Dr Joe Boot: The Light has Come - and so we shine!
Christmas is a time to think about who God is but also about who we are. Jesus is the light of the world, who shines in the darkness. But he also transforms his people to be lights in the world.
Wilberforce Academy Director Dr Joe Boot reflects on what Christmas tells us about the calling we have as Christians.
Reflecting on the marvelous significance of Christmas, one of the great fathers of the early church, St. Augustine of Hippo, wrote in an advent sermon:
"He came in the flesh with the intention of curing human blindness so that once we were healed we might be enlightened in the Lord (Eph. 5:8). Then God's light would no longer be shining in darkness but would appear plainly to people who wanted to see it."
As we come to another Christmas season in the West we cannot help but be conscious of the deep need in our nation for the curing of our spiritual blindness as a society. For elderly Christians especially, Christmas can be a painful time when reflecting on how radically alien the true meaning of Christmas has become to so many in our culture and how profoundly the country has changed during recent decades as it has self-consciously turned away from the light that is in Jesus Christ alone.
In light of this the Christmas season should not only be a time to take rest, be with family, and reflect on the joy of our salvation, it should also be a time when we are reminded of the office to which we are called as Christians by the incarnate Word. As prophets, priests and kings in the Lord Jesus Christ we are bearers of the healing light of the gospel. Yet we are all too aware it is no easy task to bear such an office in a time of cultural apostasy; the message of the prophets is always calling people back to God's covenant word and truth – the glorious thesis of God's good creation and his righteousness.
It was to restore this right relationship of all things to God that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and was made manifest for our salvation.
In every era God's light-bearers (prophets) discover they are confronted with the practical atheism of fallen humanity. This practical religion that surrounds us again asserts very clearly its belief in human autonomy and calls all people to believe in their own 'freedom' and to 'dare to be themselves.' This faith in the 'freedom of man' summons people to defy any moral law and truth that transcends their own will and desires. It is the religion of self-service, self-definition and self-indulgence.
If there is any 'god' in this ever-popular faith, it has nothing to do with ruling and governing the world. God maintains no law and does not shape the course of history by his covenant. On this view, man is the only 'boundary maker' in life because the Christ of Christmas who is Lord and King of history is a fairy tale. God does not see or hear and there is no judgment upon sin. And so it seems that on all sides, people shrug their shoulders and say 'carry on.'
We are called as office-bearers
Into all of this we Christians are called as office-bearers, as prophets. Our faithful forerunner Zephaniah declared that God searches the city with a bright light (Zeph. 1:12), and so the light shines in the darkness. Scripturally speaking, life is to be exposed by the light in its good or evil root. This is what the birth of our Lord Jesus heralded. John the Baptist bore witness to that light, and when Simeon dedicated the infant Jesus at the Temple he declared “my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:30-32). This revelation, this light, is one of both grace and judgment.
Christmas reminds us that with the Incarnation, God, who may have appeared to men absent or silent or unconcerned with their practical atheism, is coming into action decisively in history.
He comes to search out the hearts of men with his light (John 3:19-21), to expose that which is hidden. The bright light of his Word breaks through the smokescreen of autonomy that rebels have laid upon the world.
At Christmas it is therefore unveiled that God is waging an offensive battle against sin, Satan, death and all the works of darkness.
In this conflict the eternal Word assumes a human life, fully man and fully God, in order to republish God's constitutional ordinances of creation and restore us back to God by his redemptive work. He brings no new law, but maintains and upholds that which was from the beginning.
The light of the gospel exposes darkness
As such the light of the Word which we bear this Christmas is not a variable cultural product but an invariant and continual cultural criticism, a searching light that exposes the darkness and calls people into the light of life and truth. It comes from the mouth of all God's office-bearers, all his true prophets from the days of Enoch, until the end of time. There is a great cloud of faithful witnesses to that light that go before us as an example: the apostles and disciples; the church fathers and later reformers; and people like John Knox, George Whitfield, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry and many others who have borne witness to the light in the long and rich heritage of evangelical faith.
As believers, we have the privilege of continuing in the line of these faithful office-bearers, to walk in the light and shine the light of truth in a nation that so desperately needs the healing of its blindness.
We have the joy of unveiling this light by word and deed for all who want to see it. We invent no new light, but bear witness to the one who has come to us, humble and lying in a manger, who brings his searchlight with him. In all that we do, we bear the light of this Word with us and within us.
Making Christ known in every sphere
In every sphere we make known the Lordship of Christ and seek his kingdom in all things. As such we seek to turn God's creation into the culture of Christ in terms of the light revealed in Jesus and his Word alone. This gives us a tremendous purpose in all our activities and vocations to see God's kingdom purposes established by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit.
Above all we must rejoice in this season, for the light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon us!