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Light in the World

The Rev. Joseph Winston

December 10, 2006

Sermon

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
In this holiday season with all of its hustle and bustle, it is easy to understand
the necessity of planning. We might need to decide if we will attend the annual
party at the office or if we will instead visit with our new grandchildren. In order
not to forget any person at this time of the year, many of us make our shopping lists
and check them twice before facing the crowded stores. Our traditional Christmass
dinner needs to be just right and this will not happen if we forget any of our secret
ingredients.
If you think about it, any plan requires some investment of resources. If you
happen to choose the office party, at the very least you will need to set aside some
time so that you can attend. More than likely, you will also spend some money on
1
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3

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the party. You might even need to pay for transportation or new clothes. The story
is the same for every other plan that you can think of. Time and probably money
are involved with every gift that you hand out on Christmass. We pour our heart
and soul into the meals that we serve our friends and family.
We sometimes make plans in order to achieve a certain outcome. Here are
three simple examples. First, for most people, money must be saved before one
can make an expensive purchase. In other words, you need a savings plan. Second,
if you want to participate in professional sports, you need to spend many hours
on the practice field. The coach’s exercise program might be designed to increase
your endurance, strength, or speed. Finally, in most cases, passing a test only
happens when a student studies the assigned materials. You need to set up some
sort of system that allows you to learn the required lessons.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that God also plans. God selected John to pre-
pare the world for Jesus, God choose the correct time for this message, and God
even provided the words for John to say.
We can only try to guess the amount of resources that God invested in the
unbelievable proposal to save us. First of all, the very act of planning requires
time. After we decided to go our own way, God needed to make one of two ba-
sic choices. We would either be completely forgotten by God and disappear from
existence itself or our ransom could be paid. Imagine the time needed for this de-
bate. Additionally, the project for our salvation needed to be complete. Not only
did it need to cover every human but it also had to maintain every one of God’s
covenants. The author of Luke and Acts carefully shows us that God never aban-

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dons His people. All of the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
are still in force. Secondly, the emotional cost required to decide and implement
this plan must have been tremendous. Does God destroy the good world or pay the
price to fix what we have broken? It was a blessed day when God made the deci-
sion to send His only Son to save us. Finally, the solution to our problem required
Jesus to come to earth. God’s Son suffered and died for our sins.
There are two reasons why God made these plans. First, God wants everyone
to see that God saves (Luke 3:6.). This revelation brings God glory as the One who
frees people and brings back the dead to life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, this
witness brings other people to God. The most import aspect of this plan for us
is the gift of life. Every one of our sins has been forgiven and we have become
children of God. As God’s children, we have full inheritance rights. God lives
forever and now so do we.
Our normal response to hearing that God has done everything needed for our
salvation is one of denial. Some of us do not even see the need for God’s plan. We
are the ones who believe that each of us has the ability to decide what is “right”
for us. With this philosophy, anything goes. Our feelings are the only thing that
matter. Others of us disagree with the allocation of resources. We are the people
who wonder why Jesus had to die. Our argument is based on the assumption that
God could have accepted a different payment for our sin. When we say this, we
ultimately believe that God made the wrong choice. And yet, others of us do not
like the outcome. We want to know why faith is needed. Once again, our belief
assumes that God does not know what will save the most people.

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Every one of these actions against God’s plan for our salvation says the same
thing. I want to be in charge. God is not needed in my life since I know what is
best for me. We seem to think that we have some sort of power that allows us
to make these decisions. Of course, these ideas are nothing more than delusions.
Who among us can save ourselves?
In today’s Bible lessons, there are many words of Gospel for us: the gift of
baptism that forgives our sin, the God who gives us our pardon, and the present
of the Son who lives with us. However, in these days of increasing darkness, the
Good News for us is Jesus, the Light of the world.
Zechariah speaks these famous words, Jesus will “give light to those who sit
in darkness and in the shadow of death” and He will “guide our feet into the way
of peace (Luke 1:79.).” Zechariah is telling us a basic fact of physics, which is
known by every child; shadows cannot be cast in the dark.
Put in theological terms, without Christ’s Light we would not know that we
live in the shadow of death. This is the power of darkness (Luke 22:51.). Left to
our own devices, we would think that death is a normal part of life. Jesus, the
Light of the world, shines a light on our existance, which shows us something
completely unexpected; death is not a normal part of life. You were not born to
die. Your final resting place was never meant to be in the cold, hard ground. God’s
plan for you is eternal life and you were created to praise God. This is the destiny
of all baptized people.
The lack of light changes you. In total darkness, you cannot see your feet nor

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can you see the road you should be taking.2 This blindness was never part of God’s
plan since we all were created to live with God. In our self created blackness, we
cannot see our extremities. Because of this fact, we cannot see the rest of the
world. We are transformed by the darkness into a scared person that strikes out
in fear at everything around us. The Light of the World reveals our true nature.
We are formed in God’s image. Our hands and feet are meant to serve others. In
Christ’s presence, we can see that God’s plan for us is one of peace and not war.
Today we have heard God’s detailed plans for bringing the Light of Christ into
the world. The prophet Malachi outlines the first steps. The L ORD will send an
envoy who will make sure that all is ready for Jesus. Zechariah’s song of praise
for the Messiah and His messenger provide us with more specific details. Jesus
will be born out of the house of David, He will free His people from their sin, and
He will provide light to everyone. John’s purpose is preparation for he will tell
the people that their Savior is coming. Paul’s prayer for the community in Philippi
closes out the plan. Christ’s work is completed when believers have wisdom and
love.
Given these lessons from the Bible, it appears that careful preparation is one of
God’s most fundamental attributes. God brings order out of chaos. This was first
demonstrated at the universe’s creation. God plan for our salvation is once again
setting things straight.
As believers, we need to ensure that we minimize the amount of confusion
2
If you have ever experienced the pitch blackness of a cave without lights, you know what I
am talking about.

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that we introduce into the world because our turmoil may lead someone down the
wrong path. This is especially important on matters of faith. We have been given
the responsibility of telling others about a God who wants us to live with Him. If
we say something else, we are then telling people about a god that does not exist.
Our confession and absolution now takes place at the open baptismal font.
We gather here around the water and the Word so that we can tell God of our
shortcomings and to hear once again that blessed gift of complete pardon. We
start here at the font because our life with God started right here. We became
God’s children in our baptism. We return to the water and the Word and reclaim
God’s promise to each of us. Our sins are forgiven.
This new location forces us to go past it before we can approach the Lord’s
Table. The physical relocation of this piece of furniture serves as a constant re-
minder of our most basic teachings on baptism. Baptism prepares us for life with
God by washing all our sin from us. We can walk without fear into the Lord’s
presence and receive His meal only because we have been forgiven in the water
of baptism.
By God’s grace, we see the water and the Word working in the world. God
comes to us, forgives us, and adopts into His family. This is why we are returning
to the ancient practice of keeping the font filled with water. Our open baptismal
font serves as a visual reminder of God’s actions in our lives. Martin Luther and
countless teachers before him tell us that when we come upon this sacred combi-
nation of water and Word, we are to recall our own entry into God’s Household
by making the sign of the cross. This symbol recalls another of the fundamental

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teachings of our faith. (+) God comes down to us and enters into our hearts.
Despite our belief that only one baptism is needed for the forgiveness of sins,
our encounter with water and the Word cannot be limited to a single time because
these gifts from God are sure signs of our salvation. We see this teaching of the
church when we leave the Meal. We pass by the waters of life one more time.
When we do this, we recall God’s life giving presence in the ordinary items that
make up our world. We are unafraid of what comes next only because God has
washed and fed us.
When we leave this worship service and go back into the world, we will surely
see God’s work all around us. The words of Isaiah are just as valid today as they
were two thousand years ago. Nothing, not even death, can stand in the way of
God as He makes all ready for His Son. Listen, God is calling you and calling
me to be part of a world that has removed every barrier between God and us. No
longer will we wander from place to place in search of God nor will we look high
and low, as we try to find God. We will see God face to face.
Until that blessed day comes where death is no more, we pray Lord Jesus
quickly come.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”3

3
Philippians 4:7.