Christmas Light for the Darkness
December 13, 2020
by Steve Cartin, MDiv
“…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21, NKJV).
No visual says Christmas like a nativity scene. More than 40 years have passed since I last saw the nativity scene my grandmother put out each year. But through the years I have come to see the story of our lives and mission—the story of the place where you practice dentistry—in that manger scene.
The gospel narrative begins with the story of a simple man, a man who is never credited with a single spoken word in Holy Scripture—Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph dealt with a darkness which was known only to him. Not everything in life plays out well on the screen of public opinion. So it was with Joseph. Faced with the prospect of bringing shame upon Mary and indirectly upon himself, Joseph sought a secret way to deal with the growing problem of what to do about Mary. Seven short verses resolved the issue about which Joseph tossed and turned for weeks and, in so doing, resolved the darkness through which he had recently walked.
In his sleep, the angel of the Lord brought much-needed light to Joseph’s darkness. No question passes through his lips. No hesitation hinders his resolve. But in his next actions the converging prophecies of the Old Testament play out to the glory of God. Joseph saw the light AFTER the darkness.
Not so with Mary. God does not deal with all of His servants in the same way. Before the Christ child ever came into Mary’s life, Gabriel was sent to announce that Mary would be the mother of the Messiah. As the months followed, so did the stares and smirks of the townspeople of Nazareth. They did not need medical training to perform simple arithmetic.
“There’s no other way one plus one can equal three,” they said.
But Gabriel’s light helped her walk in the purity of simple trust in God. It helped her navigate a future time when a sword would pierce through her own heart (Luke 2:35). Mary saw the light BEFORE the darkness.
Outside Bethlehem, shepherds kept vigil in the cool night air. A few miles away, an unusual commotion of caravans overtook their hometown village. Just five miles from Jerusalem, the thankless responsibility of tending sheep defined their darkness. Some of these sheep would be offered on the Temple’s altar—yes—where the faithful would come burdened by sin and leave with their burdens lifted. Yet few, if any, considered the shepherds as they purchased sin’s offering.
But it was to these men that the multitude of heavenly hosts appeared. To them the heavens exploded with the light of God’s glory. To them the announcement came that a Savior was born! The shepherds saw the light IN THE MIDST OF the darkness.
Everyone around the manger has a testimony of light and darkness. What was true that first Christmas remains true today. And the apostle Paul encourages us with the reminder that we are “…children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse
generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15, NKJV).
God allows us to experience the light of life and eternity in the face of the Christ Child. As Joseph, as Mary or as the Shepherds, we join the angels in singing, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV).
2020 will go down as a year to remember, a year many want to forget. But this Christmas season, let’s commit to renewed adoration of our Savior. And then let’s return to our teams, practices and patients just as the Shepherds did by “glorifying and praising God for all the things” we have experienced in the nativity of our hearts (Luke 2:20b, NKJV). If anything in our world becomes a pandemic, let us determine that it will be a pandemic of praise.