadow anything you do. If God is going to be glorified it will come as a result of both our actions and our words.
Think about the characters in the Christmas story. They had every reason to complain. Take Mary, for instance. How many of you would sign up to have your wedding plans interrupted and potentially canceled due to being impregnated by the Holy Spirit? How many of you ladies would relish the idea of riding a donkey to Bethlehem when you were nine months pregnant just because some ruler decided there ought to be a census and everyone should go to his hometown to register? How many of you would be thrilled about giving birth in a stable? She had more than a few things to complain about! Yet, she simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Sign me up!”
What about Joseph? Without warning he learned his fiancé was pregnant and he was going to become the earthly father for the Messiah. He would have to put up with gossip and innuendo about how Mary came to be pregnant for the rest of his earthly life. The shepherds could have complained about having to leave work to go find the baby. The Wisemen could have complained about how long it took to walk to Bethlehem, but they didn’t. The inconveniences, the challenges, the effort it took to see the Christ-child was all overshadowed by intense joy, thrill and excitement.
As Christians who have every reason to hope, every reason to believe God is working for us and every reason to believe we will overcome in every circumstance, we can choose to respond in a controlled and positive manner rather than in a critical complaining one.
Finally, I see from Philippians 2 that in order to shine we need to:
Look at Philippians 2:15-16b “Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”
There is still a standard by which Christians must live. There is still a Gospel to preach. And while the Bible has been marginalized and politicized and ostracized from our society, it is still the TRUTH. The Bible shines like light in the darkness. We need to work it into our family life, into our speech on our social media and into conversation with our friends. We need to hold it up and hold it out for others to consider and be influenced by.
(And this is just a sidebar, but we don’t need to get all wigged out when sinners sin. People who aren’t living by the Word of God aren’t going to try to live by it. We can get all upset and uptight about how wicked and evil things are in the world, or we can hold out the Word of Life, let God do the convicting and convincing and see people saved so that they will want to live by His Word!)
I know it takes courage. I know you risk ridicule and label. But it is the Word of Life! Don’t you want people to know it so they can truly live? I am thrilled that you all are here and are listening to me share the Word from Isaiah and Philippians, but most of you are believers. The unsaved masses aren’t waking up on Sunday morning thinking, “I would love to go hear someone share the Word of God with me today.” They don’t know how good it is for them. They don’t know how it could spare them so much heartache and how it could guide them to live their best possible life. They aren’t going to call me and ask me to explain it to them. But they will listen to you. You have a relationship with them. You have history with them. They know you. They trust you. I double dog dare you to post on your social media TODAY what your favorite Bible verse is and why. If you aren’t connected to social media, I challenge you to share at least one verse in one way with one person this week.
I know some of our youth have carried their Bibles to school to read during the reading time in which they are permitted to do silent reading. I love that! What about purchasing a Bible for someone who is seeking this Christmas? Parents, if you can afford the Ipod, the gaming systems, the cell phones, the Miss Me Jeans, and the Ugg boots, get them, but by all means, make sure your child has a Bible on their level to read. In what other ways could you hold out the Word of Life? Be courageous and hold out the Word of God as the key to life.
I can’t find a place in Philippians 2 to help me jumpstart this last thought about being courageous, but here it is. Be courageous and actually go into the dark. It only stands to reason that you won’t be able to truly shine unless you are willing to hang out in some dark places. Listen to this light-hearted parable of the candles:
There was a blackout one night. When the lights went out, I fumbled to the closet where we keep the candles for nights like this … I lit four of them. I was turning to leave with the large candle in my hand when I heard a voice,
“Now, hold it right there.”
“Who said that?” “I did.” The voice was near my hand. “Who are you? What are you?”
“I’m a candle.”
I lifted up the candle to take a closer look. There was a tiny face in the wax. “Don’t take me out of here!” “What?” “I said, Don’t take me out of this room.” “What do you mean? I have to take you out. You’re a candle. Your job is to give light. It’s dark out there.” “But you can’t take me out. I’m not ready,” the candle explained with pleading eyes. “I need more preparation.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “More preparation?” “Yeah, I’ve decided I need to research this job of light-giving so I won’t go out and make a bunch of mistakes. You’d be surprised how distorted the glow of an untrained candle can be…” “All right then,” I said. “You’re not the only candle on the shelf. I’ll blow you out and take the others!”
But right then I heard other voices, “We aren’t going either!” I turned to the other candles, “You are candles and your job is to light dark places!” “Well, that may be what you think,” said the first one, “You may think we have to go, but I’m busy … I’m meditating on the importance of light. It’s really enlightening.”
“And you other two,” I asked, “Are you going to stay, too?” A short, fat, purple candle with plump cheeks spoke up. “I’m waiting to get my life together, I’m not stable enough.”
The last candle had a female voice, very pleasant to the ear. “I’d like to help, “she explained, “but lighting the darkness is not my gift … I’m a singer. I sing to other candles to encourage them to burn more brightly.”
She began a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The other three joined in, filling the closet with singing.
I took a step back and considered the absurdity of it all. Four perfectly healthy candles singing to each other about light but refusing to come out of the closet.
I pray that isn’t a portrait of you and me; lights, refusing to shine.
Back in the horse and buggy days, during a great storm a doctor in a small town was called to go some seven or eight miles into the country to visit a sick child. It was evening and the snow was falling so rapidly that it soon blotted out the road and left him in great danger of losing his way. Reaching a farmhouse he telephoned to the next one beyond, asking them to hang out a lantern. They did so, and sent the word on to their next neighbor, who in turn sped the message, and so the doctor with his horse and buggy was enabled to drive forward through the storm, making his way from light to light until he reached the home where he was desperately needed. Is not that a picture of the Christian life? We can each throw a light upon that part of the road that runs by our own
door to make sure that no one shall miss the way because our light is not burning.—Christian Age.
One thing I know about Jesus: He wasn’t afraid of the dark. He often found the darkest, dirtiest, most sinful place in town and invaded it in order to dispel the darkness and bring deliverance to those who had no hope. The Great news of the Gospel which you can share with those you love is simply this: God’s light is always bigger than their darkness. He is the Light. He is the way out! Once you invite Jesus to become your Lord, the Light of His love casts out fear, the Light of His love forgives sins, the Light of His love redeems your past, the Light of His love transforms your thoughts, the Light of His love heals your relationships, the Light of His love secures your future. All of those things and more are gifts of God that He uses you and me to deliver as we illuminate the path to Christ.
People get hurt in the dark. People are afraid in the dark. People need to see Jesus, the Light of the World. Are we burning bright enough that they can see Him in us?