Sometime during High School, I learned that our human capacity to see is made up of two kinds of receptors in our eyes. Some of these receptors enable us to see black and white. Others enable us to see color. The ability to see in black and white is important for night vision. People who do not have highly developed capacity to see variances of black and white have difficulty seeing at night. I happen to be one of those people. If we are driving at night looking for a home that we’ve never visited before, I must slow down and turn on my “brights” every time I try to read a street sign. Even then, most of the time I can’t see clearly enough to read the sign. A week or so ago, Kathy and I went to visit people that we know very well and whose house we’ve been many times. I got lost even though I had been there earlier in the day!
It would be nice if our lives could be lived in an eternal, bright, and sunny summer in which the past, present, and future stand before us with perfect clarity of understanding. It would be nice if we always knew what to do and how to do it. It would be nice if there were no problems in life we cannot understand, accept, and face with wisdom and courage.
Unfortunately, we all go through times of mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness. We all go through times in which it is difficult for us to discern right from wrong, a good decision from a bad decision, wisdom from foolishness, and the like. During these times, we feel like a person with my level of night vision. Things that were clear in good times, filled with the color of happiness and joy, are no longer clear. Instead, we feel that we are stumbling around in the dark unable to see the world the way it is and unable to adjust to our changing environment. At such times, we long for some kind of light to illuminate our way. Fortunately, in Christ, God has made available to us that light we need in the dark times of life..
Isaiah Longing for Light.
When Isaiah wrote his book, the Jews were in a time of spiritual and moral darkness. The enthusiasm with which they began their national journey had ended. The “Good Ole Days,”represented by the kingship of David and Solomon, were over. There were no good kings in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and only a very few in Judah (the Southern Kingdom). The religious purity of their temple worship became obscured as the Twelve Tribes melded their worship of God with worship of the gods and goddesses of the nations around them. The Jews (like us) were tempted to worship fertility gods and goddesses—the gods and goddesses of sex. They lost their distinctive culture and began a period of national decay. Religious people longed for light.
Let us ponder for just a few moments to these familiar words from Isaiah 9:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. …
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:1-3; 6-7)
Prayer: God of Light, in Whom there is no Darkness: Come into the darkness of this evening and reveal again to us the True Light of Christ. Amen.
The Jewish People as they Longed for Light.
We Americans are impatient. Sometimes, this is an asset. However, when there are big problems that take a long time to solve, impatience is a big liability. Impatience is not unique to our nation. I think that most human beings, most of the time, are impatient. One quality of the wise life is learning to walk in darkness from time to time while keeping your faith intact. Once upon a time, I was a pretty impatient person, and sometimes I still am. It has been my experience that when God wants to teach us patience, he gives us a long period of suffering. It’s unfortunate, but true.
The Jewish people were not much different than we are. When their nation began to decay, and the prophets spoke the words of warning, they were impatient. Moreover, they didn’t immediately see any big problem. They were like the proverbial “Frog in a Kettle.” Then, the Assyrians came and conquered the northern nation of Israel around 730 B.C. This conquest meant the loss of the fertile areas in the northern part of Israel we call Galilee. In Isaiah, they are referred to as Zebulon and Naphalti. This area of Israel was always, as it is today: a wealthy, fertile, beautiful land—the most fertile in Palestine. The destruction of the Northern Kingdom was a big wakeup call in the midst of their national spiritual and moral nap.
A few years later, King Nebuchadnezzar came from Babylon, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and conquered Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He took representatives of the remaining two tribes into captivity. Even after they returned, they were conquered again and again. Alexander the Great conquered the Jewish people, as did the Roman general, Pompey.  These were dark times. Throughout it all, the Jews longed for a Messiah. They longed for some word from God, for some indication that God was going to fulfill his ancient promise to David. 400 years of waiting will make a nation patient. They longed for a light in the darkness of their national decay and destruction.
Christians Today Longing for the Light.
Christians today are concerned about our nation, about religious liberty in our nation and other nations, about the growth of terror groups, and about many other things. Just to give one example, recently our church and denomination has been praying for Andrew Brunson and his wife. The Brunson’s have lived in Turkey for more than twenty years, where Andrew pastored a little church with the knowledge of local authorities. At the time of Brunson’s detention in October, his activities were suddenly alleged by the Turkish government to be “against national security.” No other reason was given for Andrew’s incarceration and no formal charges were filed. He was held without charges for sixty-three days. In more than two months of detention, Andrew was permitted only two U.S. consular visits. His attorney was not permitted visits until just before a final hearing. On December 9th of this year, there was a hearing, and Andrew was imprisoned.  Andrew Brunson and his wife are probably longing for a light to come into the darkness of his prison cell and relieve the darkness of their family situation today.
Of course, the Brunson’s are a particularly dramatic case. There are, however, many people in our congregation, among those who visit our church regularly, in our neighborhoods and city, that live in darkness. It can be the emotional darkness of family problems. It can be the personal darkness of bad health or job losses. It can be the slow darkness of a terminal illness. There are a lot of ways people struggle in the darkness and long for the light. Many, if not most, of us come to Christmas Eve night filled with expectations and with a longing for God to come into our situation.
Surprise: True Light Has Come—Personally!
In the Gospel of John, John tells us right at the beginning that, “The true light that gives light to every person has come into the world” (John 1:9). The True Light did not come as a principal, or as a book, or as a philosophical system, or as a flash of insight, or as an energy or power; the True Light came as a human being, as a real flesh and blood person ordinary people could see, touch, and feel. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Tonight, we celebrate the coming into the world of the only light that can permanently banish our personal darkness and the darkness of our world—the Light of Christ.
There are some things that we human beings can learn in the abstract. Mathematics is one of them. Practical things, like how to play baseball or how to build a house cannot be learned that way. Life cannot be learned that way. Discipleship cannot be learned that way. Where life is concerned and reality is concerned, we must see another person do the thing, practice the thing, and learn by doing. God knew this important fact. God knew that for us to be saved, to grow in becoming more like God, and find the true light, he was going to have to personally show up on the scene and show us how to think, feel, and behave. There was no other way for all human beings to “get it.”
Therefore, a child had to be born. A Son had to be given. The wisdom that made the universe had to be distilled down to the life of one single human being. The Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, had to come as a little baby, so fragile, so frail, so dependent that a night of freezing cold might take his life.
There had to be a mother (Mary), a father (Joseph), a long time spent growing up, learning to be a carpenter and a rabbi (his life in Nazareth). There were Bible verses to memorize and wisdom to be gathered, stories from the Old Testament to be learned. There were disciples to call and train. There were enemies confound. Finally, the True Light was arrested, tried, and executed by his own people—all this was necessary if the True Light was to come into the world in such a way that the people of God, the people of the ages, and the people of today might be able to be in a relationship with that True Light, a light so unusual, so unexpected that we might miss it. This is a the True Light and True Wisdom that the Apostle Paul recognized would be seen as foolishness by a whole lot of people (I Corinthians 1:18-25).
On Christmas Day we gather to celebrate the birth. On Christmas Eve, it is enough to stop and ponder the darkness of our world, the darkness of the world of Jesus, and the darkness of the ancient world and marvel at a single fact: into this darkness the Wisdom of the Ages came not in power, not in majesty, not in a blinding physical light like some atomic explosion, but in the first cry of a new born baby, a cry that could even be heard a half a block away. His coming was like a flickering candle in the night, but it changed everything. The true light that can enlighten every single human life had come into the world (John 1:9; 8:12; 9:4).
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Alexander the Great took control of Israel about 332 B.C. In 63 B.C, the Roman general Pompey conquered the land of Israel, ended the Hasmonean state and bringing Palestine into the Roman Empire.
 This is based upon an article in the Presbyterian Layman entitled, “Imprisoned American Pastor Formally Charged in Turkey which can be found at www.layman.org/imprisoned-american-pastor-formally-charged-turkey/ (December 15, 2016). We have been asked to not disclose Andrew’s wife’s name though it as been revealed in other media.