December 16, 2015

Advent Candlelight Service


1: Light in the Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. (Genesis 1-1-3)

From the very beginning, light was a central theme to God’s Word and Creation. Without light, life could not exist. We even can learn and observe from science that all growth on earth is a product of light from the sun. In a more abstract way, light was necessary to provide order. Before light the earth was “without form and void.” The creation of light was the creation of order, logic, and control.

Ever since this first moment in history, God has been known as the Author of light. The Bible makes several applications of this in the spiritual lives of people; a few of which we will consider this evening. But they all flow from the account of God’s creation, and these very first words from God that brought matter and life into existence.

We are able to understand and worship God because we have light. We live and breathe today because of the light that God first created. Not long after God spoke the world into existence, He placed His foremost creation, humans, into it. Man and woman are examples of God’s power and wisdom. They were created in His righteous and perfect image; children who would live in harmony with Him and bring Him glory and honor through their lives. The light of life beamed forth brightly on that seventh day, when God rested from the good and complete work of His creation; a creation that began with light.

But before long the harsh winds of temptation blew forth upon that light which God established in the hearts of His first people. In one swift act of rebellion, what once was strong became dim and faint. The light of creation would eventually be snuffed out in all people, a product we know as death. The light of communion with God became at once a smoldering wick, as Adam and Eve fled and hid in shame.

All at once, everything that had been accomplished now seemed lost. God’s creation drifted back into confusion and chaos. A fast as our modern day switch, the light of righteousness was turned off. A renewal was needed. A reigniting of God’s image in the hearts of mankind. Hope seemed non-existent, and it certainly felt lost, but it was hidden in the Seed of the woman. The promise of destruction given to Satan, was the same promise of hope given to the world: Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel." The promise of light had been given.

Hymn 8 

2: Light in Worship (God’s Presence among His people) (Light of our faith)

The blessing of spiritual light, which once was simple reality, now became shrouded in hope and mystery. God’s people would have to wait patiently by faith for deliverance from the enemy of God’s creation, death. Thousands of years would pass. Generation upon generation would be entrusted with a great promise, the Great Covenant of the Messiah. While the light which gave life to creation and the world continued strong, the light of faith grew weak under the guise of prosperity and expansion on the earth.

Men and women began to forget their Creator and the greater hope of eternal life in heaven. As physical light continued and remained constant, faith began to be thought of as unnecessary. Wickedness prevailed upon the earth. The parts of God’s creation, the sun, moon stars, trees, and mountains, soon became gods themselves in the different cultures of the world. What was established to create order in the universe led to a disorder of the highest degree in the heart - spiritual idolatry.

To keep the promise of the Savior secure; in order to save all people, God ordered and structured His people’s worship life; and light was a central theme. The lampstand in the tabernacle and temple was ordered by God to burn continually under the care of the priests. This was a symbol and reminder that God was with them always through the light of His Word. This reminder would keep the people focused on hearing and listening to that word and thereby renewing and building their hope in the coming Savior.    

God's people understood the importance of light and it became a central theme in their hymnbook of Psalms. Some familiar verses which stand as continual reminders of God’s light:
Psalm 18:28 For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.
Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 43:3 Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your tabernacle.
Psalm 89:15 Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.
Psalm 112:1-4 Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who delights greatly in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; The generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches will be in his house, And his righteousness endures forever. Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

May we keep God’s light strong and vibrant in our worship, that it may reign and rule in our hearts.

Hymn 72

3: A Light Promised and Revealed (Bethlehem Star) (Morning Star) (John 8)

On one uneventful evening in 1910 in Chicago, IL a homeowner named Clarence Hiller was busy painting the trim on his house. There didn’t appear to be anything special about this day but it would eventually change America forever. That evening, shortly after Hiller and his family went to bed, he soon awoke to sounds in his house. He looked outside and became suspicious when he noticed that a light near his daughter’s bedroom window was out. Clarence went downstairs to investigate. He soon came upon an armed intruder and began to wrestle with him. The burglar prevailed and shot Hiller twice, killing him on the spot.

Less than a mile from the scene, the police soon arrested a man who was injured and who also had blood on his clothing. The man claimed his injuries were the result of falling off a streetcar. The police suspected that he was the murderer, but they needed more evidence. Upon returning to the crime scene the authorities noticed that that the perpetrator had entered the home through the kitchen window. As they searched for clues, they noticed a fully intact handprint in the fresh coat of paint. What resulted was the first criminal case in America solved by fingerprint evidence, as they linked the identifying prints to the man they apprehended. Clarence Hiller had helped in solving his own murder case, without even knowing it.

Today we know very well the importance of fingerprint identification. Each person has a unique code of in their hands. Fingerprints can serve as clues to reveal the exact identity of someone. God gave us a set of unique clues to reveal the person of His Son, sent into the world to save fallen mankind. One type of these clues were the Old Testament prophecies. The many prophecies serve as a fingerprint identification of the Coming One, and they reminded people of who He would be so they would be ready for His advent.  

As we consider the value of light and its central them to the Scriptures, it shouldn’t surprise us that light was the focus of some of these prophecies. In Numbers 24:17, God used the wicked prophet Balaam to accomplish His will by bringing a prophecy of the Messiah to the King of Moab by saying: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult.”

Jesus was called the “Star of Jacob,” a sign that stuck with many, including the Wise Men of the East who sought the birthplace of the Christ-child by following His star. They too, followed prophetical evidence given by Micah, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

The prophet Isaiah foretold of this event in another prophecy: Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 "Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. 5 Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. 6 The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba shall come; They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.

Jesus confirmed this prophetical testimony in His own ministry, when He plainly stated, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).” This connection to light, revealed first in the work of Jesus and confirmed through the miraculous signs of His birth, remains a central theme in the Christian faith. It is very much connected to the power and completion of the first light in Creation. Just as Jehovah established life and order through commanding light into existence by His Word, so He re-established the same in the hearts of people through the light of His Work through Jesus. On that silent night in Bethlehem, order and completion once again reigned through Jesus Christ.

Hymn 88 

4: The Legacy of the Light (Sin and Forgiveness)

Just as light became a central figure in Old Testament worship after God created the world, so it has become central to our modern worship after Jesus came as the Light of the World. Yet, we don’t have a golden lampstand in our sanctuary that remains lit at all times. We do have candles on the altar reminding us of God’s abiding presence. We have lights on our Christmas tree reminding us of the light of Bethlehem, both above and in the manger.

These signs are good and useful for our worship today, but the legacy of the light in Jesus is much more than just a sign. John explains in his first letter: This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

John was speaking about something greater than a ray of sunshine. Our use of the Light found in Jesus today comes through the Law and Gospel of God’s Word. When the Law teaches us of our wickedness and sin, it casts a dark shadow of despair upon our hearts and lives. When we forsake God through sinful thoughts and actions, we are delving deeper into the darkness of chaos and disorder, the very same thing that first ruined God’s creation. However, the Gospel brings us back to the light. The Gospel shines the love of God upon our hearts, and reveals the sacred and eternal truth of Christ crucified. And the light always defeats the darkness. This is ultimately why Christians rejoice at Advent and Christmas. The child born in Bethlehem would make the highest payment for our mistakes before God.

We see the power of this illumination, Law and Gospel, and where we can find it in 2 Peter 1:19-21: And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus left us a legacy of light through His inspired Word. We have hope and comfort each time we use that Word in written, spoken, and sacramental form. The contrast between light and darkness has been apparent from the very beginning of the world. It has also been a central theme in God’s revelation to people, throughout all ages of history. We who live in these final days, awaiting the second advent of the Messiah, continue to reinforce this distinction, for ourselves and for the rest of the world. All must know about God’s light and its power over the darkness of sin, just as Jesus said in John 3:19-21: "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

May this next hymn ever by our prayer, Yes, Come, Oh, Come Immanuel, Christ our Lord. 

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