We have just heard the beautiful, amazing, and true story of Christmas. How God sent his son to be born in a humble manger for us. This evening, after hearing that story, we are going to set that story alongside another story of God’s coming to us. It is a story that shares surprising similarities. People are shocked and surprised by God’s coming. It is a time of light and darkness. They are labor pains and an outward period of peace that is disrupted by the coming of God. My hope is that, by hearing these stories side-by-side, we will see more deeply what it looks like to live in light of Christmas. It’s 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, but before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me. etting the story we just heard alongside the story of Jesus coming again.
Father, send your Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts as we hear your word. May it be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The passage you just heard tells of a day that has not yet come – the Day when Jesus Christ, the same Christ born in the manger in Bethlehem, will return from heaven in glory. As we set these two events, these two monumental, world-turning arrivals of God side-by-side, I want to give you a picture, point out a promise, and then invite you into a practice that will help us live well in the days between these two events.
First, I want to give you a picture. Imagine you have just touched down on the ground after a long, long flight. It’s a good six or seven hours time difference between where you left and where you landed. You walk off the plane and it is pitch dark, the middle of the night, but you are wide awake, because you body still thinks it is three in the afternoon. What are you experiencing? Jet lag. Jet lag is the experience when, because of travel, your body’s rhythms don’t quite match up with where you are. You are living in one time zone, but your body is still living according to another. While others sleep, you might be awake, because no matter what it looks like outside, your body is telling you that you should not be asleep.
The picture we have of what it looks like to live in light of Christ, live in light of Christmas, living in light of the return of Jesus Christ, is spiritual jet lag. Paul talks about people who sleep sleep at night and those who are drunk get drunk at night, but because Christians belong to the day, while others sleep we should be alert and awake. Paul is not talking about physical lack of sleep. Instead, he is telling us that to know Christ, to be ready for us his coming, is to be consistently alert, awake, paying attention to the reality of what God is doing around us, because it will come when you least expect it.
Mary and Joseph knew more than most that the baby Jesus was coming. Israel as a people had had centuries of longing and waiting, of hope and expectation. Mary and Joseph had the visits from the angels and then nine months of waiting. They knew it was coming and coming soon, just as all pregnant mothers do. But they did not know exactly when. But it was coming, whether they wanted it to or not, whether they were ready or not, whether there was room at the inn or not. The shepherds were awake at night when the angel came, the magi were watching the stars at night when they saw THE star that drew them to Judea, then to Bethlehem, then ultimately to Jesus.
To live in light of Christmas, to live in light of Christ, to live longing for Christ to come again, will mean living with spiritual jet lag. It will mean living on a different time – being alert while the world remains sleepy. Looking for the light while everyone else is comfortably snoring in the dark.
If Christmas is true, if the center of human history is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if everything before it was point ahead to it, and everything that comes after points back to it, then whatever town or time zone you live in, the true time is this: Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
This will mean some spiritual jet lag. At times, the Christmas season can feel like entering a foreign country. We come out of the regular, everyday life and enter a new kind of world, a new kind of time. It takes time to adjust to the rhythm of longing, of hope, of peace. But then Christmas Eve comes, Christmas morning dawns and far too soon we are thrust back into the world with its time, with its demands, with its expectations of who you are, what matters, and what time it really is. We experience spiritual jet lag. Our bodies and souls are still on Christmas time after being pulled back into school time or company time.
But to live as a Christian, to live with one eye on the manger, cross, and empty tomb of two thousand years ago and one eye on the future coming in glory, will mean living with that jet lag, living out of step, out of time with the world around us. It will mean living on God’s time, no matter what it looks like around us. It will mean being awake and alert and ready while the world is sleeping.
First, I wanted to give you a picture of life on Christmas time – it is a life with spiritual jet lag, when we live on God’s time in a sleepy world.
Second, I want to give you a promise. Christmas is only the beginning of the salvation story. The miracle of Christmas – that the God of the universe would come to us, to live with us, to take on flesh for us, and not just any flesh, but to humble himself to be born as an infant, humbled even at birth to lie in a manger, an animal’s food trough – this miracle of his birth is only matched by what he did later. Jesus grew and lived the perfect life, and then died the perfect death – for us. The miracle of Christmas is only matched by the miracle of Calvary. You will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Jesus did that at the cost of his own life. But the story does not stop there. Three days later, Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Now he has ascended and is seated in all power and glory and dominion in heaven at the right hand of the Father. It is the Jesus of the manger, the Jesus of Calvary, the Jesus of the empty tomb that we are to wait for.
Christmas is only the beginning of the salvation story. The promise is that when we belong to Christ, when we have faith in him, all this is for us. The gift of his birth, the gift of his life, the gift of his death, the gift of his resurrection – all of it is for us by grace through faith in Jesus. The promise is in verse 10 of 1 Thessalonians 5: who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Whether awake or asleep: here Paul is talking about whether we are dead or alive when Christ comes, if we know him, we will live with him.
This is the promise of Christmas – the Christ child is born for us – that Christmas moves to the Cross and now to the King crowned in glory.
So first, I wanted you to experience some spiritual jet lag, to think about what it will mean for you to live in light of Christmas, in light of Christ, in light of Christ coming again. It will mean living on God’s time in a sleepy, dark world. Then, I wanted you to hear the promise of Christmas. Christmas is only the beginning of the salvation story. The promise that Jesus will save his people from their sins finds its fulfillment in his perfect, sacrificial death on the cross. All that can be for you if you know and trust Christ. Lastly, I want to invite you into a practice this Christmas Eve: Live in the light and move toward the darkness.
In John 1, it says of Jesus’ coming: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Verses 4-6 of 1 Thessalonians 5 tell us to stay awake as children of the light, even in a dark world. But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;
It is connected with the spiritual jet lag, but when the sun dawns on Christmas morning, we will be called upon to live as children of the light. We will be called to be what we are, or more specifically, to be what Christ has made us to be – Children of the light, children of the day.
Tomorrow morning you might sit around and make waffles, you might open presents. I hope and pray you will make your way here at 10AM, but it will likely be a bright morning and we will sing joyous songs. Yet for some, perhaps for many, Christmas is still a time of darkness. It is a time of pain because you aren’t welcome around the table. It is a time of darkness as the light of the sun seems to flee and you are left looking back on the last year. We spend so much but find so little joy. It is, for some, a time of despair, of abuse, of injustice, of tragedy.
So I want to say to you who are living in darkness, to you whose life feels trapped and tragic, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light of Christ, the light that dawns in the birth of the savior, is truly good tidings of great joy.
So you, who have come tonight to hear of the light dawning in Jesus Christ, you who have come to know Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world, calls his church too the light of the world. Jesus has placed you, not under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand. So shine. So move toward the darkness. Live in the light and move toward the darkness. The light of Christ in us pulls us out into the world to show forth the light of Christ. Listen to what Bethany Hanke-Hoang and Kristen Johnson say in their book, The Justice Calling, “Rather than simply glancing at people who are suffering, we can look deeply and intently, taking the time to explore why they are suffering and to ask God what step he might invite us to take. Moving toward the darkness involves hearing and seeing stories of injustice that we’d rather not witness…Darkness does not nullify God’s call upon us, but rather Christ’s love propels us to move toward darkness as his people, set apart by the same love, justice, righteousness, and shalom that comes from God’s own character. Jesus Christ has already claimed victory over evil and injustice; darkness will never have the last word. The light of Jesus Christ really does penetrate and change the darkness, so that even the darkest places can be transformed and set right. By the mysteries of God’s grace the light of Christ shines in and through us, enabling us as the body of Christ to bring light to the darkness as we offer our lives and gifts to God.”(p.74).
For some, Christmas is still a time of darkness. But you have receive the light, live in the light of Christ, live on God’s time and with God’s promise no matter how dark it may seem outside, and move toward the darkness with the light of Christ.
At the end of the service, we will gather in a circle to sing “Silent Night.” We will each take a candle and form a circle around the sanctuary. I will begin by lighting my candle from the Christ candle – symbolizing that whatever light I have comes only from Jesus Christ. But when you light your candle and stand around the room seeing the place filled with the light of all these little candles, I invite you to take this moment as not just a symbol of the warm feelings of Christmas, but as a call. When you light your candle, remember that Christ – the light of the world – has come, and that he sends you this Christmas Eve and every night, out to bear his light in the darkness.
May you let his light shine. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.