As a kid growing up in East Williamson NY, I remember how early darkness descended on our little town during December. Early in the month, the sun sets around 4:30pm with last light occurring at 5:05pm. For much of winter, evening activities around town are done in pitch darkness and usually with one to two feet of snow.
Our house sat along the top of a ridge. Our driveway was level to the road, but from the front corner of the garage, extending all the way out to our backyard, was a nice downward slope. Very often after dinner, my young friends and I would grab our plastic sleds and spend the evening at our house “riding downhill”. If the Lake Ontario snow machine was particularly active (as it usually is in December), the snowbanks would pile up another 5-7’ high, giving us a great running start!
And yet what I remember vividly about those cloudy, snowy evenings was the contrast of light and darkness. When I began my sled run at the top of the hill, there was a single, bright light burning in front of the garage that gave life to fun and conversation. However, when I slid past the edge of the house, down into the backyard, there were no lights. I entered the darkness, not always able to see where my sled was heading. When I stopped, I would stand up enveloped by the dark night. The absence of light was eerie, it felt lonely, and for some reason, the 10-15 degree air temperature felt even colder. I liked being in the light at the top of the hill rather than in total darkness at the bottom.
I wonder how dark it was in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born. It was a small town like the one I grew up in. Best estimates put the population of the town normally at only a few hundred, maybe double that given the census (Luke 2:1). Even more, how dark would it have been away from town, out in the fields where the shepherds watching their sheep? If it was a cloudy night, there’d be nothing but deep, empty, cold blackness. Luke 2:8 tells us that it was the middle of the night when the angels announced to shepherds that the Christ child had just been born. Surely by midnight, the fires and lamps around Bethlehem had all been extinguished. We’re talking about deep, pervasive darkness when Jesus came into the world, and yet the time of day is not what’s meant by those visuals.
The Bible uses many analogies to compare/contrast the impact Jesus’ coming had on the world. The one that I like most is the comparison of light to darkness. The presence of darkness is analogous to the presence of sin. Light is compared to righteousness and holiness. The deeper the darkness, the greater the pervasiveness of sin. The brighter the light, the greater the presence of righteousness.
John 1:9 describes Jesus as the “true light, which gives light to everyone, coming into the world”. He was born at a time when the world was spiritually in a very dark place. Prior to the immediate activities surrounding Jesus’ birth (described in Luke chapters 1 & 2) the world had not heard from the Lord in 400-years. There had been no prophets in Israel to remind people of the glories of the Most-High God for four centuries. The Holy Spirit was present but wasn’t indwelling the hearts and minds of the Old Testament faithful. There was only the empty shell of the Jewish religion, whose legalism and warped theology had placed an overwhelming burden on people, and the various pagan religions of the rest of the world. The depth of spiritual darkness in the world was just as deep as the physical darkness surrounding the shepherds at midnight before the angels came. The world was cold, dark, lonely, and filled with sin.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2
When Jesus was born, brilliant spiritual light burst forth into the world. While it was imperceptible to the naked human eye, the angels declared it, and the witnesses (Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men) testified to it. Finally, there was something righteous and holy existing on the earth among men. Thirty years later, the world witnessed that preeminent, spiritual bright light whose name was Jesus. As an adult, Jesus began his ministry, confronting the old, dead, dark religions of the world, preaching truth, light, and life from the Most-High God.
John 8:12 – 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
In 2020, once again we find ourselves in deep spiritual darkness (pervasive sin) that covers the entire world. The depths of this darkness are evident all around us. It is as bad now as any low point of human history, and I don’t believe it will get better until Jesus comes again. Jesus said the world will be as dark as the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37) when he returns. Those were dark days and that’s what’s to come.
However, as bad as it is now, there is reason for us to hope. The “true light” of Jesus was not extinguished by the cross. It’s true the birth of Jesus gave “birth” to His death on the cross, but the cross gave birth to a debt paid, and to the promise of eternal “light” and life. Therefore, the light that was lit when Jesus was born still shines brightly today. Like “little lights” sparkling against the dark background of an evergreen tree, those who have faith in Jesus, brighten the whole world, with His Light. It’s a light that cannot be extinguished! This is the reason for hope and a cause for worship!
Won’t you share the reason why your “lit heart” burns brightly with someone this Christmas season? Push back this present darkness by bringing some warm, bright conversation about Jesus to someone this year.