“God’s Shining Son”
December 24, 2013 - Christmas Eve
Prince Charming and
Snow White talked about whether they should have another baby. O.K., we
confess, Beth and I are watching “Once Upon a Time.” I cringe to even admit it.
But since the actress who plays Snow White is pregnant, they apparently need to
work a baby into the story. So Charming and Snow discuss how they can possibly
consider bringing a child into their world where they are never safe and
everything seems chaotic and crazy.
I’ve heard real young
people express similar thoughts. They look around them and see a bleak outlook.
Children shoot other children. Families camp on the streets. War seems endless.
Our country’s status and economy in the world is declining. Is this really a
good time, a good world into which a child should be born?
The world was dark
that first Christmas. No electric light brightened the streets. Israel was occupied by a foreign power. The poor pregnant young woman and her husband were temporarily
homeless. There was no hospital, no midwife, not even a decent bed, only
blankets on the ground in a stable. It was not a very good time at all.
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn---
Jesus was born at a dark place
and time in history. Mary and Joseph’s country was controlled by a strangers
who did not believe in their God. The puppet king Herod was a cruel man who had
his own sons murdered when they threatened his throne. What could a poor,
homeless child expect in that time except a life of hard work and misery? Yet
He came, as L’Engle goes on to tell in her poem:
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn---
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
It seems like it’s
never a good time for a child, for love, to come into the world. Our text from
Hebrews begins in verse 1 with prophets who spoke God’s love to His people. Look
back and you find their words almost always came at dark times. They spoke when
Israel was ruled by corruption, when enemies surrounded their walls, when
their capital city had been destroyed.
So when verse 2 says,
“but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,” by a baby being born, we
should not imagine the time would be any better. And it’s still not. Yes, we
have plenty of artificial light making our streets and homes brighter now, but
there is still huge darkness in our lives, in our world.
For some of us there
is a dark hole in the form of a person who was here last year but has since
died. Others of us are thinking about paying bills. Some are struggling with
medical issues, with constant pain or depression or sleeplessness. A few of us
are worried about what will happen, what words will be said when family gathers
together tomorrow. Others just wish family would be there, but they won’t.
One man told me he was
feeling depressed about the arrival of Christmas. I asked why. He said he
wasn’t going to get the two things he really wanted for Christmas. “What are
those?” I asked. “The first is a new Corvette,” he replied, which was a joke.
Then he said, “The second is to have all my family together on Christmas,”
which was just sad.
It may be a dark time
for you, but Jesus Christ, God’s Son came shining into the dark of His time and
into the dark of our time. Verse 3 tells us that He “is the radiance of God’s
glory.” The shepherds were startled to see “the glory of the Lord” come shining
into their night. The Son of God had arrived, a shining radiance to drive away
the dark. That radiance is still shining.
Perhaps the darkest
times we have are the times of our own regrets. From little words to major
lapses in moral judgment, our mistakes and failures haunt us, cast a shadow
over our hearts. The Bible calls it sin. We sin against others by lashing out
or being unfaithful. We sin against God and ourselves by addictions and
indulgences that are only harmful.
Yet verse 3 tells us
that God’s shining Son came radiantly into that darkness as well. He “made
purification for sins.” He gave His life so that our wrongs and failures could
be forgiven. Then He rose up again to sit down at the Father’s right hand,
proving that His forgiveness is for real and forever.
God’s Son wants to
come shining into your heart and your life tonight. He wants to shine into your
sadness and loss, into your shame and regret, into whatever hurts or fears
darken this night in your soul. His light is love, and His love will forgive
and purify your heart and let you shine with Him. May you see and feel His light
and love tonight.
The rest of our text
is the writer’s comparison of Jesus and the angels. The angels look almost like
the stars of the show at Christmas. They came to both Mary and Joseph
announcing the birth. They appeared in a multitude to the shepherds. They seem
to fill the sky like a drawing of the Nativity I saw in a children’s book last
Yet Jesus is, like the
little video I gave the children tells, the real Star of Christmas. His light
outshines all the others. As verse 4 says, He is superior to the angels,
brighter and more beautiful, and more comforting and full of love. They are
God’s servants, God’s messengers, shining flames of fire like verse 7 says. But
as verse 5 tells us, He is God’s Son, shining more brightly,
shining more gently, shining with love. So the role of the angels is the same
as ours, to worship Him, to worship God’s shining Son.
Our neighbors a little
way down Timberline Drive put up lots of lights for Christmas. If you seen
National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” picture that house. It’s quite the
spectacle. It lights the street up and down the hill for quite some way. Yet
when the sun comes out, when it’s no longer dark, that spectacle, that
brightness dims and fades.
On a rare clear winter
night here in Oregon the stars are amazing, especially if you drive a bit out
of town and away from the glow electricity produces. Look up and the sky
blazes, and Orion and Ursa Major and Pegasus ride across the horizon shining in
glory. But when the morning comes and fog lifts and the sunlight blazes forth,
even the glory of the stars is dimmed, because they cannot outshine the sun.
Even more all the other lights of heaven and earth are dimmed, and all the
darkness packs up and runs away, before the brightness of the Son of God.
An American poet also
felt it was not a good time for Christmas. In 1835 he lost his wife when she
and their first child died during a miscarriage. Then he met a beautiful young
woman and in 1843 married again. Several years of bliss followed. They had two
sons, Charles and Ernest, and three lovely daughters. In 1859 he shared his
family happiness in a poem which contains these lines:
From my study I see in
descending the broad hall stair,
grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
and Edith with golden hair.
By 1860 the poet was
famous, his wife and children filled him with joy, and the United States itself seemed to be moving ever forward, expanding westward and prospering through industrial
exports from the North and cotton exports from the South.
Then in April 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked and our country was plunged into what is still the bloodiest war
we’ve ever known, a war within our own boundaries. That same year, in July,
while lighting a candle, the poet’s dear wife caught her dress on fire. To save
her children she ran from the room, but in the process fanned the flames
burning her. She died the next morning and her funeral was held on what would
have been the couple’s eighteenth wedding anniversary.
We have the poet’s
journal. On Christmas 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays!”
The next year the Civil War was at its height and young men from both sides
were fighting and dying under cannon fire. Christmas 1862 finds this entry in
his journal, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for
The third Christmas
after his wife died, the war came personally into the poet’s home. His son
Charles had run away to join the Union army. On December 1, 1863 he received a telegram saying that Charles had been severely wounded. His father left to
look for him and brought his son home with little hope for his recovery. There
is no journal entry for Christmas Day that year.
But in 1864, with his
son recovering somewhat and hope renewed for the country because Lincoln had been re-elected, the poet sat down on Christmas day to record his feelings. His
thoughts became poetry. He wrote of the war, two verses that typically get left
out of his poem today:
Then from each black,
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an
The hearth-stones of a continent
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
You might realize now
that the poet is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and that the poem began, “I heard
the bells on Christmas day.” It went on:
And in despair I bowed
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Longfellow heard church bells
playing on Christmas 1864, and his heart went back and forth between the
darkness and sorrow of the war and his own life, and the message of light he
heard in the bells. He landed on the side of light, on the side of the love and
light and the peace Jesus brings. The next verse was,
Then pealed the bells
more loud and deep;
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Even if the world is
at war. Even if personal tragedy has overwhelmed us. Even if the darkness seems
so thick that no light on earth could shine through it. The Son, the radiance
of God’s glory, has been born, and His light pierces the darkness and
scatters it. He rose from the darkness of death and sits on the right hand of
God to bring light to every eye that will look to Him. Peace on earth and
good-will to you from God is shining. The Light of the World was born in Bethlehem and He shines for you now.
Receive the light of
Jesus Christ. Don’t give up to despair over any darkness that touches
you. Jesus is greater than the angels. He is certainly greater than any dark.
He is greater than any sorrow earth can bring. Let the Son be the light of your
In a moment we will
sing Longfellow’s carol. We proclaim our faith that Jesus Christ is the light
of our lives this Christmas and forever. Then we will enact the truth of His
light in the darkness with candles. John the Gospel writer summed it up, “The
light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” His light
is shining for you.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj