No Jesus, no light

We’re just a week away from Light Up Night (November 17th) in downtown Pittsburgh. Maybe it has to do with the unseasonably warm fall weather, but everyone says that the holidays have surprised them this year.

But lights are going up all over town. Everyone loves the lights. But do you know why we put them up? They’re a reminder that Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, has come. The good news for the church is that we get to explain this.

No Jesus, no lights.

The recent terrible shootings in Nevada and Texas, and the terror attack in New York, have left people crying out, “Do something!” Yet few folks really believe that the human solutions proposed will really make much difference against the darkness. In their heart of hearts, they know the problem is something deeper.

Christmas lights are reminders that God is doing something about what’s really wrong.

Christmas says that God came into a world of darkness. The darkness was so threatened by Jesus that the king ordered the murder of all the baby boys in the region where Jesus was born. Jesus’ family had to flee into exile to escape the slaughter. God in Jesus Christ was subject to the worst the darkness had to offer.

So, we must stand up against the forces of darkness that lead to murder and chaos. This isn’t the same as trusting in human solutions alone. We stand with the one about whom John, the Gospel writer, said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”

Passing through the waters

The videos coming out of Missouri were heartbreaking. Floodwaters had risen rapidly and with little warning. Homes were underwater or swept away. Most of the deaths happened when people underestimated the strength of the current and tried to drive through the water. One bewildered survivor said that he had gone to work in the morning and came home to find four feet of water in his home.

As the New Year began, people everywhere were being overcome by different kinds of floods. Some faced the holidays for the first time after the loss of a loved one. A friend was laid off after working at a company for years. In our family, the question of how to care for aging parents was made more difficult when one parent was diagnosed with progressive kidney disease.

The truth is that many things in life can leave us asking who am I? Where do I belong? Do I even matter?

This is the week when the church remembers the baptism of Jesus; when we remember that God went under the water for us. The prophet Isaiah wrote that when you pass through rivers, when you pass through waters, when you walk through fire…God is with you. It would be easy for God to wave a cosmic hand and lift us out of our troubles. Instead God chooses to do something infinitely harder, and in doing so proves his costly love for us: God walks with us through the floods and fires.

When the religious insiders asked Jesus for a sign to prove who he was, he said the sign they would get was the “sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jonah had spent three days in the belly of a fish, but Jesus would spend “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus allowed himself to be overwhelmed to death.

The floods of life are always going to come, and at the worst possible time. They may engulf us, but Jesus proves they ultimately won’t overwhelm us.