A Great Light
The soldier lay in the hole he had crawled into at sunset. The cold night settled over him and an eerie silence shrouded the battlefield. The place of fire and fury had become an icy tomb.
He needed to move, to get back to his lines, to rejoin the others. But which way? He had no idea. Turning and turning again during the fighting, running and often falling—now in the darkness, he was completely lost—as lost as he had ever been—as lost as anyone can be. Going the wrong way could cost him his life. Not going at all could mean freezing, capture or worse.
He tried to pray. The words didn’t seem to come. He had not prayed much in the years since he left home. Somehow God had slipped away ...
“Pray. Prayer. What prayer?” The word brought a clear picture of his mother to his mind. Every evening she would gather the family by “the altar”—she called it. And there on an old table with a piece of white cloth on it, she would light a candle and they would pray. He always thought it such a bother, so silly, all of them praying on their knees in front of a broken-down table and a old, bent candle.
“I don’t need this!” he would grumble.
“Just come and pray,” she would say.
“But what for?”
“Someday,” she would say, “it will light your way.”
The darkness pressed on him. “God remember me,” he muttered. “God help me.” Stumbling prayers. Not what they should be. What else could he say?
He waited for an answer, but there was nothing but night and silence and cold. Finally, he raised his head just above the edge of the hole and squinted into the gloom. There! Off there, barely visible in the mist he saw a flame—a single, silent flame.
What was it? Could he trust it? Could he follow it? There was nothing else to do. He began to crawl toward the flame, toward the tiny, flickering flame.
After what seemed like hours, he broke into a clearing. There were the others, soldiers he knew, huddled around a little fire.
“Hey soldier,” his sergeant whispered. “Where have you been? You look a little lost.”
The fire still peeked at him between the gathered figures in the darkness.
“The fire,” he muttered.
The sergeant came closer. “Just a little while ago, the captain said we could risk one small fire to help keep warm. But we’ve got to put it out soon. The enemy ...”
The soldier fell to his knees and stared at the flame in wonder. “It looked like a candle. From out there—from out there in darkness, it looked like an old, bent candle I used to know.”
“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). The soldier in our story certainly was in the dark. Darkness surrounded him, trapped him, held him captive. Left on his own, he had no idea where he was, where he could go, where he would be safe.
The darkness describes our story, the story of all of us. For the past four weeks we have been lighting the four candles of Advent:
The Candle of Hope
The Candle of Peace
The Candle of Joy
The Candle of Love
We light these four candles, not out of vain traditionalism, but as a reminder of where true Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are found. Our society has forgotten the true message of Christmas and we are poorer for it.
Years ago, before modern technology, miners depended upon a small bird in a cage to warn them that the air in the mine was going bad. This is where the phrase, “The canary has dropped,” came into the English language. Folks, the canary has dropped!
For the third year in a row, according to a November report from the Centers for Disease Control, American life expectancy dropped.
The last time this happened was a century ago, in the years 1915-1918, years marked by our entry into World War I and the outbreak of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, which killed 675,000 Americans.
This time, neither war nor pestilence is behind the drop in life expectancy. The threats are not external, but internal.
The biggest factors behind the drop in life expectancy among Americans over the last three years are drug overdoses and suicides. In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and approximately 45,000 people intentionally took their own lives.
These deaths, along with alcohol-related deaths, have been dubbed “deaths of despair”.
Secular sociologist blame this “despair” largely on economic reasons, but this cannot be, because the highest rate of “deaths of despair” are found among affluent white young adults.
From the Christian perspective, we see another reason for the rise of despair in our society—we are looking for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in the wrong places.
Do not get me wrong, God has filled this world with things that give us Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, but all these things are meant to point us to the true source of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love—Jesus Christ! When we make them the end, rather than the means to The End, they become black holes of despair. This is because they cannot truly satisfy our souls.
The author of Ecclesiastes discovered this when after he had obtained all this world could offer declared, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. A chasing after the wind!”
The only way out of this black hole of despair is to look up at the light of Christ. The Apostle John writes:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Tonight God has brought you here so that you could see the light of Christ. All of us need to be reminded were true Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are found.
Perhaps you have felt the darkness of despair closing around you. Your life hasn’t worked out for you as you hoped or worse yet everything has worked out as planned and this world’s promises have turned out hollow and unsatisfying. If you are that person, look up and look at the Advent Wreath. It is there to remind you that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Put your trust in Him!
Not everyone is here tonight to hear this message of Light. This is why Jesus said we need to be “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) Not that we are the light, but to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through us. (John 1:7-8) This is the greatest gift you can give someone else this Christmas season. So see the Light, that you might reflect the Light!
Let us pray.