Pastoral Letter 43

Dear Members of St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, Friends and Adherents,

Grace and peace to you all on this Christmas Day.

It’s a Christmas Day like no other. We are not gathering in the church sanctuary to celebrate and praise the Lord. We are not able to join our voices to sing “Unto Us a Child is Born”, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Away in a Manger”. We can’t share the story of the birth of Jesus with readings and music.

I am sure you were looking forward to celebrating on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with special services. But unfortunately, due to an outbreak in the Northern Beaches and COVID safety restrictions reintroduced, we are back to what we did for several months. We will sit at home in front of the computer screen or with the hard copies, with our spouse or on our own to join the others in worship virtually. We miss the communal worship and the joy of being with others as we share the good news and pray seeking God’s blessing and hoping for a better year to come, full of joy and happiness.

So, I have changed the sign board, from the Christmas Eve Service announcement to a message of hope, which says: “Christ is our only light and hope for the year 2021”. Also, I put the Sorry notice back on the doors. With the possibility of having a service on the first Sunday of January 2021, if things get better.

I have prepared Christmas candles and candle holder gifts with an attached Christmas message card and left them on the table in the foyer, as well some calendars for those who didn’t get one on the Carols Service day. If you have a key, please come and take yours, if, in the meantime it is not delivered to you. As we did with the Fathers’ Day note and the goodies, I am asking for the Council members, Elders and your help to deliver this small gift, which symbolises Christ the King as the Light of the World. Thanks for those who will help.

In the meantime, please continue to pray, remembering those who need our care, support and love.

Here are some prayer points for this week:

1. Pray for our and all Christmas Services, face to face or virtual, with the hope of receiving God’s blessing and reassurance that He has come and is with us.

2. Pray for the recent outbreak in the Northern Beaches, Sydney and parts of greater Sydney.

3. Pray for the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the refugees, the depressed and the vulnerable.

3. Pray for Armenia and Artsakh. Though the conflict has stopped, there are many unresolved issues.

4. Pray for world peace and ask for God’s blessings.


The Light of the World

John 8: 12-20

The first words of God recorded in the Bible are: “Let there be light.”

Later we find that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1.5).

Darkness universally symbolizes sin and death; light corresponds to life and holiness and purity. Thus, King David sings around 1000 B.C.:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

Those who heard Jesus were well familiar with the frequent Biblical connection between light and God which provides the background for our text, John 8.12-20.

The Jews celebrated “The Illumination of the Temple.” It took place in the court of the women. The court was very dark, surrounded by deep galleries. In the centre stood four great candelabras. When darkness descended, each of the candelabras were lit, which in turn lit up the courtyard. During the night, the priest and the people danced and sang songs of joy. It is with this understanding that Jesus made this comment to the Pharisees that surrounded Him – “I am the light of the world.” In essence, He is saying: “Your candles only light up this courtyard, but I can bring light to the whole world. In the end, my light will burn forever”.

The people of Jesus’ day understood darkness. They didn’t have the modern conveniences that you and I have. To walk from one place to another they tied oil lamps to their feet. They used oil lamps in their homes and places of business.

Ps 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

I Jn 1:5: “… God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

The huge oil lamps reminded the Jews of the pillar of fire that guided Israel in their wilderness journey. Thus, Jesus has presented Himself as the reality to which the three most significant “wilderness images” point.

In John 6, Jesus feeds thousands from a few loaves of bread to show that He is the true manna, the bread of life from heaven.

In John 7, Jesus speaks during the water ceremony because He is the rock which followed Israel and gave water in the desert.

And now He stands beside the massive temple lamps and claims to be the pillar of cloud and fire which guided and guarded Israel to the promised land: “I am the Light of the world.” As He often did, Jesus shapes His sermon around external circumstances to rouse the greatest attention and fix the words in the hearts and minds of the people.

Let us consider, this morning:

1. What Jesus says about Himself.

2. What Jesus offers us.

3. What is required of those who hear.

1. Jesus’ Claim: Light (John 8.12a)

Many years ago, when I used to drive from Beirut to Aleppo or to Kessab at night, some of the highways were completely dark and as I saw in the far horizon some lights, I knew that there was habitation, a city, a town and life. In other words, the lights proved that people lived in that area and life existed.

So, Jesus evokes a powerful metaphor: “I am the light….”

What does that mean? What is he saying about Himself?

a. The “Light of the World” – He Claims Divinity

When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He went before them. We read in Exodus: “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. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Exodus 13.21-22),

Standing in the temple, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when the lamps were lit which symbolized this “pillar of fire,” Jesus says: “I am the Light of the World.” “I am the God who is; I am the glory cloud who leads you to life and eternal pleasure.”

Surely the three most important aspects of God’s essence are: Life, Love, and Light.

Life tells us about God’s vitality and self-existence. He alone is uncreated; there was never a time when He was not. He was in the beginning, and He shall ever be. God the Son is, likewise, “before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

To know Jesus is to know the true God and eternal life. Love reveals God’s relationship within the mystery of the Trinity.

The Father loves the Son and Spirit; the Son loves the Father and Spirit; the Spirit loves the Father and Son. Creation is not the pointless effort of a lonely deity to fill an empty life, but the overflow of love perfected between the persons of God.

And Light proclaims God’s purity, holiness, separateness, cleanness, power. Jesus is saying: “If you would know truth, I am the source; if you would be holy, I am the way; if you would see, you must ask me.” Make no mistake, Jesus declares that He is God living with us.

b. The “Light of the World” – Offers Direction

Modern electronic navigation tools have rendered the old lighthouse outdated, but there was a time when they were essential for the survival of shipping. Darkness or fog would leave boats easy targets for sharp rocks and hidden reefs. The lighthouse directed the captain around the danger. Jesus offers similar guidance for us.

Of course, in order to see the light in Jesus, we must first look for light. If the captain does not stare in the darkness for a lighthouse, it will not guide him. Or, as John Calvin notes: “No one will ever present themselves to Christ to be enlightened except those who have known both that this world is darkness and that they themselves are altogether blind.” Jesus: “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9.39).

Light gives direction, and Jesus’ lights guides accurately in a dark world. In Him and His word we see the sin and selfishness which darkens relationships and destroys lives. Jesus’ light reveals God, the spiritual realities around us, the rewards of heaven, and the means of reconciliation with the Father. Jesus lights the path in a dark world.

c. The “Light of the World” – Provides Protection

The desert wilderness Israel wandered was not hospitable. During the day, the intense heat dried their throat as it boiled their skin. Night promises relief, but the darkness and cold are equally dangerous. So, God’s presence with Israel was a cooling shade by day and a warming fire by night.

Jesus also protects from the darkness and cold of a fallen world. You all know mature Christians who somehow have a light and warmth within themselves, even in the most trying circumstances. This is the power of Christ’s light. “I am the Light of the World.”

And He continues promising that He will be with all those who believe in Him, follow Him and rely on Him in all circumstances. He promises to all to be their light saying: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

2. Jesus’ Promise: Lamp (John 8.12b)

When we have a restless night when we cannot sleep, we get up, maybe take a book to read, but before doing that, we put the light on; otherwise, we slam into a piece of furniture, or knock something off the counter with a loud crash. Without light, survival would be difficult. So, we want this light Jesus offers. 

How do we get it?

By follow Him. That is more than a simple act of imitation.

Following Jesus requires seeing Him as He is, coming to Him humbly, submitting to His cross before His crown, seeing Him lifted up. Luke 9.23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Do we acknowledge our need for another’s light?

Do you apprehend our darkness of heart and mind?

Is our life characterised by dependence on God’s love and provision?

He is the light; those who would walk in darkness constantly look to Him. To have life within us, we must travel toward the light.

3. Jesus’ Demand: Faith (John 8.13-20)

For those who do not know Jesus, His presentation is not very convincing. The only way to know God is to be known by Him. And that comes by faith in Jesus.

Before His death, Jesus performed many undeniable miracles, and after the resurrection He showed Himself and gave convincing evidence that He was alive (Acts 1.3). Jesus’ works and words are sufficient for any living soul.

But we are blind. Even in the noonday sun, the blind cannot see. And so, in the light of the glory of God, people refuse to see Jesus for what He was. The problem is not proof, but blindness due to sin. You must have faith to see Him as our only hope and the light of this world. Then we will see to believe.

He is the light of the world, the light we need in our dark world, in our despairs, pains, hardships and uncertainties.

He is the one who lights our way and leads us on the way. With Him and without His light, we will continue to live in darkness and we will be unsure which way to go and where we could find life.

We celebrate Christmas in a strange way this year because of the pandemic. We missed the Christmas Eve Service, when we usually retold the story of His birth to remind ourselves of what God has done for us and the world. He has come to this dark world, which is full of sin and condemnation. But we are grateful that He, the Son of God, the Incarnation of the Word; the Word became flesh to show us the Love of God and to reconcile us with the Father.

He has come to turn our dark world bright and dazzling through His eternal light.

Let us make sure that we understand and know that He, Christ, is light and the Hope we need to move forward in the New Year ahead.