December 9, 2018 by jmar198013
Live audio and manuscript of the second message of our Advent series, Out of the darkness, into his amazing light. This series will run through December 16th, 2018. (The fourth Sunday of Advent we do Lessons and Carols.)
The audio link is embedded below for those who’d prefer to listen.
Speaking of the one who called us out of darkness
A handful of shepherds, guarding their flocks by night.
A woman living in the shadows of loneliness and shame.
Another woman caught in an unguarded moment of darkness.
At first glance, you probably wouldn’t pick their stories to light up the pages of the Bible. At best, they’re unremarkable. Some of their neighbors probably thought they were unredeemable.
But their stories speak powerfully about the one who called [them] out of the darkness into his amazing light. As we heard from our reading today, 1 Peter 2.9.
And of course, it was Jesus who called them out of darkness, into his light. Their stories are really stories about him.
And today we’re going to listen to their stories. Maybe you’ll even hear echoes of your own story in their stories.
Three stories of people Jesus called out of the darkness
The shepherds: Jesus calls anyone
The very first people I can think of who were called out of darkness into Jesus’ light, were the shepherds who got to meet him on the night he was born.
I imagine those shepherds being the kinds of guys you might see washing their pickup trucks on the weekend. Or posing for bragging pictures with that twenty point buck they downed with a longbow. Or in line with you at the grocery store. Buying a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a wrestling magazine, and a log of Copenhagen fine cut along with diapers for their kid.
I always picture them huddling to keep warm out there that night. In the already-ancient grazing fields on the outskirts of old Bethlehem.
Guarding their flocks. Keeping their ears peeled for any sounds of trouble. Any kind of varmint or bandit or predator who threatened their sheep.
Those shepherds didn’t know it was Christmas that night. There was no such thing as Christmas back then.
As far as they knew, it was just like every other night, until it wasn’t.
Here’s what the Bible says happened that night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel told them to calm right down. He’d come to tell them good news. The Savior they’d had been waiting for, for hundreds of years, had just been born in Bethlehem.
All of a sudden, the place was swarming with an angel choir, singing praise songs.
And then the angel told them how to find their newborn King, Jesus. He’ll be the only baby in town using a feeding trough for a crib.
There’s an urban legend that shepherds were considered the scum of the earth back then. And that decent people didn’t associate with shepherds.
That’s not exactly true.
After all, some of the biggest heroes in Jewish history were shepherds. Like Abraham and Moses and King David.
The Jewish scriptures even called God a shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
But it would still be correct to say that shepherds had fallen several rungs down the social ladder in those days. They weren’t heroes anymore. They were just like everyone else. Just barely scraping by.
If Jesus was born today, it’d be like angels coming to tell a bunch of security guards working overnight in the Walmart parking lot!
The very last thing the angels told those shepherds before they returned to heaven was: Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.
And that night God favored those shepherds.
Because God gave them the unique privilege of being the very first humans to lay their eyes on Jesus, after his parents.
They didn’t go to work that night expecting to meet angels. Or to have their story become part of the Bible.
But Jesus had just been born. And by golly, somebody needed to go celebrate! And those shepherds just happened to be there.
Maybe one of them even had a cheap cigar handy for Joseph.
I love this story because the first people to bask in the amazing light of Christ weren’t rich or powerful or important. It wasn’t a king or a President or a CEO or even a preacher.
It was a handful of very blue collar dudes working graveyard. They weren’t special. They didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it. They were just there.
And I think the whole reason God did it that way was to show us that Jesus calls anybody and everybody out of the darkness, into his light.
Those shepherds are really like all of us.
They were hanging out in the darkness that night. But it was the same darkness they knew every night. That was just their world.
They never knew how dark their world even was, until they stepped into Jesus’ amazing light.
The sinful woman with the alabaster jar: Jesus calls us out of the shadows
Unlike the woman in the next story I want to share with you.
She knew how dark it is out there. Because she lived in the shadows. Alone with her shame and sadness. Darkness was her only companion.
See, wherever she went, she could hear the people whisper. Sometimes they crossed the street to avoid her.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but their words always hurt the worst.
You know how some boys talk. Just locker room talk, they say.
But word got around town. From some of the very men who’d used her then thrown her away.
Nobody judged them. Boys will be boys, you know.
But everywhere she went, they called her that sinful woman. Actually, that was the nicest thing they called her.
So she got used to living in the shadows. Hoping no one would pay attention to her. Living in hiding, even when she had to go out in broad daylight.
Until the day she met the one man who changed her life. The one man who really listened to her story.
He was the only person in town who acted like he’d never heard any of the ugly gossip going around about her.
But when she told him about all the darkness in her life, it didn’t feel like she was telling him anything he didn’t already know.
It just seemed to make him sad. Not a sadness that judged her. Or looked down on her. Or made her feel more ashamed.
No … it was more like he was sad along with her.
And he told her she was forgiven. For everything.
And somehow, when he told her that, she knew she could believe it.
He had called her out of her darkness, into the most amazing light.
Now she saw herself like the most beautiful stained glass, and Jesus was the light that made her glow.
And she promised God and herself she’d never live in the shadows again. She would live boldly, and love boldly.
Even if everybody else thought she was crazy on top of being a sinner.
Which is why she had no problem barging into that dinner party at the exclusive club where Jesus was dining with all the important men in town.
She knew those men. Their eyes that looked down on her. Their hearts that condemned her.
But she knew Jesus knew their hearts, too. Even better than she did.
And besides, Jesus’ eyes were the only eyes in that room that mattered to her. His forgiving heart full of love was the only heart in that room that mattered to her.
And she poured her eyes out in grateful tears as she kissed his feet. She poured our her heart, her love, on him with expensive perfume from an alabaster jar.
She wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed about pouring out extravagant love on the man who lit up her life.
Jesus wasn’t ashamed of her or embarrassed by her, either.
He looked around the room and told them all: her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.
See, Jesus’ amazing light doesn’t just expose our sins.
It also reveals God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
This woman’s story teaches us that his amazing light calls us out of the shadows.
So we can live boldly, and love boldly. Without embarrassment or shame.
The woman caught in adultery: taking refuge in the light of Christ
I have one last story I want to share about somebody who was rescued from the darkness, and drawn into Jesus’ amazing light.
This woman probably wished she could recede into the shadows that day.
As the city elders and religious leaders of Jerusalem pulled her roughly through the crowded city streets. There was a festival going on, an important religious holiday.
So hundreds, maybe thousands of eyes were staring at her.
As those big, important men paraded her through the main drag, telling everybody: This woman was caught in the act of adultery.
(If they caught her committing adultery, she probably wasn’t fully dressed as they drug her through the streets, with everyone staring at her. Also, where was the dude she was committing adultery with?)
I can’t imagine how humiliated and afraid she must have been by the time they brought her to Jesus.
Teacher, they said, In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?
She was afraid she was going to faint. Terror made her heart race faster. Her mouth went dry as a desert. Her legs turned to soggy noodles that couldn’t bear her weight.
She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for Jesus to give the word that would send the rocks hurling through the air that would bruise and crush the life out of her.
But instead—everything got very quiet and still. And she felt a spreading calm.
And when she opened her eyes, nobody was looking at her anymore. Because hey were all staring at Jesus, who had bent down and was doodling in the dirt.
No one even noticed her anymore. It was like Jesus was a powerful light, and all anyone could see was him. And he was giving her refuge in his light. Hiding her in his light.
The men who had brought her to him grew impatient, and kept demanding an answer from Jesus. Well, what should we do with this woman?
Finally, he stood up and told them, where everyone could hear it: Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.
Now everybody was focused on her accusers. And they didn’t like the light shining on them, revealing the darkness in their own hearts.
So every one of them slinked away in shame.
I always imagine them looking kind of like that bully, Scut Farkus, from A Christmas Story. Jesus had totally pwned them. Basically, he gave all their self-righteous egos a bloody nose.
Jesus finally turned around to look at her. And he asked, Is there anybody else who has a reason to throw rocks at you?
And she said, No sir. There’s no one else.
That’s good, he said. I’m not going to throw any rocks at you, either. You can go. Just don’t do that again, okay?
As she turned to rush back to somewhere safe, she heard Jesus say: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
She never forgot that. Because Jesus had drawn her into his light. He had rescued her life from the darkness.
And I like to believe that she spent the rest of her life telling people about the One who called her out of darkness, into his amazing light.
Her story teaches us that the light of Jesus is a refuge from the darkness.
Their stories and your story
The shepherds who saw God’s glory in the middle of the night.
The woman who stepped out of the shadows to wash Jesus’ feet.
And that woman who found shelter from the darkness in the light of his mercy.
What happens when you put their stories together? What do you learn?
When you put their stories together, you learn to tell one story.
The gospel story.
The very good news that Jesus calls anyone and everyone out of the darkness, to take refuge in his amazing light.
The Bible tells us the story of the shepherds and those two women. That’s the only reason we know their stories today.
But I bet when those stories were first read aloud in the first churches, it wasn’t the first time people heard those stories.
No. I’m sure those shepherds went home and told their wives. I’m sure those women passed down their stories to their children and grandchildren.
Maybe they even told the cashier at the grocery store. Or the person sorting their socks next to them at the laundromat.
How could anyone keep stories like that to themselves?
What about you? What’s your story?
And how will you tell your story?
That’s what I want you to focus on this week. Learning to tell your story of how Jesus called you out of the darkness, into his amazing light.
Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, Well, I don’t really have much of a story. Because you grew up in church your whole life and got baptized in the pool at Sierra Bible camp when you were eleven and you’ve been Jesus strong ever since.
Maybe your story doesn’t seem as dramatic to you as the ones you’ve heard today. Maybe you think you’re life’s been too boring. So your story can’t be important or inspiring or valuable to anybody else.
I want you to know, that’s not how God sees your story. When he looks at you, he sees someone who’s been rescued from the darkness, and who now lives and moves and walks in Jesus’ light.
So I want you to pray this week for God to let you see your story through his eyes. Because someone you know, or someone you’ll meet one day, needs to hear your story. Your story is going to help call someone out of darkness, and into Christ’s amazing light.
Or maybe you’re here, and for whatever reason, you’re going through a dark time right now. And you can’t see or even imagine when or where you’ll see the light again.
That’s what Advent is all about. Waiting patiently, with hope and expectation, for the light of Christ to tear through the darkness.
If that’s your story today, I want you to keep praying and hoping and looking for the light. Maybe it won’t come the way you expect it to. Maybe it will be a candle or a night light, not a floodlight.
Maybe it will be a weak tiny light that flickers. But the closer you come to it, the bigger and stronger it will be.
So you just keep looking for the light in the darkness. Ask God to show you the light. And to give you a heart that’s open to the light.
And when this dark season is over—you’ll have an amazing story to share. About how you were called out of the darkness, and into his amazing light.
When we tell our stories, we shine a light
Today we heard three stories of people who were called, delivered, rescued from the darkness. Who found hope and healing and mercy in Jesus’ amazing light.
And even before their stories were written down in the Bible, I’m sure people came to know and trust Jesus because those people told their stories.
Of how they discovered Jesus in the darkness, when they weren’t even looking for him.
How Jesus shined the light that called them out of the shadows of loneliness and shame they’d been hiding in.
And how finding refuge in his light literally saved their lives.
We know people who are living in the darkness of sin and shame. Of anxieties and insecurities and fears. Of addiction and trauma. Of grief and depression and rotten luck. In the shadow of death.
The overwhelming majority of them aren’t going to magically pick up a Bible, see the light, and walk in here asking to be baptized. That’s not how it works.
They need to hear our stories.
They need to listen to us—voices they know and trust— speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called [us] out of darkness into his amazing light. So that they can hear his call and see his light.
That’s why we’re here.
Because when we live in his light, our lives and our stories belong to Jesus. And he takes our little lives, and even our most unremarkable stories. And he holds them up, like candles or flashlights in the darkness. Because now our stories have become part of his story. And through us, he calls out into the darkness. And he guides people into his amazing light.