Lesson for Dec. 23
Scripture: John 1:1-5; Ephesians 5: 1-2, 6-14
Background Scripture: John 1-14; Ephesians 4:17-5:20
First century Christians had a difficult time breaking away from the culture they had always known. Many practices and habits, conditioned by the culture in which they lived, were totally unacceptable for a Christian. Not much has changed! We accept as perfectly natural, attitudes, prejudices and norms our culture lifts up as what “the good life” is. Often we are not even aware that anything is amiss or wrong. Such cultural sins even harden us to any pangs of conscience! In Ephesians 4:18 Paul calls this the petrifying of the heart.
The cure for such a fatal heart condition is clear: “Imitate God like dearly loved children.” If you are a parent, you know how much your children want to be like you. They want to go where you go, do what you do, act like you act, talk like you talk. As a child I wanted to go to work with my dad. He was a pharmacist in an old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain. I wanted to “jerk soda” but I couldn’t—I was too young. My children wanted to go work in the church office with me. The trouble was they had no idea what I did at church so they argued over who would be the Church Secretary. Sometimes we are proud of our children for acting this way, but sometimes we are chagrinned and shamed when they do!
When I was pastor of a church in Columbus, one of our families shared this account. The daddy was a doctor, and, as the family was taking a Sunday afternoon walk in their neighborhood, a car came speeding by them way to fast. The youngest child yelled out in her loudest voice “Slow down you OBGYN!” Now that’s funny, but it shows how we are conditioned by our culture, and how as children we absorb what our parents say and do.
Paul wants us to imitate God in the way a child does a parent. How can we? What is God like, for us to do that? Jesus gave us all an answer in a conversation with Philip in John 14:8ff. He said, “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” So, if our cure from the ‘hardened-heart syndrome’ and from ‘culture-itis’ is to imitate God, we must work to be like Jesus! This task is not a requirement for salvation, but it is a command because we are saved. After all, Jesus did give a new commandment to all who would follow him: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Look now at the other scripture for this Sunday before Christmas. John writes profoundly in the prologue to his Gospel about who Jesus is and his role in creation and redemption. He, who was from the very beginning with God, was God! And like God, He is light and all people are to dwell in that light. There is realism in John’s understanding of Jesus. He says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” The world tries so hard to snuff out the light, but cannot. Paul says we are to live as children of the light.
Light and darkness are metaphors for the Christian living in the world. These first Century Christians had come out of the darkness of paganism into the marvelous light of Jesus. Paul leaves no room for debate about the kind of life darkness brings. His descriptions cover sins of flesh, behavior and attitude. We cannot live that way and be children of light! And it’s no excuse to say, “Well, I’m only human!” You are a new creature in Christ and the old is gone!
When the children were younger, we loved to go camping on our vacation. Truth was, we couldn’t afford anything else! We started off just sleeping in our Rambler, then we bought a Sears tent for the five of us, and finally, we moved up to a Coleman pop-up camper. Always the highlight would be the nightly campfire. How many special memories we have of gathering around the campfire, singing songs, roasting marshmallows, and telling stories! Once in a while, someone had to go to the bathroom in the dark. One time, one of the girls became disoriented in the dark and cried out for help. With my loud voice, I just said, “Look for the campfire and follow the light!”
That’s exactly what Paul is saying to these early Christians. Follow the light! At Christmas, lights are a major feature of our celebration. First, we hang lights on the tree, then more lights in the house, and finally lots of lights outside! Most cities and towns have displays of lights. In Tifton, the park is decorated every year, to the wonder and enjoyment of the children of every age! Places like Callaway Gardens are famous for their light displays. It is no accident in December, when there are more hours of darkness than light, we turn on lights to banish the darkness.
Paul concludes with a baptismal hymn: “Wake up sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. This magnificent promise has two implications. We live in the light of Jesus Christ, the living Word. There is nothing in the world that can extinguish His light. Just as importantly, we also reflect His light to a darkened world. We want to shine for Him so the world might know what real living is all about. When the world sees us, they see Jesus. So shine Church, shine!
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.