The Light Shines...in Our Hearts
Today we are continuing our series called the Light of the World. Last week, we heard that Jesus, the Light of the World, shines against the Darkness. He shines against the darkness or terrorism and racism, cancer and car crashes, guilt and shame.
But maybe, last week, you got done thinking:
That’s right pastor! You tell ‘em. I’m gonna take your message and share it with all those people who living in darkness out there.
I will share it with that guy who cut me off in the Belk’s Christmas Wrapping station line.
I’ll share it with that woman who honked her horn, waved her finger at me and cut me off in the mall parking lot.
I’ll share it with my brother who told me that he doesn’t want to spend time with our family at Christmas. He’s being the darkness and he needs to hear about the light.
To be fair…
That all may be true.
But today, Jesus says worry less about the Darkness out there; worry first about the darkness inside here. Our goal is to get help identifying the darkness in our own hearts, reconsider the uplifting message of Jesus and get some guidance on how to let our light shine this Christmas season. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Darkness that Was…
The lesson for this morning comes from Ephesians 5:8-14. Ephesians is a letter written by a Jesus’-commissioned pastor named Paul to Christians living in Ephesus. Look at what he writes: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
The reality is that no one’s heart is naturally filled with light.
Apart from Jesus our hearts are filled with darkness.
To prove that point – let’s think about it logically and then anecdotally:
Logically speaking, God creates Adam and Eve. They are sinless. Their hearts are filled with light. But then, before they have any kids, they sin. They choose to step into the darkness. They become greedy, selfish, prideful, liars. Their hearts become filled with darkness.
Then, these humans with sin-darkened hearts have children.
And just like crocodiles give birth to crocodiles…
And reindeer give birth to reindeer…
Humans with -sin-darkened hearts give birth to children with sin darkened hearts.
Darkness passed on.
Think of it like a Christmas light chain. If the first Christmas light goes out, then what does that mean for the rest of the Christmas lights? The whole thing goes out! The chain has been broken. The first light is not able to provide the power to power up the next Christmas light. The result? They are all darkness.
It’s the same with humans.
The first humans sinned.
All are sinners.
All have sin darkened hearts.
Including – you.
Anecdotally Speaking. Do you know the story of Scrooge? The Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol classic. There are many different versions of it. I, personally, enjoy the Muppet classic. In all of these versions, Scrooge is not very likable. He’s grouchy. He’s gloomy. He’s mean. He’s greedy. He’s Scroogy. You know you’re not doing too well when a verb is developed after your name that essentially means: “being a jerk.”
But here’s the thing about Scrooge. Scrooge is perhaps the most-easily-able-to-be-identified-with-character in Christmas mythology.
Because the difference with Scrooge and all of us isn’t that Scrooge was mean and we aren’t.
The difference is that Scrooge was just worse at hiding it.
Think about your heart.
Are you always MERRY and BRIGHT?
Or do you get unnecessarily angry at that coworker because if he did his job better you’d have more time for Christmas stuff?
Do you think things at your kids that you would never repeat in front of these good church folk here?
Do you have a hard time not wanting to gaze at the Victoria’s Secret window at the mall – even though you aren’t a woman and you aren’t shopping for your wife?
Do you think, “Man! Why do I have to buy a lousy gift for that lousy guy – They deserve a punch in the face. If only I could figure out how to box it…?”
Here’s the truth.
Humans hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
Our hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
The most urgent issue isn’t out there.
It’s in here.
II. The Light that is…
But look again at our text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
Fellow believers, pay careful attention to the verb tenses to teach about what you are.
Those of you who don’t believe, pay careful attention to what the verb tenses teach about what you could be.
Meaning before Jesus.
Meaning before faith.
Meaning that was the case, but….
It is so no longer.
Meaning this is your NEW reality.
You are LIGHT.
And you aren’t light because you figured out how to go from light to darkness on your own.
It isn’t because you scrounged up your spiritual lighter of trying hard.
Or you rubbed a stick of “let’s do better” together with a stick of “try harder” in your heart and some kind of spiritual ‘good works’ fire was built.
You are light in the Lord.
Because in Jesus is forgiveness.
Forgiveness for the dirty sins of your hearts.
Forgiveness for the secrets you want no one else to know.
Forgiveness for those sinful thoughts you are deeply embarrassed that you ever thought.
In Jesus is forgiveness.
He cleans out the darkness of guilt.
He leaves us with the bright light of holiness.
It’s like a Christmas tree. When you light that Christmas tree up, even the wall next to it shines brightly. Think about it. That dead space of darkness that would otherwise be darkness becomes brighter when light shines upon it.
The same thing happened in our fellowship hall. We moved out the preschool stuff, freshened up the paint, and put a brighter color on it. Now, the light reflects off those walls and they are brighter than ever before!
Christ is the Light of the world.
You are light in Christ.
III. A “What Now” for Shining this Christmas
With all of that in mind, God gives us some very specific commands this Christmas. You might call it a host of “What Now” commands for shining this Christmas season.
It starts with this:
(1) Live like Your Dad!
Ephesians 5:9 says this: “Live as children of the light.” Because children tend to do what their family does.
Think about the royal family! They gather in Buckingham palace. They dress in the finest British fashions. They drink their tea with their pinky in the air and celebrate the Christmas season in a royal affair. If one of them wore one of those ugly Christmas sweaters to the ball at Buckingham palace, well…they’d be told: “Live as a royal child.”
Or if one of your kids comes home and says, “My Friend, Jonny said that his the Tarheels are the best! They’re house is covered in Baby Blue. They have coach bobbleheads throughout. I’m thinking for Christmas I want a Tarheel jersey.”
And you say: “Nope. You’ll get the Coach K Biography – and like it.”
Essentially God says to us:
You are my child.
You are my son.
You are my daughter.
You are a part of my family.
Live like you are a part of my family.
And how do I do that?
(2) Find Out What’s on God’s Christmas List
Look at what Ephesians 5:9 says, “the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth, and Find out what pleases the Lord.” (v.10)
Because if you don’t know what’s on someone’s Christmas list then it suddenly gets harder to get them what they want. Christmas lists help you know what they want. It tells you that Cindy Lou wants a Rainbow Dash doll and little Bobby wants a Pokémon watch. Christmas lists prevent you from making the fatal mistake of getting Uncle Dan a Cabbage Patch doll.
The same thing is true with God.
We need to find out what he wants and give him the gift of living accordingly.
Because too often we think to ourselves:
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be happy. And what makes me happy is writing a nasty email to my coworker. Just living as the light God!”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to unstressed. So, he’s cool with me losing it on my kids – as long as I don’t leave a bruise.”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be with my soul mate. So, I’m going to go ahead and cheat on my wife because it makes me happy and that’s what God wants. Just down here being the light of the world God.”
Find out what God actually wants…
Not what you want God to want.
And you can find it out by examining God’s Christmas list.
“Pastor! That sounds nice. But where would I find some kind of Christmas list. Surely, God didn’t write it down and preserve it for centuries for me to clearly and easily read.”
Yes, he did.
It’s called the Bible.
In it, you literally have a list.
A list of Ten Commandments.
Plus, all kinds of other insights – ways to please God and live as the Child of Light that He has made you.
But you have to read it to know what it says.
You have to study it to know what God wants.
Make that a key part of your Christmas preparation.
Spend time in God’s Word.
Here at worship.
At home on your own.
Have everything to do with Godly deeds and then…
(3) Have NOTHING to do with Dark Deeds
That’s exactly what verse 11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
Because if you’re going to bear fruit of righteousness, unrighteousness is fruitless.
If you’re are going to bear fruit of goodness, badness is fruitless.
If you are going to bear fruit of truth, deception is fruitless.
Notice it doesn’t say:
Have some to do with evil.
Or, a bit to do with.
Or even, mostly nothing to do with.
But…NOTHING to do with.
Block the old boyfriend on Facebook that always makes you think…just for a minute of leaving your spouse.
Getting rid of the alcohol that will cause you over the edge.
Avoid that party that’ll just lead to dirty jokes and four-letter words.
Drop that grudge that’s been ruining your family Christmas for years.
And in this area – give special attention to the deeds done in secret. Verse 12 says, “It is shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”
This shouldn’t surprise us.
It’s easier to do dark deeds in the literal dark.
It’s easier to do dark deeds when no one is watching.
Hear God’s Word to you right now – don’t just clean up your public life.
Clean up your private life.
(4) Expose the Darkness to the Light
And…maybe you’re in the midst of a dark deed.
Maybe you’re dealing with an addiction or a vice or some kind of sexual impulse.
Maybe you know it’s wrong and you want to stop, and you yearn to stop, but…
…you just can’t.
Listen to God’s Word in verse 13:
Everything exposed to the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
There’s a man who I once worked with who came into my office.
His eyes were bloodshot.
His hair was amuck.
He was downtrodden.
He took a deep breath. And said. “Pastor, I’m addicted to drugs.
And I can’t stop.
no one knows.
My family doesn’t know.
My friends don’t know.
I’ve wanted to stop, but I just can’t! And I’m so sorry.
I just feel like such…darkness.”
And I said.
You aren’t in the darkness.
You are forgiven.
You are in the light.
Because here’s the thing – now that he told me. I could offer forgiveness. I could encourage him in what he was doing. I could remind him of his desires. I could check in with him. I could connect him with others who could do the same.
He took the deed out of the darkness.
He took it into the light.
By God’s strength, he conquered that addiction.
Do the same.
Expose the dark deeds to the light.
Like mold that grows in the dark, but dies in the light, your sins will die.
Confess to God.
Confess to others.
And if someone confesses to you, don’t hold it against them.
Don’t withhold help.
That’s amazing they trusted you with that!
Share God’s Word.
Help them stay in the light.
Because you and I friends – we are a part of the light! Jesus made it so. That’s why Paul concludes:
Wake up, O Sleeper! Rise from the dead. And Christ will shine in you. (v.14)
Because beating these sins can seem like a daunting task.
They might seem like a challenging task.
It might seem like something that is absolutely impossible to do.
But you aren’t doing it alone.
Christ will shine in you. (v.14b)
That’s the one who defeated sin.
That’s the one who defeated death.
That’s the one who did the impossible for you now working to do the impossible through you.
Think back to the Christmas light chain. If the first light is dark, the whole chain is dark. But if you take that dead, broken light out and you replace it with a new, working light – then? The whole chain becomes bright. Every light that is connected to the first light is empowered to give light.
You are connected to Christ.
He is the Light of the world.
Therefore, you too, are light in the world.
Live as the light of the world. Amen.
It is Christmastime, correct? It’s the holidays! Everyone is supposed to be holly jolly and everything is supposed to be merry and bright.
And maybe you’ve even felt like that!
You wake up with a smile on your face.
Your pumpkin spice latte is already cooking in your pumpkin spiced latte maker.
You put on some sparkly Christmas socks, turn on Bing Crosby, and sit by the fireplace.
Everything is so merry and bright!
You check your news feed.
11 killed in synagogue massacre.
3 killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
KKK numbers rising.
And on Facebook…
Aunt Hilda still struggling with cancer.
Cousin Johnny is getting a divorce.
Your friend Melanie committed suicide around this time three years ago.
It’s supposed to be a bright time.
But life can be so…dark.
How did it get this way?
Today we will focus on how the Light of the World shines against the darkness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How’d it Get so Dark?
To find out the answer to that question, we need to go all the way back to the beginning, the very first book of the bible called Genesis. It literally means “beginning.”
And “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1) At the end of it, there is a small little phrase that God utters about creation. He says:
“It was very good.” (1:31)
That’s an important phrase. Because when God says, “Very good,” he means something very different than when I say it.
For instance, when I finish up wrapping a Christmas present, there’s crooked tape here, off-kilter tape there, and a big gap in the back exposing that it’s a box from Target…and I get done and I say, “It’s good.”
Understand. That’s not what God means.
When God says, “It’s good.” God means, “Perfect.”
That means when God created the world, there weren’t any of the “dark” things that we mentioned before.
There was no such thing as terrorism.
There was no such thing as racism.
There was no such thing as adultery.
There was no such thing as addiction.
There was no such thing as cancer, criminal offenses or cattiness in the church fellowship hall.
God made the world good.
There was no darkness.
Before I get into that you need to understand something about perfection.
In God’s mind, the concept of perfection involves love.
And in God’s mind, the perfect concept of love is not coerced, but freely and willingly given.
I think we get that. Case and point: If you have an Alexa robot, one of those Google inspired devices that can be programmed to listen to your voice and do whatever you ask it to do – and it does it. In addition to the Alexa robot, you have an Alex, a human child, who gets his toys stuck in the carpet, forgets to clean up the LEGOs and generally makes messes even when you tell him to clean up.
QUESTION: Between Alexa and Alex, which one would you say loves you?
Alex, of course.
Because Alexa is literally programmed to do whatever you say.
Alex can choose to blow snot bubbles or to come and give you a hug.
And when he chooses to give you a hug – that’s love.
God knew this.
When God created humans, he made them with the ability to love to him or to not love to him.
Specifically, he gave them one specific way to show this unforced, non-coerced love:
God said to them: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-27)
Did you follow that?
God told them to show love to him by not eating from one specific tree.
No thank you notes necessary.
No finger paint art work that says, “I love you.”
Just don’t eat from the one tree.
It’s like when preschoolers come and give me a hug around the legs so that I can’t move, and they say, “Mr. Pastor, I love you.”
And I say, “Thank you. But do you know what will show you love me even better than this hug? If you line up like I’ve told you to do, about 17 times.”
Adam and Eve had a chance to show active love for God by not eating from the tree.
So how did they do with that?
One day, the two of them are walking through the garden. As they pass by the middle where the one tree that they aren’t supposed to eat from is located, a snake begins to talk to them.
Yes, a snake.
The snake is none other than Satan, the devil, Lucifer. The exact origins of Lucifer are unclear, but a few things to note:
God created him.
God created him in the same way he created humans – with a choice to serve him.
Lucifer chose to NOT serve God, but to oppose him.
And that’s exactly what he does here.
He says, “Did God really say that you must not eat from the fruit of this tree?” The answer is yes.
He says, “...You will not die.” But God said they would.
He says, “You will become like God.” But they already were.
Whom should you believe?
The Holy, perfect God who created you and gave you the whole world?
Or a talking snake?
Adam and Eve look up at that fruit.
They see its faux shine.
They grab it off the branch.
They sink their teeth into it’s delicious nectar.
And, for the very first time, they taste:
Look at what happens:
Then, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (v.7)
For the first time ever, they experience mistrust. “What is she looking at my 3 pack of abs? Stop judging me. There’s not a lot of exercise equipment in this garden.”
For the first time ever, they experience anxiety: “I wonder if I’m enough for him. He’s been looking at one of the other women…in this garden of so many women.”
For the first time ever, they experience judgment: “He does look like he’s had a few too many blueberries lately.”
For the first time ever, they experience marital disunity: “Leave me alone while I go over here and cover myself. You go over there and cover yourself.”
And then: They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, so they hid from him. (v8)
For the first time ever, they experience fear of God: “What will he do to us?”
For the first time ever, they experience shame: “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
For the first time ever, they experience guilt: “We did the one thing we shouldn’t have done.”
And when they do come out of the bushes to talk to God:
“It was the woman! She did it!” Not my wife. Not my love. That woman.
“It was the snake! He did it!” Not me. Not my fault. I am the victim here! Some animal.
“It was the woman YOU put here God.” Really…the evil is on YOU.
Do you see it?
Darkness is firmly a part of history now.
Sin is here.
Sin is here to stay.
And God responds as only a Holy, Light-filled God who hates sin can respond. By doling out consequences:
Pain. Painful childbirth. Painful toil. Painful slivers and hangnails. Painful arthritis and headaches. Painful diseases and injuries.
Relationship Issues. He’ll be a jerk! Because he’s a sinner now. He’s had a taste of the darkness and it won’t stop him from calling you things that you should never call a woman. And to be fair – you won’t take it sitting down. You’ll tell him that you NEVER loved him and he’s a worth pile of dirt.
Work Issues. Because now it won’t be fun. Now there will be weeds in the ground. Now there will be computer crashes. Now there will be plumbing issues. Now there will be back stabbing, infighting, and gossip that ruins your career.
Death. For “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (v.19) This is the origin of cancer, of car crashes, of terrorism, mass shooting, and terrifying nights in the E.R.
And that’s just the beginning…
It’s only gotten darker.
It’s only gotten crueler.
It’s only gotten harder to deal with.
II. The Light Shines against Darkness
Did you know that God didn’t just give consequences to the humans?
He also gave consequences to the snake.
God says he’ll crawl on his belly (v.14)
God says the snake will eat dust all the days of his life. (v.14b)
Some scholars wonder if maybe the original form of the snake had some little tiny legs. (Which is pretty horrifying thing to think of. Long, slithering, disgusting with legs?)
But then – pay careful attention to the final consequence for Satan:
I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head. (v.15)
Did you hear it?
This is more than just a consequence for the devil.
This is a promise for the people.
One day someone will come who will crush the evil one and destroy all of his power.
One day someone will come to overpower the evil.
One day someone will come to shine against the darkness.
One day…right around the very first Christmas:
In Jesus was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This is why Christmas matters.
We live in a world of darkness and death.
We needed the Light. We need Life.
And we have both in Jesus.
Because our world is only darkness.
And adding darkness to the darkness to try and get rid of the darkness, doesn’t work.
For instance, no one ever says, “It’s dark in here. Let me get out my sunglasses because I’m sure that will make things brighter.”
Or: “Honey, I know you’re scared of the dark. Let me turn OFF the hallway light. That’ll make it easier to see.”
Adding darkness to darkness only leads to more darkness.
Since we live in a world infected by spiritual darkness, we cannot expect the light to come from that darkness.
We cannot expect the light to come from ourselves.
What I mean is, the solution to the darkness IS NOT and CANNOT EVER be:
“Just try harder.”
“Do your best.”
They are all a version of:
Let’s add more darkness this darkness because I’m sure that will make it brighter.
The light of the world needs to come from outside of the world.
The light of the world needs to come from the place of light.
The light of the world needs to come from heaven itself.
That light of the world is Jesus.
And like a candle coming into dark room…
Jesus shines against the darkness.
And he always overcomes it.
Think about that. No matter what kind of darkness you are dealing with this holiday season, Jesus is the light that will overcome it.
When you’re dealing with the darkness of a relationship that has spoiled, he brings the light and says, “I will never leave you.”
When you’re struggling with the guilt of some kind of sin you committed around this time six years ago, Jesus says, “I forgive you.”
When you’re dealing with the dark effects of racist attitudes to you at work, Jesus shines the light and says, “I love you as you are.”
When there’s nothing but drama and disorder amongst your family, Jesus speaks to you and says, “We are at peace.”
When there’s financial struggles that leave you filled with anxiety, Jesus says, “I’ve got this” and drives the darkness away!
The light overcomes the darkness.
Even in the darkest of times.
There is no greater darkness in this life than death.
There is probably nothing that you will face in life greater than death itself.
Or that of a loved one.
That’s exactly what a man named Jairus was dealing with.
His daughter was sick.
And he had done everything he could think of to fix her.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the physician.
He got medicines and herbs and essential oils.
So, as the darkness of “I might lose her” settled in, he made his way to Jesus.
“Please sir! Help my daughter. Please sir! Do something. Heal her.”
But as Jesus and Jairus made their way to his house, what little life was left in her eyes…went out.
And when Jairus made his way to his daughter’s bedroom, he no longer saw her.
Only a cold, lifeless body.
As Jairus began to sob uncontrollably, clinging to his wife as if she could soak up the dark sadness that had overcome his soul.
Jesus walked past.
He approached the girl’s body.
He took her hand.
He looked her in her cold, dark eyes and said:
As Jairus watched, her eyes – he saw it:
She sat up.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the life that brings light even in the face of death.
Years later Jesus himself faced death on the cross.
He died, but then came back to life.
He is the light of the world.
He is the LIFE of the world.
And the life always overcomes death.
Again – consider that deeply –
In Jesus, you will conquer death.
You will conquer death in all its form.
That arthritis that reminding you of decaying body, Jesus will overcome that.
That pain in your heart from missing a dearly departed loved one, Jesus will overcome that.
That cancer that leads you to a hospital bed, Jesus will overcome that.
That child that you lost, Jesus will overcome that pain.
In fact, Jesus brings LIFE!
To you. To me. To all who believe.
III. What Now?
The only way to overcome the darkness is with Jesus. Make that your number one this Christmas season.
Make sure you tell your kids about Jesus.
Make sure you meditate on your Savior.
Make sure you’re in worship.
Make sure your singing Jesus songs.
If you don’t get all the lights up…
If you don’t get all the presents wrapped…
If you don’t get all the mistletoe hung…
Those things don’t make Christmas bright.
May He shine as a light against whatever darkness you are facing. Amen.