This is a translation of the sermon I would have delivered this Sunday if I didn’t have a cold. (Don’t worry, I tested for COVID, the result was negative.) I would have had a service of light with the kids in my confirmation class. In the Church of Norway it is common to have a service of light during Advent. Instead of the normal readings, we light seven candles and read seven smaller texts. After each text and light, we sing a verse of a hymn, often either Folkefrelsar, til oss kom (a Norwegian translation of the Latin hymn Veni redemptor gentium) or Gjer døri høg, gjer porten vid (a Norwegian translation of the German hymn Macht hoch die Tür). The texts I would use are these (based on this arrangement by Arne Berge):
- Numbers 24:16-17a (followed by v.1 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Psalm 72:11-12.17a (followed by v.2 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Isaiah 7:14 (followed by v.3 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Isaiah 9:2.6 (followed by v.4 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Micah 5:1.4a (or, Micah 5:2.5a, followed by v.5 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Zechariah 9:9 (followed by v.6 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
- Luke 1:26-33 (followed by v.7 of Folkefrelsar, til oss kom)
After reading these texts and singing the hymns, I would have preached this sermon (in Norwegian):
Earlier this afternoon, we celebrated a baptism here in Church, when I baptised a child.[*] And after the baptism, we lit a candle for her, a baptismal candle, which the family got to take home. And then I read a short verse from the Bible, John 8:12, where Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” I read this at every baptism. We light the baptismal candles to show that Jesus is the light of the world, but also specifically the light of the one baptised, and for all who are baptised. Jesus is the light of all the world, but also particularly your light and my light. When you use your baptismal candle, you can remind yourself of your baptism and of the fact that Jesus is with us to the end of the world. He is the gift of God, given to us.
This is the central thing when we usually celebrate services of light in churches all over Norway. Yes, we celebrate it partly because it is tradition but most particularly because Jesus is our light. We come together to celebrate the Divine Service where we may praise God, where we may pray to God, and where we may encounter other people. But why light? What is it with light? Because this is a central metaphor in all human culture.
The point is that where darkness threatens us, the light comes to save us. We do not just find this in Christianity but in virtually all religions. In Judaism they celebrate Hanukkah, for example, in memory of God’s aid in Maccabees’ revolt against the Greek tyrant king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He had turned the temple in Jerusalem into a temple for Zeus, but he lost the fight and they rededicated the temple to God. The story goes that even though they only had enough oil for the menorah to burn for one day, it burned for eight days.
We actually find a reference to this festival in John 10:22-23: “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” Furthermore, we see in old Greek religion and philosophy a focus on our enlightenment, something the Apostle John uses when he speaks of Jesus in John 1:9: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
John showed that Jesus is this true light which enlightens us. For God became a human being in Jesus Christ. And this way, we became sharers of this true light. This is the reason why we celebrate this service of light. As it grows darker, we light several candles in the Church, often in combination with the advent candles, to underscore that God comes into our darkness with hope of salvation from the power of darkness.
Where the powers of evil tries to hold onto us, God comes to show both that He is good but also that these evil powers are no powers at all. In fact, they are nothing. Like darkness, they have no independent power. Light, in fact, is the opposite of darkness. For what is darkness? Does it exist in itself? No, in fact, i doesn’t. For it to become dark, we must remove the light. And if we have light, darkness has to yield immediately. For darkness is just the absence of light. Have you ever tried going to the store to buy a ‘dark bulb’? The darkness which tries to consume us is emptiness, nothingness. It is everything God is not. The absolute darkness is life without God, without friendliness, without love. The central thing we celebrate today is that God is the opposite of darkness. But we need Him to see this. He is the One who must send us the light. And He did so in Jesus Christ. Because of this, we have read seven biblical texts who all point to Christ. Because He is the centre.
We celebrate a service of light because He is our light. And light is completely central to us. It is not just a central cultural metaphor, it is also central in creation. I the creation story in the Old Testament, God creates light first. For light is a condition for life. Take, for instance, photosynthesis. In nature, light is transformed into energy. All earthly life depends on photosynthesis, a process which make plants and trees grow and which produce the oxygen we need to breathe.
Photosynthesis, however, depends on the sun. And therefore, many say that the sun is the source of earthly life. But the real source is God. He has created everything, even the lights on the sky, as we see in James 1:17: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse is about the face that the light of the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars, are not gods, but that everything emanates from the One true God.
But it also has another layer. For the tru light of heaven is not the sun, the moon, or even UY Scuti, to mention the name of the largest star we know, with a diameter of almost 2,4 billion km [2 378 704 272 km]. No, the true light of heaven is Jesus Christ. He is the light which comes to us from God the Father. He is the real light, the true light, and through him we gain access to God the Father.
He gives us illumination and enlightenment. But then we also need to be turned the right way. I remember a few years ago, going out of my house to get something in the car. And doing so, I stepped right into a puddle because it was so dark. But when I turned to go back in, everything was illumined. I had stood with my back to the porch light and had created a shadow, of myself, so I could not see. There was light, but I didn’t let it help me.
God is the light but in the Bible it also says that we must turn to him. In Norwegian, the word for ‘repentance’ is omvending, ‘turning.’ I had to physically turn around. And when I did, I received the help I needed. And that is by we must turn to God, to let him be our light. God is the One who gives us true friendliness and love. He is the source of love. Today, we celebrate that the true light came into the world to offer us salvation. We celebrate that God became a human being in Jesus, so that we may share in the divine life through Him. But to do so, we must be turned to Him, to Christ, to the light of the world. As it says in one of the Psalms, Psalm 36:9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
Let us pray:
Eternal God, you created light and sent your Son as a light of the world. We pray: Let us not wander in darkness but live in the light from Jesus Christ, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and rules, one true God, world without end. Amen.