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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Hebrews 1:1-12
“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.

         Madeleine L’Engle wrote:

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 week.

         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 the lamplight,
                  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 me.”

         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, accursed mouth
               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 earthquake rent
               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 my head;
               “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 life.

         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
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated January 5, 2014