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The Properties of Light

We need to pierce the darkness with the light of Christmas.


At this time of year, many of us find our mailboxes filled with cards, most of them photo cards. Those photo cards are the results of a well-orchestrated family endeavors to have everyone looking straight at the camera while smiling and capturing just the right angle of the Christmas tree. Rarely do pictures capture the bedlam that surrounds most of those photographic moments. For most of us, the moments before the perfect picture include a dog that darts off, a baby that crawls away, a toddler that refuses to look at the camera, or perhaps grandpa making an inappropriate joke that catches everyone laughing or squirming. The pre-teen is likely utterly bored and eager to find out who just texted, and the entire photographic endeavor is fraught with tension and chaos.

The awkward photos that arrive in our mail are my favorites. The families that seem to have given up and captured reality instead of a canned moment make me smile for days. There are websites completely dedicated to showcasing awkward family photos. I scrolled through one of those sites and found a family lined up trying to jump at the same time but one of the kids apparently refused to jump on cue and pulled the whole family down.

Some good friends in our congregation had an awesome photo this year. In the chaos of their picture was a toddler, beet red from screaming, and a newborn hollering. Both parents were trying to keep their girls upright and in the picture, but were giving in to the madness, smirking and shrugging their shoulders as the picture was snapped. In that photo I also saw something amazing. This past year, while pregnant with that screaming baby, the mom discovered that she had an aggressive form of cancer. When she went for treatment she found out she had two forms of cancer. This has been a year of hospitals and doctors and of good phone calls and hard phone calls. It's been a year of wading through medical bills. It's also been a year of receiving prayer and love and the grace of a community and the peace of God in struggles. In the family photo, in the midst of the chaos, was peace. I saw a look that said to me, "Even if we are not always healthy or happy, there is light and hope in this world. We've got this."

There is a story behind every Christmas picture, is there not?

The first Christmas chaos

Consider for a moment the very first Christmas card ever: the Nativity. The demure mom, the sleeping baby, the settled livestock—it's the snapshot that history has captured, but a true image of that first Christmas would reveal the truth behind the peace-filled picture.

It was into a dark, chaotic, war-torn, impoverished, and politically tense and complex time in history that Jesus was born. The world at that time was in turmoil and chaos. Wars and rumors of war abounded. A pregnant, unmarried teenager and her fiancé had their world upturned by a pregnancy. Without resources and without shelter, the couple made their way to Bethlehem where they had been ordered to show up to be counted for a national census. Every family had to get up and travel to be counted.

Mary was very, very pregnant, but was required to travel. She was an unwed, pregnant teenager who gave birth while traveling without anyone but Joseph. Without healthcare and with no medical system, Mary gave birth in a barn in the middle of nowhere.

It was 2,000 years ago in the same moment we mark tonight that racial tensions divided the people. Refugees were stacked up at the borders. There were terrorists who waged war upon unsuspecting people. There were haves and have nots. There was abuse of power and politics were corrupt.

The common problem of darkness

My son and I were driving home from his hockey game recently and were chatting about what we thought were bad calls and plays that could have gone better. My son paused. He sighed and said, "Hey Mom, can I ask you something?" I was afraid he was about to ask me a hockey question I could not answer, but instead he asked me this: "What do you think the world we be like in 20 years? Because when I look around, things seem really bad, they seem really dark, and I just wonder how much worse it is going to get."

Our world today is not much different than the world into which Jesus came. Then as now, life seems to have lots of dark corners, gathering clouds, and shadows. It's always been bad. But there is always going to be light.

It was into a darkening scene, not unlike our times, at the right nanosecond in human history that the God we also call "The Prince of Peace" was born.

Before Jesus came, there was another dark time in history where the prophet Isaiah told of Jesus, the light that was to come.

(Read Isaiah 6:9)

Christmas brings us the peace and light of Jesus

Christmas is the story of light coming to our dark world. The Christmas narratives we read take place in the dark at night.

Shepherds at night, surrounded by the cavernous skies of a time before the electrical grids of cities, lit up the skies. In the black of night the angels came to proclaim the birth of Christ. Mary and Joseph found their way through the closed doors at night.

Over and over in Scripture, God appears to people at night in dreams, in the quiet, still, and sometimes scary spaces. It is on Christmas Eve, at night, that we gather to talk about the light.

Can you see the light? Light and hope coming to be with us in the dark places of life is the story of Christmas. The light of God came to this world. When you look around, do you see the light?

There is another story of light. It is another Christmas story. It's found in the Book of John.

(Read John 1:1-5, 9-14)

Christmas is the coming of the great light of God to our dark world. It is only in that great light that we can find peace that does not eradicate the chaos of this world, but is fully present in it. Christmas is the reminder that the light has already come. That peace and light is for all of us. How do we find that peace and light in our lives? We must look for the light and believe that love eventually wins out at the end of time.

Looking for the light

Don't be surprised when life is hard; no one, and certainly not God, ever promises an easy life. Life will be hard, people you love will struggle, you will struggle, and there will be darkness and chaos. Jesus himself said that. At the end of his time on earth, he reminded his disciples of all the hard things they would face and experience and see. He did not promise to shield them from darkness but promised he had already gone before them and had shone the light. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)."

In every dark place there is a moment where light shines in to comfort and bring peace; to reveal to you that the presence of God is with you even in the depths of life's night. The mark of a Christian is not denial that life is hard, but is rather an acceptance of both the challenges of life and an unswerving faith and trust that there is a light and peace that shines into the darkness.

Children seek light at night. They want night lights and closet lights left on, and they yearn for cracks of light that slip across the floor and promise presence. Shel Silverstein wrote a poem, Afraid of the Dark, it says "I'm Reginald Clark, I'm afraid of the dark, so I always insist on the light on." Flashlights are treasured by campers and children alike, for flashlights shine light into dark and scary places. They illuminate the unknown. They demystify the dark.

Children pursue light! Why do they do that? They pursue it because they trust that it will help them. They trust that whatever hides in the dark will be trumped by the flip of a switch or the flicker of a candle. What if we were people who lived that way and were always trusting that light will outshine the darkness? What if we were a people who could seek out the best in hard places, the bright spot in the challenging classmate or colleague, the hope in the chaos of an ER trip, doctor's office, or hard phone call? What if we were harbingers of love and mercy when all else seems lost?

Light wins (darkness does not have the last word)

At the end of it all, light wins. It triumphs over darkness once and for all. Astrophysicists will tell you that our universe is breaking down. That the explosions, death, and decline we see are specks in a cosmic process of disintegration. Anthropologists and historians can back that up by revealing the penchant human beings seem to have for causing injury and harm to one another. We are not born into a world that is seeking our favor and yet, light trumps the darkness.

In all the chaos and unraveling of life, there is dancing and music, art and sport, and life and hope. Why is it that in some of the most horrific conditions humanity can unleash upon itself comes beautiful poetry and music? Songs like "Oh Freedom," "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and "Wade in the Water" have roots in American slavery and the American Civil Rights movement. It's why, among the horrors of World War II, new music was written and created in concentration camps. Vocal groups and quartets were assembled in Auschwitz. It's why, "It Is Well With My Soul" was penned after a Chicago lawyer lost his four daughters at sea.

Our culture rallies around stories where light overcomes the darkness. Beyond marketing genius, the Star Wars empire lives on because the story of good triumphing over evil is told in a compelling way that captures hundreds of thousands of hearts and minds. Every Christmas we cheer on Clark W. Griswold and his pursuit of "A good old fashioned Griswold Family Christmas" because everyone wants to see the good of his heart win out over cynicism. Robin Hood, Avengers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy: These are the stories we seek because they connect to something in our souls. They are more than just nostalgia or naïve optimism for a happy ending. They represent the Divine, the cosmic story we are in together.

Darkness does not have the final word. God at the end of time has the final word. While we do not receive the promise of a pain-free, picture perfect life this side of heaven, what we do know is that God is with us in all of it. Into the darkness of life 2,000 years ago God brought light.

Richard Rohr says, "We have always believed that Jesus coming to earth as a baby was already redemption … because in Jesus' birth, God was already saying that 'it was good to be human, and God was on our side.'"


Anthony Doerr received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with a book titled, All the Light You Cannot See. I ripped through the book earlier this year. The book is a story of a young German soldier and a blind French girl who find one another in the chaos of World War II. Werner, the teenage soldier, has full access to his senses but lives in a murky, foggy world of gray tones, chaos, war, and the dimmest of light. Marie, the young French girl does not have access to her eyes and yet sees everything. Her world bursts forth a cacophony of color, scent, and texture. Doerr's work is not a spiritual book, but I found the novel absolutely compelling as it reminded me once again of the brilliant God who brings formerly unimaginable sight to the darkest places in our lives and world. Doerr writes of blindness and darkness, "To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air."

In All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr says: "The brain is locked in total darkness… . It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?"

That, for me, is a summation of what we believe the nativity is really all about. Are you willing this Christmas to open up the aperture on your camera? Are you ready to consider that in all the peril that surrounds us today, just like it surrounded Mary and Joseph 2,000 years ago, light can still be found? Are you ready to let the light shine in and bring you peace in the chaos of this life?

Light and peace are birthed out of total darkness and chaos by the very voice of God himself. God commands light into being. In Genesis 1:3 we read, "Let there be light!" And in that instant every inch of this world was flooded with light. Charles Dickens reminds us that, "There are dark shadows on earth, but the lights are always brighter."

(Read Luke 2:9-11)

Tracey Bianchi is the Worship & Teaching Pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook, Illinois. She's also a freelance writer and speaker (traceybianchi.com).

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Sermon Outline:


I. The first Christmas chaos

II. The common problem of darkness

III. Christmas brings us the peace and light of Jesus

IV. Looking for the light

V. Light wins (darkness does not have the last word)