The First Sunday of Advent November 27, 2011
2 Corinthians 4:5-6
703 (TLH alt. 60), 64, 512(1-3,5-6), 70
For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In Christ Jesus, our coming Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
The town has begun to come alive with colorful lights and white lights on buildings and landscape. Within the last several days some residential streets have become so electrified that now when you turn the corner your eyes are suddenly captured by the brightness. Christmas lights shining in the darkness of night is a very good illustration of the light of Jesus shining in the darkness of our hearts.
It is a sad irony that in the midst of all the bright lights shining in the days leading up to Christmas, there is still a great deal of spiritual darkness. There is no way for us to know what is in individual hearts, but it is safe to say that in the midst of all the Christmas celebration and all the lights and all the gift gathering—in the midst of all that beauty and shining and sparkling—there are many people who do not celebrate with believing hearts. There are many people going through the very same motions as you are—they have lights on their houses, they have lights on their trees, they have lights in their windows, but their hearts are still dark.
Jesus is the “Light of the World” and the “world” starts in our own hearts. Our heart, as Scripture portrays it, is that part of us from which all of our activity, all of our thoughts, and everything that we are begins. What we say and do, our plans, our priorities, our desires all grow out of our hearts. What grows will depend on what is in the heart.
If you are going to construct a building you start with an adequate and true foundation because if the foundation is poor the whole building is going to be poor. If you are going to plant a field, you start with good seed and well-prepared soil or else the crop won’t grow well and it won’t mature into anything profitable. Everything depends on the beginning, so if we are going to talk about Jesus as the light in our lives then we need to start at the beginning in our hearts.
Jesus is the Light of the heart I. In the Beginning: Darkness, II. In the Gospel: Light, and III. In the End: Glory.
When the apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians about his ministry, he was quick to point out that it was not a ministry about Paul. “…we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” [v.5] Paul and the other missionaries considered themselves slaves for Christ who were serving Him for the benefit of those who would hear their preaching. Paul came to the Corinthians and others like them to serve, to give them the Gospel. It wasn’t about the missionaries, it wasn’t about what they could accomplish for themselves, it wasn’t for their glory, it had nothing to do with them other than God had called them to be the messengers of His Word. So Paul, as all true preachers of God’s Word will do, pointed the people’s eyes to the light of Christ: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Next Paul draws a parallel connection between the creation of the world and the creation of faith. “…it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [v.6]
Before God began His creative work of making the world in six days, the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep (cf. Genesis 1:2). Before God began His creation the world was, in a deep, dark, penetrating emptiness and nothingness. That was the thick darkness into which God’s Word came and said, “Let there be light.” And just that quick, responding to the almighty power of God’s Word, there was light (cf. Genesis 1:3-4)
With only the power of God’s Word light came to shine into the deepest darkest corners of the nothingness that had existed before. From that first day’s creation of light everything else grew. God had in mind to create plants, animals, people, fish, birds,, and everything else, but the rest of creation would need light to survive and function and grow. Therefore, God\’s creative efforts began with eliminating darkness.. Paul teaches us that God has done the same thing for our hearts.
Our natural hearts are filled with darkness, emptiness, nothingness, and not connected to God in any way because of sin. Sin makes us, not children of God, but His enemies and so our hearts without Christ are empty of God and filled with sin. We heard Isaiah’s description in the Old Testament reading that without light sinners are like blind men groping about. They are shrouded in sin and wickedness and are so consumed by it that they can’t see anything. Isaiah was speaking about the sinfulness and wickedness of the people in his day, but that darkness and blindness applies to anyone without Christ; and it accurately describes our own hearts before Jesus’ light shone into them.
In the Gospel reading, John spoke of the light shining into the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it. Jesus came into the unbelieving world and preached His Word. There were those who heard and believed and the light shone in their hearts. There were also those who dismissed Him and rejected Him; they remained in darkness. In the verse before today’s text, Paul described the unbelievers as those “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Without faith in Christ, without Jesus’ light shining in hearts, they are blinded, left in darkness, left to grope.
An unbelieving heart without the light of Christ is blinded by its own self-interest, its own sense of pride. It is blinded by “its all about me,” it’s blinded to the truth of God’s Word, and it rejects Christ. That heart, lost in darkness and sin, that heart groping around, cannot find salvation on its own. That heart groping around, Jesus says, is the source from which comes all kinds of sin. “…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23).
All the sin that we know, all the wicked thoughts, everything that God declares to be a sin, comes out of this heart, this foundation of darkness, sin, and death.
In the beginning was darkness, but just as God’s powerful Word said, “Let there be light” and there was light in the world, so also through that same powerful Word of God there is light shining in our hearts.
In the Gospel is light. It is by God’s grace and mercy that He sent Jesus to be our Savior. It is His grace and mercy that led him to reveal His salvation to us through His Word. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel informs us about Jesus and all that He has done. The Gospel declares the light that Jesus brings and in that Gospel Word lies the same power of God that created the universe.
The same power that declared “Let there be light” in the world is the same power that is makes the Gospel the “power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). That same powerful Word of God is at work in our hearts to bring light by creating trust in Christ Jesus and through that faith bringing the forgiveness of sins. When a sinner is brought to faith in Jesus it is no less a miracle than when God first created light in the world. In both cases God’s Word is the power to bring light into otherwise impenetrable darkness.
Without the Word of God and the Holy Spirit working through that Word, there is and can be no light. We would just keep groping. Paul also wrote about this in his first letter to the Corinthians: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).
Jesus’ light is brought to sinners’ hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit. The fact that you celebrate Christmas and look forward to it with Christ at the center is evidence of the Spirit’s work. The fact that you know what the significance of the cross is evidence of the Spirit’s work. The fact that you can confess your faith in the words of the Creed and mean them is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in your heart. The fact that you can go about day by day confident that God is forgiving your sins through Christ Jesus is evidence of the Spirit’s work. The fact that you go through your life striving to reflect Christ’s love—not because you’re going to earn favor with God or other people, but because you want to thank your Lord—is evidence of the Spirit’s work. All of this is possible because the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart and brought Jesus’ light to shine there.
In his explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther explains that the Holy Spirit has “enlightened me with His gifts.” The Holy Spirit enlightens us by creating faith so that we are able to see and believe what Jesus brings to us. You are enlightened by the light of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result you have peace with God, you know that you don’t need to grope around and tremble before God because of His judgment, but rather, rely on your Savior for full and free forgiveness. You don’t need to be afraid of the Last Day because you know the One who is going to judge you and He is Your Savior who died for you. You’re enlightened to have that confident hope of eternal life in Heaven. You are enlightened to know that every word and every promise of God is true. The light is in the Gospel. There is light in the Gospel because it declares Christ, and it is a light in your hearts because the Holy Spirit has brought it there and worked faith to believe it.
We have the light of Christ already now, but the end of that light is glory. Paul told the Corinthians, “God…has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Through the working of the Holy Spirit with the light of the Gospel, you have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. That means that you have the knowledge of the glory that Jesus had before time began—eternally. He was the eternal Word, the eternal Son of God. He had full glory. But you also have the knowledge that He emptied himself of that glory and set aside the full use of His Divine power for a time so that He could humble Himself and be your slave to die on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:5ff). You have the knowledge of the glory in which Jesus now lives and reigns over heaven and earth. You have the knowledge of the glory that Jesus will show you and all believers when He takes you to be with Him in heaven.
The Scriptures enlighten our hearts to understand and know the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ which we now know by faith, but will one day see face to face (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). We can only guess, we can only imagine what it’s going to be like to see Jesus face to face and be in Heaven where there is no need for the sun or the moon because the glory of the Lord is going to be the light that we need (Revelation 21:23).
John speaks about the unknown aspect of the glory we will have in eternity. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!…Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1-2).
Through the light of Christ shining in our hearts we have the promise of glory. We can’t say exactly what it’s going to be like, but we know that when it is revealed we will be like Him. Our bodies will be perfected and all the sorrows, all the pains, all the weaknesses, and inadequacies will be gone. Everything that sin brought will be erased and will not even remain a distant memory. It will be forgotten. We can dream about what that glory will be like and even those dreams will fall short of the reality. But we can dream confidently of what that glory will be—it will be living face to face with our Savior in His light in the glory of the Father perfected forever.
Jesus is the light of the heart. Consider the change: Darkness deep and empty is changed to light in the heart leading to the glory of God. That is God’s Christmas gift to you—the gift we celebrate leading up to Christmas and always. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.