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After Darkness

December 24 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 1:57-80

Have you ever considered the fact that babies spend nine months in darkness before their birth. Complete darkness. Their eyes begin developing 17 days after conception. By week 28, babies are conscious and they can open and close their eyelids. But there’s nothing to see except darkness until that scary moment of birth.

And that’s where begin today – not with the birth of Jesus, not yet. But with his cousin, John.

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.

58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.

As a fun fact, this is one of the many reasons why I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. God had commanded the Israelites to circumcise male children on the eighth day. For thousands of years, no one really understand why – because there is no significant theological reason for it. But there is a scientific reason!

It turns out, human blood requires prothrombin and vitamin K in order to clot. Infants have neither of those until a few days after birth – but guess what. Both of those factors peak on the 8th day before leveling out! In fact, it is the only day in a male’s entire life when this would normally be the case. Pretty cool, right?

But let’s get back to the text…

And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,

60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”

62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.

64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.

Remember, Zechariah had doubted Gabriel’s message and God took his speech until now. Zechariah obeys by naming his son John and immediately God restores his speech.

65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,

66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

    for he has visited and redeemed his people

69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

    in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we should be saved from our enemies

    and from the hand of all who hate us;

72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers

    and to remember his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,

75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

I’m not going to say much about the previous verses, except that Zechariah is making a prophetic announcement about the coming of the Messiah.

But he’s going to finish with a prophecy about his son, John. And we’re going to focus our attention here, because we will talk about Jesus tonight.

This morning, we will use John the way God used John – to prepare the way for Jesus. And the verses we are about to read provide us with an important backdrop to the birth of Jesus.

Speaking of John, Zechariah says this:

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

Now, pay close attention to the next few verses.

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

    in the forgiveness of their sins,

78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

What would it mean for us to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus? That’s why we are here on Christmas Eve. How can we prepare our hearts for Christmas?

I want to walk back through verses 77-79 slowly and I want us ask this question: who is Christmas for?

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

    in the forgiveness of their sins,

Who is Christmas for? It is for the people of God. And what do they need? Forgiveness of sins. But they don’t know that’s what they need. And so, the ministry of John was a ministry of repentance – to give God’s people a knowledge of salvation… to humble us and lead us to repentance.

Christmas is for people who need forgiveness.

78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

Who is Christmas for? It is for people who need the tender mercy of God.

That word, tender, is a very interesting word. It’s probably the right word in English to convey the meaning – “tender mercy”, but the Greek word is “splanchna” which by itself means “guts”, as in your inside parts.

Luke uses the same word in Acts 1:18 to describe the death of Judas. “falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his splanchna gushed out”.

Why does Luke use this word to describe God’s mercy? Because this is what we need to know about God. The one who has the power to forgive our sins comes to us from a place of deep mercy.

He moves toward us… He visits us from on high… moved by a sense of mercy or compassion that He feels in His guts. And, of course, Jesus was willing to have his side pierced with a Roman spear for it.

Christmas is for the people who need to know this deep, tender mercy of God.

Now let’s talk about the sunrise. “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high…”

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Who is Christmas for? It is for lost people… people sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.

One of the best lines in a song that I’ve ever heard is on the Zach Bryan album that came out this year. “The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow somewhere on the east side of sorrow.”

Post Tenebrus Lux. After darkness, light. That was the motto of Protestant Reformation. It comes from the Latin translation of Job 17:12.

This is the backdrop of Christmas. Pain and sorrow. Darkness and death. If you’re feeling the weight of these things, then you’re closer to understanding the meaning of Christmas than the rest of us.

Christmas is not just for happy people. It is maybe least of all for happy people. Christmas is for the people who hate it the most.

If you are struggling to find a sense of joy while everyone around you celebrates, then you are exactly who Christmas is for.

This faith has always been about light overcoming the darkness, from the first moments of creation – God said let there be light, and the dark void was filled.

And if you really want to see the stars at night, what do you have to do. You have to get away from the lights of the city into the darkness of the country. And there in the darkest places, the stars shine brighter.

The joy of Christmas will always mean the most to people in the darkest seasons of their life. That’s where the tender mercy of God, the forgiveness of sins, and the way of peace will mean the most to you.

When your strength fades, when your health fails… in pain, in tears, in grief… after darkness, light. We sang about this minutes ago, the words written by Edmund Sears 170 years ago.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,

who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,

look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.

O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!

It’s been a hard year for some of you… maybe the worst year. And this may feel like the darkest Christmas. But, so often, this is when God visits His people.