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Message Notes: Christmas – Let There Be Light


Week 1: Let There Be Light

Pastor Rick Henderson                December 2-3, 2023

Are you all in the Christmas spirit yet? Who has already watched at least one Christmas movie? Did you watch the movie because you liked it or because it’s now Christmas time, and you were somewhat pressured into it? Christmas feels like one of those things we’re not supposed to mess with. There are things we do at Christmas because it’s Christmas. Even if we don’t like it, we do it because it’s Christmas. I don’t want to start any controversies, but I do want to ask this question.

QUESTION: What would you change about Christmas?

Maybe you’d decorate more, and maybe you’d decorate less. Maybe you would change the pressures of getting the cards sent out on time, or maybe you would change that awkward moment when you get a gift from someone but you didn’t get a gift for them. Awkward. Maybe you would change the credit card bill come January.

Let me show you what I would change.

Message Notes: Christmas - Let There Be Light

This is my son and his cousins—years ago. I wish that kids came with a feature that you could make them little again for like a day. I know I’m being absurd. There were far more cuddles back then. It gets too weird. You can’t do that when he’s your 17-year-old and bigger than you now. The kids were also a lot cheaper back then. I love the stage we’re in now. It’s like every transition has a new joy that I didn’t even know how to anticipate. But sometimes, I miss this version of Christmas.

If you had the power, even if it’s totally absurd like mine, I bet there is something that you’d change too.

For me, I have this vault of cherished moments. There’s something about the holiday season that draws those out, and I wish I could relive them. That’s the bright and sparkly side of the season. There’s another side to that coin, isn’t there. Christmas can also bring to mind things we’d rather forget, pieces of reality that we wish we could permanently change.


  • PROBLEMS we can’t solve.

The last thing I want to be is depressing. Let’s just agree to make this a safe place to be authentic. It’s possible that there are causes of stress in your life, that no matter how hard you work, no matter how responsible you are—you just can’t solve them right now. There are things out of your control. Maybe this is the year you are going through something that just won’t be solved before December 25.

Does anybody have something that’s out of your control right now? How many of you know of something that’s out of your control, but you’ve been trying to control it anyway? Why are we such suckers for that?

  • PEOPLE we can’t control.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people came with a remote?! We’ve all got that friend or family member that we wish came with a remote. If we could just get them under control. We are especially vulnerable to fall for the delusion of control when someone is standing in the way of our expectations. That’s the next one.

  • EXPECTATIONS we can’t meet.

Maybe you can’t afford the Christmas you want. You know you can’t keep everyone pleased. You can’t make it to every party or get every card written. Isn’t it fun trying to meet the demands of both sides of your family? Who gets Thanksgiving? Who gets Christmas? Christmas eve? Who do we buy for? Don’t want to let that person down. The desire to want everything to be perfect only shines a brighter light on what isn’t perfect.

By the way, these are the three elements at the center of just about every Christmas movie. There’s something about the holidays that can cause these realities to bubble up to the surface. Christmas movies use them as a backdrop for comedy. But when it’s real life, it’s not funny, is it? There is a word picture that’s used throughout the Bible to sum up the kinds of things we’re talking about. That word is (darkness).


That’s the word used to describe the realization that the world isn’t quite right. That includes everything from war and injustice to the immediate stuff like unexpected bills or grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s also the word used to describe the realization that I’m not quite right. That includes everything from those things about me where I know I’m morally in the wrong to the recurring cycle of my anxiety or emotions hijacking my brain and nervous system. How do you sum up the realization that pretty much everyone knows to be true: the world isn’t quite right, and I’m not quite right? The biblical word for that is darkness.

What we’re talking about isn’t just a church thing or religious thing. Everybody gets it. It’s woven into the plot of just about every Christmas movie. And it seems like just about every Christmas movie offers the same hollow remedy. Christmas is a temporary escape. We retreat from the darkness of the world and cover with a thin veneer of festivities and cliché routines. I want to suggest to you today that if you use Christmas as an escape, to retreat from whatever darkness you’re experiencing—you’re treating it something much too small. Christmas isn’t a time to pretend that all is merry and bright.

Christmas isn’t an escape. It’s an INVASION.

I don’t expect that to make sense yet. But by the end of the next few minutes, or maybe by Christmas Eve, it will be clear. I want to start with a passage that we don’t typically associate with Christmas.


Grab a Bible or use your phone. You don’t even have to know where anything is in the Bible. This one is easy to find. It’s the very first page. Follow along as I read.

GENESIS 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

God loves bringing light into the darkness. He must get the biggest kick out of it. The Bible is grand, unified, true story of God with people. Have you ever noticed how the story begins? In the way it all starts out, we learn something about God. We learn something about what he’s like and what he likes. Let this hit you. One of the very first acts in this world is to bring light to darkness. That’s what he does, literally and metaphorically. Light coming into darkness—light invading the darkness is theme that God masterfully and intentionally has woven into his story with people.

Beginning right here in Genesis, light is introduced both literally and metaphorically, even as a metaphor for God himself. As the story of God and people progresses, God picked a particular group of people to help all the other people to know him and understand the story he wants to write with us. Those people were Israelites. There were times he led them with literal light. There were times he wanted them to be leaders, metaphorically being the light. It’s in the 2nd book of the Bible, called Exodus, that we see this metaphor develop. The reason this second book is called Exodus is because the BIG EVENT is the people of Israel exiting Egypt.

If this is a story in the Bible you don’t know—watch the old movie, The Ten Commandments, or watch the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt with your kids.

This is a key event in the history of God and his people. God’s people were wandering through the desert. How were these people supposed to know that God really was with them, for them, and that they were on the right path?

EXODUS 13:20-22 After leaving Sukkoth I highlighted this word because I want you to remember it. Maybe write it down on your notes. This will be important later. they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

In the Old Testament, God’s presence was demonstrated with light. Literally, often in the form of fire, God would be present with his people. In all the confusion of leaving one country and beginning a long journey to a new country, God used light as a comforting way to say to his people, “I am with you and I will guide you.”

Over the centuries, as the story continued to unfold between God and his people, the metaphor of light and dark took center stage. Darkness came to be a symbol of people turning their back on the God of light. Darkness and gloom characterized the behaviors of people and the consequences of sin that settled in, disrupting the good that God wanted for his people. Years after, generations after what we read in Exodus the prophet Isaiah picks up this metaphor to bring hope to people in darkness. Take a look…

ISAIAH 9:1-2 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Isaiah’s message was, “Right now, we are in gloom and distress; we are in darkness because we are not trusting the God who loves us.” But the message didn’t end there.

Isaiah longed for the day and hoped for the day that a light would shine for people continually trudging in the dark. Hope is coming. Goodness is coming. Healing is coming to invade all that has gone wrong! Isaiah is fully leveraging the metaphor to make a concrete proclamation and promise for people stuck in darkness. The light is coming, but it’s not here yet.

The Old Testament ends like a candle being blown out. The book of Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament, holds the last words anyone would hear from God for 400 years, the silent years. Things got very dark. Those Jewish people, were holding on to hope that their light, their Savior, would come.

Really let yourself ruminate on that. God was silent for 400 years. What kind of darkness did that feel like? Do you ever feel like God has left the room and left you sitting in the dark?

  • Maybe you are trying to sell a house, and it just won’t sell. How long is it before that limbo begins to feel like darkness?
  • Maybe there is friction between you and an important person in your life. Resolution and peace and just are taking hold. How long before that starts to feel like darkness?
  • Maybe you just had an interview for the job that will solve your problems. How long do you wait for a call back before it begins to feel like darkness?
  • Maybe you’re waiting for medical test results. How long do you wait before it begins to feel like darkness?
  • Maybe you know what it’s like to pray diligently for years, and you just don’t know if what you are longing for is going to become reality. Does that feel like darkness?

The Jewish people waited; the world waited 400 years for God to keep that promise. While they waited for 400 years, things got dark for them until something happened in a small village outside of Jerusalem, in the back woods regions of Galilee. Born into gritty and humble circumstances, a baby placed in a feeding trough for animals, the light of the world arrived!

But it would be roughly 33 more years until people understood what that really meant. Three decades later, something was said that put all the pieces together. Before I can show you a glimpse of the light, I have to return to something we just discussed a few minutes ago.

Do you remember when I said to hold on to the word Sukkot? For Jewish people, whose ancestors were once led by a pillar of fire through darkness, this historical event gave way to a yearly celebration: It was called the festival of Sukkot. It’s observed in the fall, depending on the year; this corresponds anywhere from mid-September to late-October. During Sukkot, the Jewish people would build little booths or tents and live in them for 8 days to remind them of how their ancestors lived as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. This festival also included a light show, where people would dance with torches and would light the four towering menorahs around the Temple. This was a massive celebration in both scale and significance. It was a festival where anyone who had been impacted by darkness would long for the day that light again would shine, and a Savior would come.

It was during these festivities, somewhere around the year 33 AD that Jesus did something so incredible, so profound, that people have been talking about it ever since. Jesus stood up in the middle of the week of this celebration and said this.

JOHN 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Maybe you’ve read this before or heard this before, but it’s not until right now that you get just how bold a statement that is. Jesus stopped the party and said, “You know how you remember and celebrate how God showed up as a pillar of light and fire for our ancestors. That’s me. I’m here, to tell you today that gloom and distress are over! The light has come, and I’m it.

We’ve been decorating with light to celebrate this season for centuries. I bet you have Christmas lights somewhere in your house. And it harkens all the way back to that ancient Jewish practice. Thousands of years later, every December, we decorate our homes with light and our trees with light. But amid all the glitz and glam, it’s easy to forget what the metaphor of light means and what Jesus meant when he said he was that light.

The metaphor of light means God is WITH us and FOR us.

Over the next few weekends, we get more of what that means. We are going to talk about it together.

Christmas is not an escape from the darkness. It’s much better than that. Christmas is about the invasion and intrusion of light into a world and into people shrouded in darkness. My hope for you is that this metaphor becomes a literal, tangible experience in your life.

I know I’m in a room with people who know what I’m talking about. You’ve got your very own stories of your darkness being invaded by the light of Jesus. I also know I’m in a room with some of you who may not know what I’m talking about. You want it to be true, but how does go from nice words at church to a real-life experience?

I don’t have the ability to explain it. But those of us who’ve experienced, we can tell our stories. I know what it’s like to walk in the dark long enough that it starts to get comfortable. If I’m really raw with you, I know what it’s like to prefer the dark. I’m not talking about a chapter of my life before I became a “good Christian.” That was true of me, not just as a Jesus follower but as a pastor.

Some of you know that my dad spent over a decade in prison. I had zero hope that our relationship could be fixed. The bigger problem for me was the unforgiveness that was served up with bitterness and insecurity on the side. There was a really weird day about 5 years ago, because of a clerical error, we thought my dad died in prison. That will bring up to the surface in a hurry all the junk you’ve been hiding from. Later that day, we discovered he wasn’t dead. He was released to a nursing home for men on parole with serious health issues.

For the first time in years, my dad was in a facility that I could easily visit with him. And all of this news coincided with a trip that I already had planned to be in the area he was in. If you think that sounds like good news, you forgot what I just confessed. I started to prefer the darkness of unforgiveness. But I’m a pastor, so I must at least pretend, right?

I was a mess, but there was something in me that was starting to get tired of the dark. I didn’t like what it was doing to me. So, I made a plan to go see my dad, I met with a therapist, and dear friends started praying for me. The day came, and I was finally in the same room, face-to-face with my dad. And do you know what it was like? IT WAS AWFUL.

The conversation was defensive and awkward. My guard was up. His guard was up. It was horrible. I just wanted to leave. The only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want to explain to the people praying for me that I gave up and bailed out. I was sitting in the dark and didn’t know how to get out of it.

Something happened that I’ll never know how to explain. It was like the light came on. It was like Jesus reached his hand into my chest and pulled out years of sadness, missed expectations, grief, and anger. I found myself saying to my dad, “I didn’t come to fight or to get anything from you. I just want you to know that I love you.” My dad began to weep like a little child. Death turned into life that day. Darkness was invaded and pushed out by the light. This is a picture of me and my dad from that day.

Message Notes: Christmas - Let There Be Light

I know what it’s like for Jesus to be with me and for me. Do you know what that’s like. Are you willing to trust him to keep that promise for you, in whatever darkness you find yourself in? When Jesus said these words, he meant it.

JOHN 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

I want you to know it. I want you to experience it. I want you to receive it. The gravitational pull during the holiday season is to get caught up in the traditions and routines. It’s easy to use those things as a temporary escape. Christmas isn’t an escape. It’s an invasion of truth and joy and hope and healing.

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t just remember the light of the world. RECEIVE the light in your world.