December 1, 2019
Panic is the only way to describe how I felt that Saturday morning. I was a home school dad, and someone in our group decided it would be fun to take our children spelunking. Spelunking is the technical term for “crazy people exploring dark, damp caves where only spiders and other delightful creatures dwell.” Clothed in our oldest jeans and sweatshirts, well, because bat guano, we made our way to the mouth of the Cave of the Winds, right outside Colorado Springs, with flashlights in hand.
During our brief orientation, we were told how caves offer the best glimpse of total darkness, as if this was a selling point. Turn off the lights, the guide said, and you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. He also informed us when experienced spelunkers (that is, crazy people) plan to stay overnight in a cave, they bring glow sticks that radiate a small amount of light for about six hours. Without the glow sticks, people are unable to comfortably sleep through the night. In a cave. This is shocking. In a cave, who knows when it is night?
After several trips through some narrow, low passages, including one called the birth canal, we made our way to an area well off the beaten path. This, the guide said, would require courage to go on. We gripped our flashlights more tightly and continued along a loop that necessitated crawling, climbing, twisting, bending, and even inching along on our bellies.
Upon returning to the starting point, the guide said, “There’s no way to get lost in the loop. There’s only one way in and one way out. So, if you’re brave enough, do it again – this time, without your flashlights.” After a few nervous moments, several foolish children plunged in. Not to be outdone, several foolish parents climbed in. I’m not sure what possessed me, but before I knew it, I found myself inching along a wet cave, barely large enough to allow me to pass, in total darkness. No one seemed to panic – I could hear the irritating laughter of children ahead of me. I pressed on, expecting, hoping to see the end. You can imagine my joy when, fifteen minutes later, I was met with the brightest flashlight I’d ever seen.
It seems true that light is always brightest when the night is darkest. When the darkness is gloomiest; when it is so dark, you can feel it. I can’t imagine a darker scene in history than the evening Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. I imagine they longed for the cover of darkness. You see, they were accustomed to walking with God, basking in and reflecting the light of His glory. That evening, there was no basking, there was no reflecting. Earlier that day, the man and his wife had eaten of the only tree forbidden them. It was dark – very dark. When God appeared, knowing what they had done, He cursed His perfect creation. The serpent was to crawl on his belly; man was to struggle with the cursed ground to produce fruit; woman was to suffer in childbirth. They were plunged into a world now filled with sin, brokenness and rebellion. And what’s more, both man and woman would die. It was very dark, even hopeless.
But, in the midst of that darkness, God said to the serpent, Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Light pierced the accursed darkness. Hope was promised. You see, it was the first promise of the Savior, who would come to redeem broken humanity. While Satan would strike His heel at the cross, Jesus would crush His head at the resurrection.
This coming of hope is what we celebrate at Christmas and Easter. Light has come. It shines brightest when the night is darkest. We now no longer live in darkness, but by faith in God’s past actions in Christ, and by hope in His future return, to make all things right.
Today, December 1, is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent has been celebrated by the church for centuries. The word advent is actually Latin, and means coming. The Christmas Advent Season not only prepares the church for celebrating the first coming of Christ at Christmas, but points also to the hope of His promised second coming.
There are four Sundays of Advent – and each has a theme corresponding to the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. Those themes are hope, peace, joy, and love – culminating on Christmas Eve with the lighting of the Christ candle in the middle of the wreath. We’ve decided to take a break from I Peter and celebrate Advent this year, by singing and preaching on those topics, starting today with hope. In the midst of darkness, sin, rebellion, struggle, trials, sickness, death – there is hope.
The truth is, we were meant to walk in light – that crazy cave guide proved it through that ridiculous experience of navigating in total darkness. Which is exactly the way Scripture describes people who do not know God – making our way through life in darkness with no hope. I suppose that describes most of us here today before we came to faith in Christ. And it perhaps describes some of you still yet. While there may be seeming moments of clarity and direction, fulfillment and purpose, the fact is, without God, we walk in darkness, no hope.
Right from the beginning of time – the very beginning of creation – light and darkness have played important and opposing roles. They are both literal and metaphorical concepts through Scripture. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep….” And right away, we know innately creation was not finished – something more was needed, and God was about to do something really cool in the darkness.
Then God said, the first words He speaks in the Bible, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness – because, you see, light and darkness cannot coexist. Now, at this point, we know there was nothing inherently wrong with darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness, night. In the daily rhythms of life, we know the day is given for work, the night for rest, unless, of course, you’re nocturnal, meaning, a college student.
When He created humankind, God designed us to rest daily, in the darkness of night. So, darkness served a purpose. But, with the Fall of humanity, when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, plunging them and their posterity into sin and ruin, darkness became a metaphor for sin – and appropriately so, because sin is most fittingly accomplished under the cover of darkness. I have no stats for this, but I’d suggest much crime is committed at night. Indeed, much sin is committed after 11:00 p.m. – what else is there to do at one in the morning? Some of you know you that – there is the anonymity and secrecy that darkness provides which allows you to engage in things you would never do, say, in the middle of the day at Wendy’s or here at church or at halftime last Friday night. A quick perusal of Scripture reveals darkness has become a metaphor for sin and consequent judgment:
Psalm 11:2 For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
John 3:19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
Romans 13:12-13 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
1 John 1:6 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth…
I think you get the point: darkness is clearly a metaphor for sin, and by further reviewing Scripture, we see everyone is in darkness. Everyone stumbles around in a life of sin, choosing, even enjoying sin and the deeds of darkness. And the truth is, as momentary as the pleasure of sin and darkness is, we were not made to walk in darkness, any more than I was made to crawl on my belly through a dark cave – bumping my head, skinning my knees.
But walk in darkness is exactly what I, and you, did. We were born sinners, with depraved mind and heart, dead in transgressions and sins. Enemies of God, opposing His kingdom and His right to rule my life. And like the children laughing as they crawled in front of me – we even liked it. Sin seems fun, for awhile. Until we find the momentary pleasures of sin give way to pain and sorrow – walking through life bruised and broken. Finding life doesn’t really work right. We were not made for darkness. And so, conversely, light has become a metaphor for good and truth in Scripture. Again, a quick review reveals that:
Psalm 18:28 28 For You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.
Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?
Psalm 119:105 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
Isaiah 9:1-2 [And this is an important one – this spoke of the coming of the Messiah] 1 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.
In fact, that happened, didn’t it? With the first coming of the Messiah, Light came into the world. The people of the Old Testament knew God was the God of light. They equated light with deity – the Shekinah glory of God is the brilliant, bright display of His glory – He manifests Himself as a God of light – God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is immortal, invisible, the only wise God, who dwells in unapproachable light.
Remember when the children of Israel were in slavery in Egypt? God sent Moses to deliver them. Of course, Pharaoh wasn’t prepared to lose his labor force, so he refused to let them go, which gave the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the opportunity to show off – to demonstrate His superiority over the Egyptian gods through a series of ten plagues. The supreme god of the Egyptian gods was Ra, the sun-god. So, the ninth plague was that of darkness – Exodus 10 tells us there was darkness over the land that could be felt for three days. During that time, they couldn’t see each other – they couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces – like living in a cave without glow sticks, which they knew was not right. By the way, we also find the Israelites had light in their homes.
A little later, after the tenth plague, the Israelites did flee from Egypt, and were led by God Himself in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence came to be symbolized by light – again, what Scripture calls the Shekinah glory of God. When they built the Tabernacle and later the Temple, His presence was seen by light. And the Israelites remembered this God of light – particularly how He led them in the wilderness.
And so, during one of their annual festivals, the Feast of Booths, they celebrated God’s goodness to them in the wilderness. They erected shelters out of branches and leaves and camped outside for a week to commemorate their wilderness wanderings. And they had special ceremonies during the week to remember God’s provision for them. For example, there were the times He provided water from the rock – they loved those stories. So, to remember and celebrate and pray for continued provision of water, each day during the seven-day feast, the high priest would lead a procession to the Pool of Siloam and draw water in a golden pitcher. He would then carry it back to the Temple.
At the Water Gate, on the south side of the Temple, the procession would stop. Three blasts would be sounded from the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn. Isaiah 12:3 would be read, “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” The priests would march to the altar and the temple choir would sing the Hallel, Psalm 113-118. Then the water would be poured out as an offering to God. It was quite the visual sight and ceremony, celebrating God’s provision of water.
Not only that, another tradition had arisen through the centuries – it was the lamp-lighting ceremony to remember how the God of light had led them through the wilderness in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. This ceremony took place in the Court of Women at the Temple, which permitted both Jewish men and women. There were four huge oil candelabras in the court which were built quite high. Young priests would carry the oil up a tall ladder and dump it into a basin. The lamps were then lit on the first night of the festival. One historian says that the light was so bright, “There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect their light.” The people would then dance exuberantly through the night, holding blazing torches and singing songs of praise. There is some discussion as to how many nights the candelabras were lit, but there is general agreement they would be out by the end of the week. Which meant this: the nights that had been ablaze, symbolizing the presence of God, were now dark.
And it was against this backdrop that Jesus, on the last day of the Feast of Booths, went to the Temple and cried out in a loud voice for all to hear, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” Yes, it’s true My Father provided physical water for you in the wilderness, which you celebrate. But, if you’ll come to Me, I’ll provide spiritual water, and you will never thirst again. I am the water of life – come and drink freely.
And then, in John 8:12, as the candelabras were now dark, Jesus cried out again, “I am the Light of the world, he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Everyone knew what Jesus was saying. The candelabras stood there, representing the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night – God’s presence their forefathers had followed. They understood the Scripture – they understood God was a God of light. They understood by following God, they would walk in the Light of His presence and truth. They would live in hope, in fulfillment of Isaiah 9 – those who walked in darkness have seen a great light. And Jesus stands up and says, “I am the Light of the world.” I am the God who will lead you into the light of life, eternal life, if you follow Me.
They knew that in Isaiah 42:6-7, God was speaking to the Messiah to come, in the first of the so-called Servant Songs, and said, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch of over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”
Do you see? Jesus said I am the fulfillment of that prophecy – I am here to be a light to the nations, to offer hope and to deliver those who dwell in the dark prison of sin – He who follows Me will not walk in darkness. That’s you, and that’s me. They also knew Isaiah 49:6, the second of the Servant Songs, where God speaking to the Messiah said, “I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Make no mistake about it – Jesus was declaring, right there in the Court of Women where all the people were – I am the light of the world, I am the light to the nations, I am here to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. I am here to bring salvation, to you. This is the hope of the first Sunday of Advent.
By the way, this is the second of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. I’m not going to talk about that this morning, other than to say, Jesus said:
1. I am the bread of life (6:35)
2. I am the light of the world (8:12)
3. I am the gate (10:7,9)
4. I am the good shepherd (10:11,14)
5. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
6. I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
7. I am the true vine (15:1,5)
And all of those are meant to be exclusive – He alone is the bread of life, He alone is the light of the world, He alone is the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life; He alone is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
He alone is the light – the answer to our sin-darkened ways. There is no light but Jesus – if you don’t have Him, you remain in darkness. And you have no hope. Christmas is nothing more to you than a few lights and candles and presents under the tree. But Jesus promises, if you follow Him, that is, if you make Him Master and Lord, and you become His disciple, you will not walk in darkness anymore, but will walk according to the Light of the Gospel of Christ, Light of eternal life. And you can look back to His first coming in faith, believing the gospel – the good news of His death and resurrection; and you can look forward to His second coming in hope. The Scriptures say:
2 Corinthians 4:6 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Colossians 1:13 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
1 Peter 2:9 9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Jesus said it again in John 12, 46 “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” And there you have it – by faith in Jesus as the light of the world – the one who came to grant grace and mercy and forgiveness through His cross – through faith you can have life. You can have hope.
Mahatma Gandhi, who led the country of India’s independence movement from Great Britain, 15 years before his death, wrote, “I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism, as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul and fills my whole being.” Later, just before his death, he wrote, “My days are numbered. I am not likely to live very long – perhaps a year or a little more. For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness; I am praying for light.” Is that you, today? If so, I have the light of the world to offer you.
Today – the first Sunday of the month – the first Sunday of Advent, is also the Sunday we celebrate communion. That’s interesting, isn’t it? You see, we do the same thing as the Israelites did – we have this special ceremony to remember God’s goodness to us in the face of Christ. So, as we remember Christ, I’m going to leave it like this. First, for those of you still in your sin – still walking in darkness – maybe you’re finding life does not work – and you’re tired of bumping your head and skinning your knees. I give this invitation – Jesus is the light of the world. He can give meaning to your dark, confused, broken world if you choose to follow Him. If you believe, Acts 26 says, He will open your eyes that you may turn from darkness to light from the dominion of Satan to God – and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and receive an inheritance in heaven. You will have hope.
The invitation is, if you choose to follow Him, you will never walk in darkness. Remember how I said the theme of light goes from the first chapter to the last? In the last chapter of the Bible, we have a description of heaven, and we read these words, “And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them: and they will reign forever and ever.” The promise is, if you choose to follow Christ, you will never walk in darkness – from now through eternity. I invite you to receive the light of the world.
And for those of you who know Jesus – who already follow Him as the light of the world – like the Feast of Booths which commemorated God’s light to the Israelites – so we also, through this memorial meal, remember His work on our behalf. You see, we eat the bread of His body, the wine of His blood, and we remember – we look back to His first advent, and we long for His second.