(A) Introduction.

There are many references in the gospels to Jesus being the light of the world. I have dealt with aspects of this wonderful description of Jesus in two expositions: Luke2v25to32 and John3v12to30. I am returning to the subject for this brief and simple Christmas Day message.

(B) The purposeful light. That light was the light of men. Jn1v4.

One of the reasons Jesus came into the world was to shed light on the nature of God the Father.

What sheds light on a person? It may be:

(1) What they have made. Sometimes an expert on the Antiques Roadshow examines a piece of furniture, jewellery or pottery and wonders at the skill, attention to detail, creative flare and love of beauty of the craftsman who made it.

What does God's creation tell us about him? Anyone who really looks at a Red Admiral butterfly must surely marvel at God's inventiveness, commitment to beauty, engineering genius and sureness of touch.

BUT there are some disturbing aspects to nature. The spectacular diversity of the tropical rainforest is only possible because almost every living thing has a predator. In the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

          Who trusted God was love indeed
          And love Creation’s final law–
          Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
          With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

If we just had the creation as evidence I think it would be possible to conclude that God was indescribably clever but heartless.

(2) What they have written. This can be very revealing. What could you tell about me from my annual Christmas letter? See Annual Review for 2010. You would probably be able to work out that I was a bit of a stick in the mud, humorous, vulgar, affectionate and a bit full of myself. After all only somebody who thinks other people will be interested in him will bother to produce an annual letter!

What has God written? Moses informs us that God wrote the Ten Commandments with his finger. These commandments tell us quite a lot about God. He has tough love for us. God only gave mankind the commandments because he was concerned for our moral welfare. He wants the best for us. There is no doubt that if men and women kept the Ten Commandments the world would be a better place.

BUT the commandments do not tell us much about God's grace, mercy and willingness to forgive.

(3) By living with them. Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here's how he recalls the experience: "They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn't make it work. Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. 'To get this darn thing to work,' she exclaimed, 'I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'"

When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son to dwell among us. The disciples after spending 3 years almost constantly in Christ's presence came to realise:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jn3v16. Jesus is the incontestable evidence that God loves us. He sheds light on God's grace, mercy and faithfulness.

(B) The conquering light. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. Jn1v5.

There is a great deal of darkness in the world and it is very depressing. On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl queuing up to enter a gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over her child's eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum they do not whisk by this photo hurriedly. They pause. They almost feel the pain. And deep inside they are thinking: "O God, don't let that be all that there is."

The mother's act is one of utter hopelessness. In her early years Helen Keller who was born both blind and deaf knew only darkness and despair. But one day things changed. This is how she describes the dramatic moment when Anne Sullivan first broke through her dark, silent world with the illumination of language:

“We walked down the path to the well house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant that wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”

I read recently in the Daily Telegraph that young people in particular don't like sending birthday and Christmas cards because they do not know what to write in them. They cannot think of anything clever, witty or amusing to write and they are certainly not going to write something nice!

Jesus was God's Valentine card to us and with it he sent an enlightening, encouraging, message of hope: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord." Lk2v11.

I love the story I read in an obituary of Professor Fred Bachrach in the Daily Telegraph. As a young man he was a Japanese prisoner of war. He and three others managed to build a radio from aircraft parts. Unfortunately it was discovered and the four men were beaten and interrogated before being marched to the ‘oven’ on the edge of their camp. This was a 10ft-square corrugated iron hut which had to be entered by a small hatch. Inside it was baking hot and completely dark. The prisoners received one small bowl of rice a day between them, and were told to be silent or risk further beatings.

Bachrach remembered shouting, “No, no, no, no” and banging his head on the ground in despair. He then felt one of his hands being turned upright, and a fingernail scratching a long line across the palm followed by a short one at right angles to make the sign of the cross. “That gesture,” he would recall, “made me feel that I was not quite god forsaken.” It gave him hope.

Jesus was born a Saviour; he lived a Saviour: he died a Saviour and he rose from the dead a Saviour. He is the light that dispels the darkness of despair and gives hope.

The wonderful truth is that however dark the darkness it can never of itself put out the light. The light ALWAYS triumphs over darkness. And Jesus, God's light, shines bright to defeat the darkness of hopelessness and helplessness.

(C) The unique light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. v9.

There is something very attractive about the light as this story about a wife in labour in some remote, deep Appalachian valley - true Hilly-Billy country:

A man’s wife went into labour in the middle of the night, and the doctor was fetched to assist in the delivery. Hours later, he arrived, but still in time!

Since there was no electricity, the doctor handed the father-to-be a lantern and said, "Here, you hold this high so I can see what I am doing." Soon, a baby boy was brought into the world. "Whoa there," said the doctor. "Don’t be in a rush to put the lantern down, I think there’s yet another one to come." Sure enough, within minutes he had delivered a baby girl. "Wait now, don’t be in a great hurry to put down that lantern. It seems there’s yet another one to come."

Sure enough, within minutes he had delivered another baby girl. "No, no, don’t be in a great hurry to put down that lantern. It seems there’s yet another one in there!" cried the doctor.

The father scratched his head in bewilderment, looked at the lantern, looked at his wife, and asked, "Do you think it’s the light that’s attractin’ ’em?"

The light is attractive but unfortunately there are false lights. In the old days unscrupulous men would put out false lights along the coast to deceive mariners and lure them onto the rocks. Then the wreckers would loot the stricken vessels.

Lives are ship-wrecked by the false lights of fame, celebrity, pleasure and possessions. Lurid garish lights are used to advertise brothels, make casinos inviting and department stores alluring. These are not true lights!!

Some true lights are not for everyman. Such is the case for Science, Philosophy and the Arts. These enlighten but only the relatively few.

Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyman ... . The angels told the shepherds that they had good news of great joy for ALL THE PEOPLE.

What a glorious light Jesus is;a light that reveals God's universal love for sinful men and women. This gives:

(a) Every living soul significance. I can remember getting a Christmas card from a boy I taught at Debenham High School. Johnny wrote a message inside! He put: 'Say Hi to God for me. I don't reckon he knows who I am.' But Johnny was wrong. God knows every single one of us - better than we know ourselves.

(b) Every life value. No one is unimportant and no one is dispensable. It is anathema to God when people of different race or religion are treated as though they are dispensable and wiped out.

(c) Everyone great potential. Every sinner has the potential to become like Jesus. I can remember reading in one of C.S. Lewis' books that if we could see the shabby, drab, unpretentious, old lady worshipping disregarded in some run down inner city church as one day she will become we would fall at her feet and worship her.

I like the story of Henk in Corrie ten Boom's book, ‘In My Father’s House.’ He was a mentally retarded boy who made clothes-pegs day after day in a government workshop. He didn't remember much, but he did remember the stories he heard in Corrie's Bible class. When Corrie visited him at home she found him in his room, on his knees in front of a chair. Before him was an old dirty picture of Jesus on the cross. He was singing in a soft, hoarse, voice:

      Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
      Into Thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus, I come to Thee.
      Out of the depths of ruin untold, into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
      Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus, I come to Thee.
Henk, notwithstanding his many disadvantages in this life, came through faith in Jesus to freedom, gladness and light. SO MAY WE ALL. Happy Christmas!