Light in the darkness
The fulfillment of our hope
A different kind of world
The first Christmas story took place in Palestine, Judea and Galilee, ruled by the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor claimed to be the ``son of God'', the ``saviour of the world'', the ``Lord'', and the ``way to peace on earth''.
Daniel 7:2-3,17 had a vision of four great kingdoms:
Assyrians Daniel 7:4;
Medes Daniel 7:5;
Persia Daniel 7:6,
and Macedonians Daniel 7:7.
Those empires were cruel as animals, described as beasts.
Daniel 7:1-12 has the fifth kingdom coming after destroying the previous ones, a truly human kingdom, given by God to someone like a son of man and the people of God (Dn 7:13-14; 7:22).
The story of the Gospel is a battle between the kingdom of God and another cruel kingdom, the Roman Empire.
When Jesus enters the stage of history, the Romans rule the ``world''.
When they came to Jesus' land, there was killing, destruction, pillage, and death.
``The day when the Romans came'' was the theme of many stories Jesus heard during his childhood.
The Roman Empire has four powers:
Economic - the control of labor; production;
military - the control of force, violence;
political - the control of organizations and institutions;
ideological - the control of meaning and interpretation - we call it today ``propaganda''.
Against those four powers, Christians could only present their own belief and theology:
Jesus, born in poverty, living like an ordinary man, and crucified like a criminal, is the Son of God.
The main topic of the Bible is: the promise and its fulfillment
In Gen 3:15 - an offspring of the woman will crush the head of the seprant;
In Gen 12:7 - to Abraham's offspring the land is going to be given:
In Gen 22:18 - in Abraham's offspring all the nations shall be blessed;
In Is 11:1-9 - a promise of an ideal king of justice and peace and a renewed creation.
And yet, as the Old Testament finishes, the offspring had not yet come.
It is only in the New Testament that we see the fulfilment of those promises.
Matthew often uses this formula: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophets”.
There is a different world about to happen, a transformation that takes places through Jesus and the Gospel.
What Simeon and all Israel with him has yearned for (Lk 2:28-32) has come to pass in Jesus.
Luke begins his famous Christmas story with a statement that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Lk 2:1). Only someone who considered himself the Lord and Saviour could claim such a power and demand that “the whole world” must obey him.
Who is, then, the Lord and Savior of the world?
The title ‘lord’ was used by the Roman Emperor and many other leaders in the history of the world.
In the Gospel of Luke, the title “Lord” is used for God and for Jesus.
Lk 1:38; 2:9 - for God;
Luke 1:43; 2:11 - for Jesus
The title Lord for Jesus is also used in 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; Phil 2:11; Rom 10:9.
For Christians, Jesus is the Lord who incarnates - represents in a visible form - God as the Lord. All other lords are rejected.
Acts 27:5 mentioned that when Paul was sailing to meet the Emperor in Rome he passed through a city Myra in Lycia. During those days that city had an inscription (public writing):
Is 45:15 refers to God as the Savior;
Acts 5:31 and 13:23 to Jesus as savior.
Jesus incarnates - represents in a visible form - God as savior.
All other saviors are rejected.
The main two stories are written in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
Yet, there is one more ``Christmas story'' in the book of Revelation 12.
The focus of the narrative is on Joseph and Herod.
Joseph is tasked with saving the child and with God's help succeeds.
Herod tries to kill the child but fails.
Here, we have a woman who gives birth to a child and a dragon, the beast who wants to destroy the child.
The woman is the Church preaching the Gospel and Mary; the child is Jesus; the dragon refers to Rome, a city built on seven hills (Rev 17:9, 18).
Rev 13:18 has a symbolic number for the beast - 666. The number refers to the Emperor Nero (reigning from 54 - 69 CE) and who persecuted Christians.
Symbolism of this story is clear. The empire wants to kill the child. It kills the believers and tries to prevent the spread of the Gospel. It fights with those who belong to the woman, the Church (Rev 12:17).
Both, Matt 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 include Jesus' genealogy.
Yet, there is a difference. Matt has it at the beginning of Jesus' life, but Luke has it at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Direction: In Matt from Abraham to Jesus; In Luke from Jesus to Adam.
Number: Matt has 14+14+14=42, but Luke has 77 generations.
Matt ends with Jesus's title as the ``Messiah'' and Luke as the ``Son of God''.
Luke does not include any single woman, but Matt has five of them: Tamar Matt 1:3; Rahab and Ruth Matt 1:5; the wife of Uriah Matt 1:6; and Mary 1:16.
The four women mentioned before Mary had rather problematic life and all of them apparently are foreigners. Their stories are told in the Old Testament:
Tamar - Gen 38:1-30 - probably a Canaanite woman; Rahab - Jos 2:1-2 - a Canaanite woman from Jericho; Ruth - the Book of Ruth - a Moabite (Ruth 1:1-4); and Bathsheba - 2 Sam 11 - probably a Hittite woman, since she was married to Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11:3).
Many among the kings mentioned in Mathew’s genealogy were terrible sinners. The worst among them was Manasseh (Mt 1:10) whose sins were so horrible that they sealed the tragic fate of Israel (see 2 Kings 21:1-18; see also 2 Chronicles 33:9).
And yet, the book of Chronicles contains the story of his repentance (2 Chronicles 33:10-20) and the Septuagint (the Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) contains the Prayer of Manasseh.
In that prayer the king acknowledged his sins “beyond the number of sand of the sea” and his unworthiness to lift up his head and “see the hight of the sky”.
But his plea for God’s kindness and forgiveness is answered by God. Jesus, the Messiah, came “to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the ``Son of God'' (Lk 1:35; 3:21-22, 3:38).
Jesus is the new Adam and he begins a new creation, which means transformation of life and earth.
“The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit'' (1 Cor 15:45);
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).
Matt 1:25 connects Jesus' birth with the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Is 7:14. It is Jesus, not the son of Achaz, who signifies the presence of God among us, ``Emmanuel''.
In the Greek version of Is 7:14 (LXX), the word describing the mother of the soon-to-be-born child is ``παρθένος''-``parthenos'' - virgin. Mary, the virgin, that mother and Jesus is that son. The prophecy is fulfilled.
On the other hand, in Luke, we see a difference between John (Lk 1:13) and Jesus (Lk 1:31). The parents of John are old and the mother of Jesus is young. The old age signifies life coming to an end, the young age points to life's beginning.
John, conceived in aged and barren mother points to the end of the Old Testament, Jesus born of a young, virgin mother, points to the beginning of the New Testament. John closes the old; Jesus begins the new.
Mary heard the word of God and accepted it.
By being chosen by God to the mother of the "Son of the Most High", she has found grace with God.
Mary’s answer to God’s grace is obedience - Fiat.
Mary accepted Christ. How about us?
During the time of Jesus, only the Emperor could appoint someone to be the king of Jews. Both Herod and Pilate, who ruled over the Jews of that time, were appointed by the Emperor. So, it is a shocking statement to ask Herod: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2).
It is interesting to notice that when Herod passes on this question to his advisers, he changes the “king of the Jews” to the “messiah” (Matt 2:4). The answer is: Bethlehem.
Matthew makes the connection clear: from the king of the Jews to the Messiah to Bethlehem. The message is: the newly born child is the awaited David-like Messiah.
The star is also related to David.
What shocks in this story is the fact that the news come from the Gentiles, the magicians, and those who are afraid are Herod and Jerusalem.
In Exodus, Moses clashes with the magicians (see Ex 7:9-12) and in the book of Daniel, Daniel clashes with them as well (Dn 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7).
Here, the Magi bring the news. Jesus’ message is not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. They also need to be saved from their sins (Matt 1:21).
When we put together Lk 2:10 and Lk 2:14, we have Gospel and peace together. That is very important.
Apostle Paul spent two years working and preaching the Gospel in Ephesus. Near Ephesus, there was a smaller city Priene. There was during the time of Paul the following inscription:
Euaggelion - eu - good; aggelion - news or message. Angel is a messenger.
Luke and Acts use twice euaggelion as a noun (always as singular) and 25 times as a verb, “to gospel; to proclaim the good news” (see Lk 3:18; 4:43, Acts 13:32; 14:15).
Lk 1:19 - the conception of Jesus;
Lk 2:10 - Jesus’ birth;
Lk 4:43; 8:1; 16:16 - the kingdom of God;
Acts 5:42; 15:35 - Jesus as the Messiah and Lord;
Acts 8:35; 20:14 - Jesus and the resurrection;
Gospel and Peace come together in Acts 10:36;
According to Lk 2:10 and 2:14 - peace comes not from earth, but from heaven to earth.
Gospel brings peace to those who accept it: Lk 2:29; 10:5-6.
The Romans claimed that they bring peace but the price of that peace was violence, and death, and destruction.
Jesus’ peace is different. It happens through nonviolence, it liberates from fear, and opens new possibilities.
Jerusalem, the city of peace, did not experience peace. The Romans did not bring it to the city (see Acts 24:2). The Jewish rebellion against the Romans in (66-74 CE) also did not bring it.
It is a lesson for all of us. Peace comes from heaven to earth through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to experience peace.
Central to the Christmas celebration is the idea of Light shining the Darkness.
Jesus is born in the deepest darkness - in the middle of the night at the winter solstice. It is sacred time, symbolic time.
But light changes all of it. We see, we find the way, all the spirits are gone, and fear is gone as well.
Gen 1:3-5 - God created light. This light is different from the sun, moon, and stars. They were all created on the fourth day (Gen 1:14-19).
Ex 13:21 - And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
Ps 119:105 - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Ps 130:5-6 - I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Is 9:2 - 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. (It refers to the birth of the ideal king, see Is 9:6-7)
Is 60:1-2 - For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
The story of Paul’s conversion focuses on light from heaven (Acts 9:3,18; 22:6; 26:12-18).
2 Cor 4:4 - "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God".
2 Cor 4:6 - "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ".
At the beginning of creation, God dispelled the darkness covering the world by creating light. Now, he dispels the darkness covering our lives by making light shine in us. The glory of God is radiant, shining, illuminating presence of God.
The Book of Revelation speaks about the “new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:1-22:5) coming from heaven to earth. The city is described as follows:
"And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there". (Rev 21:23-25)
"And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever". (Rev 22:5).
It is the city of unconquered light. Its light is God and Jesus, the shining presence of the Father and the Son.
In Matthew 2:1-12, the star leads the way to the Light - Jesus.
The darkness in symbolized by Herod.
In Luke 1:78-79 - the birth of Jesus is compared to the sunrise.
The gospel about him will give light to all who live in darkness and will guide us to peace.
In Luke 2:8-14 we have: night, an angel - a being of light, and the glory of God shines around them. The firmament ablaze with God’s glory.
What brings this glory? It is the good news about the Savior, the Lord, the Messiah. It is the good news about Jesus.
When one believes that Jesus is the light in the darkness; the fulfillment of God’s promises; the ideal David-like king bringing salvation, justice, and peace on earth, we cannot but rejoice (Lk 2:10).
But, as usual, this joy wants to be taken away.
There will be always people trying to destroy that joy, like Herod in Matthew 2.
Christmas is about the coming of Jesus today as he came long ago. Four weeks of Advent relive the longing and hope of Israel:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel - we are Israel today that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear” (An Advent song)
The purpose of Advent is to bring the past into the present.
Four Sundays of Advent have texts from the prophet Isaiah. It is about longing and God’s promise of a different kind of world.
Last Sunday focuses on Mary:
Matt 1:18-25 - Emmanuel; Lk 1:26-38 - Fiat;
Lk 1:39-55 - two women give testimony of God’s grace in their lives and Mary praises God with her song of joy.
In Mary, the hope has become pregnancy - a new life, a new world is waiting to be born.
Repentance means change. It is always captured in a phrase, “return to God”. It is a return from exile to a place of God’s presence.
“The way of the Lord” is the way of return.
We are called to leave the lords of this world and turn/go to God. Leave your exile, separation, alienation, and so on.
Greek word for “repent” means “go beyond the mind you have”.
Enter into a new mind-set, a new way of seeing.
Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 - they went back home by another road (Matt 2:12);
Shepherds in Luke 2:8-20 - they went back home rejoicing (Lk 2:20)
Who are we in those stories? Magi, shepherds, Herod, the priests?
Are we the children of the woman or the followers of the dragon (Rev 12)?
Are we willing to join Mary in her “Fiat” and accept our role in God’s plan of bringing a better world?
The end of wars and violence, injustice and oppression is not yet here.
We are called to participate in the transformation of this world into God’s kingdom.Jesus us the way to a different kind of life and a different future.
We are called to be Christmas Christians in a world that lives in darkness and the shadow of death.
We know that darkness and death do not have the last word. The last word belongs to light and life.
Joy to the world - the Lord is come.