Once upon a time, God created light. God spoke light. His first word was literally light. And it shone in the darkness. You could see because God had spoken. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, eternally, forever bound in an indescribable glory, an unapproachable light, created a visible glory, a visible light, a robe for His glory. And there was evening and morning.
And God created rulers for this dance: the sun, moon, and stars to divide the day from night, to be for days, seasons, and years, to rule the day and the night. First God made day and night, a 24 hour span, and then came the sun, moon, and stars, to orchestrate the dance, to divide between the day and the night. First came the tick, tick, ticking of the clock and then came the hands and the face, the signs for seasons, days, and years.
And then God created more rulers. God created man in His own image: He caused His face to shine upon them. And He told them to rule, to have dominion over the whole earth, like the stars. So God brought the animals unto Adam to see what he would call them. Adam’s eyes were full of light, God’s created light, and so Adam’s words named like God’s words.
But there was no helper found suitable for Adam, so God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam, and Adam’s Day became Night. And during that Night, God built another light to shine next to Adam. So there at the top of the world on a mountain in Eden, God shared His glory robe with His children, clothing them in His light and love and grace, two stars created to grow up into greater glory, Kings and Queens of all creation, signs and rulers and time keepers.
But the serpent told the woman that if she ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil her eyes would be opened, and “ye shall be gods, knowing good and evil.” Satan transformed into an angel of light and promised new eyes, the ability to see new things.
They could see that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, a tree to be desired to make one wise. Their Father was the Father of Lights, and there was more light, more glory, more authority. But their Father had said not yet, wait, be patient. Wait for the light. But if you try to seize the light, everything will become dark. If you wait for the dawn, it will come.
But when the woman ate and gave also unto her husband, and he did eat, “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” There was an enlightenment of sorts, a realization. But the light that dawned was cold. It wasn’t the warmth of the light of God’s love that had shone from the beginning. In some sense, their vision became both true and false at the same time. They saw more and less simultaneously. And they immediately wanted to cover themselves, to hide from the light of the day. They hid their bodies from one another, sowing shadows of fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. And then when God called, it was still not enough. It wasn’t dark enough, and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. They were made to be children of light, robed in the glory garments of the love of their Father, but now they were afraid of the Light, afraid of His Word.
God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden into the night of exile, into the night of the wasteland. Out of the garden of life and light and love. Their eyes were open, knowing good and evil, and now they were covered in shame, curses, and darkness. Their eyes were open and yet they couldn’t see where they were going. And so they stumbled into the dark, tripping, and falling into their graves. Instead of giving light, illuminating, and ruling wisely, their eyes and hearts were darkened, and their whole bodies were filled with darkness. They were the blind leading the blind, mistaken, uncertain, and their minds were darkened with worthless ideas. And because they were afraid and confused, they suspected one another, doubted one another, hated one another, and murdered one another.
God judged the human race in the flood, and the sun didn’t shine for forty days and nights. There was day and night, and yet there was hardly day and night. It was all night, all storm, all dark. But the Lord remembered Noah, and the light came on again. The world was remade: the sun shone, the land dried, the earth became fruitful again, and the Lord told Noah to look up into the sky. Do you see how the light shines through the darkness of the storm? Do you see how my light turns the storm into a beautiful streak of colors in the sky? Do you see how my light will overcome the darkness? Do you see my promise, my covenant, my love for you? And God promised that He would see it. He would see the sign, the memorial of light, and remember His promises, His love.
But the world was still in the dark. It was the night of human history. So when the Lord came to Abram, it was night time, it was dark. He pointed up to the stars, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, so shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5). The long, dark night of the human race would fill up with light, and Sarah’s dark, barren womb would light up with life. God promised the birth of stars, rulers of the night, light givers, constellation makers, a starry host seated in the firmament of the heavens.
First one, then two stars appeared, then there were 12, and they went down into Egypt, and one them shone out brightly for a time. But when the King tried to hold them there, God turned out the lights on their world, causing the whole creation to unravel, culminating in complete darkness. But in the land of Goshen, in the dwellings of Israel, there was light. And when they came up out of the land that first Passover Night, they were led by a pillar of fire, making a lamp for their feet, and a light for their path through the sea.
Even in the midst of the sea, they shone like the firmament of the heavens, water above and water below, lights shining with God’s pillar of fire, light by night. They were His armies, His starry hosts marching victorious into the land, just as God had promised Abram. And then when the Pharaoh’s army charged into the sea, it was all darkness, and their light was put out. Pharaoh thought he was the Sun-god, but he was eclipsed, and his star fell into the sea.
The same thunder storm that led them through the sea (Ps. 77:16-18), led them into the wilderness and settled on Mt. Sinai, and then finally came down to rest in the Tabernacle, where candles continually burned in the presence of God, where the fires of the morning and evening sacrifices never went out.
Israel carried this light with them, a lamp for the nations, a light for the world: God’s glory full of grace and truth. But they often covered the light, cluttered the lamp of the temple with images, and barred people from going in. Rather than keeping the festival calendar, celebrating the seasons of the stars, remembering God’s light and sharing the light, they forgot to celebrate, forgot to keep the Sabbaths and Jubilees. They covered the light, and the light grew dim. They were wandering stars, unfaithful, unsteady: instead of looking to the Light in order to see, in order to live, they looked to the pharaohs of the nations, the sun gods, the stars and rulers of the kingdoms of the earth. Instead of bowing to the One who made the stars, they worshipped the whole host of heaven.
But in the dimness, in the shadows, in the night of sin and death and judgment and violence, the prophets always sung songs about a coming light. Balaam said, “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab… Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion…” (Num. 24:17, 19) Isaiah cried, “O house of Jacob, come ye, And let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5). But they loved to call darkness light, and light they loved to call darkness (Is. 5:20). But the Day of the Lord would come: The sun, the moon, the stars of those kingdoms, those rulers, those false gods of every nation would fall down, turn black, turn to blood and be snuffed out, and new light would shine: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder…” (Is. 9:2, 6) “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Is. 6:1-3).
A new light, a new Day means a new king, a new ruler, a new star who would rule in justice, who would speak the Word of God, the Light of God. And in His light, the world would begin to see again. By His justice, the blind would begin to see, the ashamed would be forgiven, the shadows would begin to flee. “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in [Him].” (Acts 26:18)
And so it was after centuries of darkness and silence, the stars began to sing. One star caught the eyes of wise men in the East. Another star came down and spoke to a virgin named Mary, and told her that her womb would fill up with God’s Light. And then when that Light was born, the whole host of heaven came down to shepherds in the night, and they thundered a new song of peace and love and glory. Because this day is born in Bethlehem, the Savior who is the Lord, our King. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”
Men were always supposed to be lights. People were always meant to shine like the stars. They were meant to speak light, to rule in wisdom and grace, to light up the world in beauty and glory like their Father. But men loved the darkness rather than the light, and their eyes and minds and bodies filled up with darkness.
Jesus is the light of the world because He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. Jesus is the light of the world because He shines with the face of the Father. Jesus is the light of the world because He tells the truth about our sin, about our darkness, about our hatred, our bitterness, our lust, our greed, our envy, that we are the problem with this world. That what we have called enlightenment and wisdom is actually darkness and folly. Jesus is the light of the world because He shows the way out of the dungeon, He shows the way out of the dark woods, He shows the way out of the Night.
And He shows the way by being lit up by God. From His baptism in the Jordan when the Spirit came down upon, to His good deeds and miracles and parables, to His transfiguration where He glowed hot with the Spirit, He was preparing His body to become the altar, the tabernacle, the temple, the place where the storm of God’s presence might fall and dwell with us forever. And when His own people mocked Him, rejected Him, and handed Him over to be crucified, they nailed the Light of the World to the cross, and in the middle of the day, a deep, haunting darkness covered the land.
They tried to bury the Light in a tomb, they tried to seal it, and assigned a regiment of soldiers to guard it. But you don’t keep a star in a cave. You can’t keep the Sun underground, not even with swords. And on that first Easter morning, there was an earthquake and one of the angel stars came and rolled away the stone and then he sat on it. Because Jesus was alive, the Night was over, and the Light would now come unstoppable.
And it did, and it has. The fire of the Spirit fell on the disciples at Pentecost, and then it kept coming, lightning strikes, turning men and women and children into burning bushes, holy mountains on fire with His love, rainbows of God’s presence, walking talking memorials, promises of God’s covenant mercy and truth.
You see, we walk around still bearing the darkness of sin in our bodies, we are still black storm clouds, but when you meet Jesus, when you know Jesus it’s always like Saul on the road to Damascus: Jesus shines from heaven, full of grace and truth, and lights up your darkness. His light says you’re a sinner. His light says you’ve failed. His light says you have loved the darkness. But His light also says, that your darkness is taken away. How can it not? How can the light not turn back your darkness? When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, He was crowned the King of Glory. And when it became dark, He took upon Himself all your darkness, all your sin, and He died your death. He died that you might live. He went into the darkness of the shadow of death, so that you might not fear any darkness.
And that’s how you become lights in a dark world. That’s how you stop fearing the grave, stop fearing what people think, stop worrying about your past, the future, your sin, your failures. Because when Jesus lights you up with the blood of the cross, the shadows flee, when the Sun shines through the rain, there is only a bright streak of color left in it’s place. You don’t need the sun because Jesus shines. You don’t need the acceptance and approval of others because Jesus shines. You don’t have to grasp for respect because: “If you walk in the light as He is in the light, you have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). Because the darkness is past, and the true light is now shining.
This is why we love light. This is why we love to decorate our homes with sparkling, flashing, dancing lights. We light candles, we string lights around our homes and trees. We set up our own mini-solar systems, miniature constellations, galaxies that tell the stories of our joy and salvation. We love to light up the darkness with light because that is what happened when Jesus was born, what happened when Jesus rose from the dead, and that is what has happened to us.
And that is why we can’t stop reading the story, can’t stop seeing the story, can’t stop loving the story, the story of the light, the gospel of the light. We love the light. We love how it makes the world shine, how it makes the world lovely, how it chases the darkness away.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Note: This is the second half of the third sermon in the series Looking for Jesus.