As Thanksgiving comes to a close, the focus shifts to Christmas. Freshly cut Christmas trees begin to appear on lots and in grocery store parking lots. Businesses and homes are transformed into a sea of color with bulbs and ribbons and bows. And everything seems to come alive as strings of lights begin to twinkle and dance on the roofs of homes and through the branches of various types of pine trees inside and out.
The church year is now in the season of Advent, those four Sundays before Christmas and Christmas Eve. “Advent” comes to us from the Latin, meaning coming. Advent celebrates the first coming of Jesus as a baby — and his second coming as judge of the world. He came poor, weak and helpless in a stable in Bethlehem. He will come again in power to judge the living and the dead. As a result, the season of Advent is a time of preparation in anticipation of the Lord’s arrival.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the light of the world: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). Light is central to Advent and Christmas. And so we decorate with strings of lights. We light a candle for each week of Advent on the Advent wreath until all four candles are burning. Each week, the light from the wreath gets brighter, increasing in intensity until Christmas day arrives.
The message of Christmas is that the light of Christ is breaking through our darkness by his birth — the darkness of sin, the darkness of death, the darkness of the world, and the darkness of our lives. His light brings forgiveness of sin and salvation. His light brings hope, joy, love and peace. The words of the song “Here I Am to Worship,” by Tim Hughes, express that message: “Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness, opened my eyes, let me see. Beauty that made this heart adore you, hope of a life spent with you.”
So let the lights shine! Enjoy the lights! May the lights warm your heart and your soul as you reflect on Jesus’ words in your life: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Rev. Paul Johnson is pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. Sermon Notes is a column by local religious leaders.