Isaiah 60:1-3; John 1:1-5, 9

Advent Sunday – 8am Communion

St Barbara’s 03.12.2023

Rev Tulo Raistrick

This time of year the daylight disappears quickly. Indeed we are less than 3 weeks away from the shortest day of the year, although I was heartened to discover recently that although the days continue to get shorter until 21st December, from much earlier the afternoons stop getting shorter. This year the sunset in Coventry will stay at 1552 from 8th to the 18th December before it starts getting lighter again. However, if you like your sunrise, which may be of particular relevance to us as an 8am congregation, that will keep getting later until it reaches 8.16am on the 27th December, and won’t start getting earlier again until 3rd January.

But however I try and console myself, I have to acknowledge the days are dark at this time of year, and I look forward to lighter days. We all need light.

When the gospel-writer John was writing his gospel, he was trying to think of a way to describe who Jesus was, to try and give a sense of just how important and special he was. His problem was that there had never been anyone like Jesus before. How do you convey who Jesus is? After a lot of thought and prayer he wrote the words we heard in our gospel reading, no doubt inspired by the prophet Isaiah. He describes Jesus as the “light of the world”.

That is an amazing image. But what does it mean?

Over the next four Sundays in advent we will be hearing from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived at a time of great turmoil. People were living in fear for their lives. The government of their day was disintegrating. The poor were being treated harshly. Wars were breaking out across the continent. In an earlier part of his writings, from a passage we will hear in three weeks time, he said these words:

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

He was speaking of the time when Jesus would come among them.

I remember as a boy driving with my family to a campsite. It was a long journey and by the time we got to the area it was pitch dark. How could we find our way? Well, fortunately our car had headlights. Those lights showed us the way to go. Without them, we would have got well and truly lost.

Likewise life can feel pretty dark at times. We may feel a bit lost, a bit confused as to where to go. Whether that is in resolving difficulties with friends or family; whether that is in resolving an ethical dilemma at work. Christ, Isaiah says, comes as a light to show us the way. As we look to him, he gives us the example, the teaching, the inspiration to do what is right, and he gives us His Spirit to help us do so.

Those words again from Isaiah:

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Back to my childhood campsite. After we had pitched our tent, I needed the toilet, and that involved a walk through the campsite. I was of the age where I was in the middle of reading the Hobbit for the first time, a story all about giant spiders and trolls in the dark, and my imagination was running riot. I was scared. But then my dad handed me a torch. Not only did it show me the way. It showed me that I did not need to fear where I was going. I could see the path ahead and thankfully there were no giant spiders or trolls in my way.

There are many challenges in our world at the moment. Not unlike Isaiah’s day, we live at a time of great turmoil, of wars and rumours of wars, of governments running out of steam, of systems and services struggling to cope with the demands placed upon them. It is possible to despair or be overwhelmed by our fears.

But light gives us courage to face those situations. Knowing that Christ is with us, Emmanuel, God with us, can help us not to despair or run away but to face those challenges and make a difference in the world. Holding that torch gave me courage as a little boy in that campsite; holding on to the light of Christ can give us courage today as we face whatever we have to face.

And Isaiah said the words we heard this morning:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

The next morning at my campsite, when I woke up and looked out of our tent, I saw an amazing sight. The car headlamps, the torch, had only given me a vague sense of what was out there, but in the light of the sun I could see mountains, waterfalls, forests, an incredibly beautiful world, that we just hadn’t been able to see before. Any of the worries, the fears, of the night just fell away.

Advent helps us to look forward to the celebration of Christ among us, the torch, the headlamp, shining in the darkness. But Advent also prompts us to look ahead to a time to come, a time when Christ’s light will be fully revealed, when the glory of the world he has made, when the magnificence of his love and grace, will be known in full. Advent is that time of hope, of knowing that how we experience life now is not the full story, that a day will dawn when Christ’s light will shine and reveal the fulness of God’s glory.

This Advent, let us rejoice that Christ is indeed the light of the world.