First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

I Believe in the Light: Illuminating Peace


I Believe in the Light: Illuminating Peace;   Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:1-18
First United Methodist Church; December 20, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer

I’d like you to take just a few moments this morning and try to remember the most beautiful moment in your life.

I know quiet time is a little awkward online. People just tuning in or who stepped away for a bit to refill their coffee will think something is wrong with their sound.  But I’ll be quiet for just a bit so you can think.

Perhaps your first thought is some spectacular place; a place where you took a photo because the place/the setting was so beautiful…a photo that may—or may not have survived the test of time. But if you think a bit longer (and if you didn’t have time to come up with something, I’m hoping you’ll think some more about it later.  I’m trusting you can remember a time or several that are well worth your walk down memory lane).  As you do this, I’m thinking there’s a possibility that in this beautiful moment the “place” was less significant than the words that were shared.  Words like “I love you.” Or “I forgive you.”  I’m proud of you.”  “We’re going to have a baby!” 

Beautiful moments in life are often birthed/given life through words.

I believe that the words Brian read to us this morning from the prophet Isaiah and the gospel of John are among the most beautiful words in all of scripture.  We hear the words and we remember the Christmas eve services when they were read by the light of a star that shined down upon a manger, and then into the shadows of the room where you sat listening: where you sat waiting—to hear the words announcing the coming of our savior…the birth of Jesus—the miraculous event when God caused the Word to become flesh and made his home among us.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.  On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.

Can you see it?  Can you remember a time when you were in absolute darkness?  When you strained your eyes to see, but you couldn’t, no matter how hard you tried?  Maybe you remember scooting your feet forward, one at a time, not lifting them from the ground so you wouldn’t fall, holding your arms out to your sides or in front of you, to try to locate your position, to move safely forward.  And then, finally, you found yourself in a place where you could see a glimmer of light ahead.  You took a deep breath, felt a bit of peace that wasn’t there just a few moments ago, and you began to make your way more confidently forward…toward that small glimmer of light.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.

Nearly 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah speaks to a people who are living in fear.  It is a dark and frightening time in the history of Judah and Israel. Assyria has become strong and is systematically taking over the whole region. Within a few years, Judah will become a resident captive, and the northern kingdom of Israel will be no more.

In chapter 7 of Isaiah we read that the hearts of Ahaz—who is the king of Judah—and his people are “shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (v. 2).  

The kings of Israel and Aram form a coalition against Assyria and demand that Judah join with them, but Ahaz refuses.  When he does this, Israel and Aram declare war and move to attack Jerusalem.  It is into this crisis that God sends Isaiah.  He tells Ahaz to stand firm, not to join with the coalition or the Assyrians.  Through Isaiah, God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign of assurance.  The king refuses to do this, but God gives a sign anyway—Isaiah points to a mother and her child and says that before the child knows the difference between good and evil, the threat of the coalition will be gone.

God sends a sign in the body of an infant.

God sends a sign in the body of an infant. 

Things are dark now, but the darkness won’t last forever.  There is light ahead.

Isaiah continues.  The ruler that is to come will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  The warrior’s boot will be destined for burning, it will be fuel for the fire, because there will be war no more.  Justice and righteousness and peace will rule forevermore. 

Centuries later, the gospel writers tell the story in their own way of how God sends a sign in the body of an infant.

In Matthew we read the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage from Abraham to Joseph, who upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy rethinks his plan to marry her.  But then he does, upon the word of an angel, fulfilling the covenant made to Abraham. 

Mark begins his account with John the Baptizer.  Jesus’ identity as the son of God is confirmed upon his baptism in the River Jordan.

Luke’s gospel, like Matthew’s, tells of angel appearances—first to Mary and then to the shepherds.  The angel proclaims: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people: today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Then a great company of the heavenly hosts appears with the angel praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Things are dark now, but there’s something good ahead. A time of joy, a time of peace. It’s coming.

We come then to John’s gospel, whose words are more poetic than narrative.  This nativity story doesn’t involve angels or mangers or shepherds, or even Mary and Joseph.  This story of Jesus’ identity, of his lineage, of his being God’s son, takes us to the very beginning.  We’re taken back to the story of creation in Genesis: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. …In him was life, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.”

There have been great times of darkness throughout the history of God’s people, from then to now.  We talked about some of those times this past Fall as we followed the people of Israel into the land God had promised them.  It was a journey toward a better life, and yet there were dark and tragic days.

We’ve been reminded this morning of the time in which Isaiah speaks to God’s people, a frightening and confusing time. 

When Jesus was born into the world, there was great joy at his birth and yet it was a time of fear and violence.  Our children over the years have acted out the nativity story and it delights us as they do that…and yet, there’s so much more to the story that isn’t sweet and warm and mild.  There’s the travel to Bethlehem to deal with taxes, the difficulty in finding a place to stay, the presence of Caesar Augustus looming in the background, the threats of Herod, the massacre of the innocents, the flight to Egypt.  They’re all a part of the expanded nativity scene! 

We read this morning the gospel of John, in this section framed by good news, we hear about John the baptizer, who came as a witness to testify to the light. The gospel poem is beautiful, yet somber as it reminds us that even though the light was in the world, it wasn’t always seen, recognized or welcomed.  There was darkness, and yet light shimmered in the distance.

We know that darkness still exists in our world.  As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we know that the darkness didn’t disappear with the coming of our savior.  There is sickness and pain and brokenness—not just in our bodies, but in our systems.  We have high hopes and big dreams, and we tend to focus on what we’ve done well, preferring not to think any harder than necessary on that which troubles us, on those things where we have no answers.  It seems that broken things can be pretty hard to fix.  They overwhelm us.  So we move on to something else.

And yet, we are given good news: the word became flesh and made his home among us. And because there have been witnesses to the light, because there have been those willing to testify to the light, you and I have come to know God.  We have been given hope where we otherwise wouldn’t.  We look forward to the peace of God’s kingdom that will last forever.

It’s our task today to testify to the light.  To trust that it is out there, perhaps just beyond our vision, but we have come to see God’s promises are true.  We’ve been given a savior.  People in our world, around us, still need to feel that hope, to hear that promise, to experience the peace of Christ, a peace that can make a difference in our hearts today, and that will flow out of us and into our world where that peace will someday rule.  It may be dark now, but there is light ahead.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.

Can you see it?  Do you remember how dark it was, when you strained your eyes to see, but you couldn’t? But finally, you noticed a glimmer ahead.  You began to make your way forward.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.

After we pray together, in bit we’ll sing together our final hymn, which was created by people in more recent history who endured brutal hardships as the result of slavery. Though people of African descent were removed from much of their cultural heritage, they maintained their heritage of group song, with West African rhythms and vocal stylings. The safest thing for oppressed people to sing about was their religious beliefs that, first forced upon them by their oppressors, later gave hope in the midst of suffering.

“Go Tell It On The Mountain” is probably the best-known African American Christmas song and the words “seeker” and “watchman” are thought by some to have been code words for those seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. It was made popular by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 19th century as these college students–who were themselves freed slaves–traveled the country to raise money and awareness. They were turned away from hotels, railway waiting rooms, and even some churches because of their color.

Light shines in the darkness, and its appearance leads us to our savior…to our deliverer.  Can you see it?  Will you welcome it?  Will you testify to it?  Will you be a witness?  Will you join in praising God and illuminating God’s peace in this day?