Pastor Chris Tweitmann
This is our final week of the Advent season. Christmas is almost here!
And we’ve been marking the time,
by reflecting on one of the repeated ways
that the Bible calls for us to view the coming of Jesus,
of Immanuel – God with us – through the image of light.
Have we ever noticed
just how many references
there are in the Old Testament alone
to God being our Light?
Here’s a quick sampler:
The psalmist repeatedly speaks of God as light:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27).
The prophets, more than once, frame
their promises as the coming, the glory of God’s light:
“Your light has come, the glory of the Lord
shines upon you” (Isaiah 60).
And then, of course, we have all the manifestations
of the presence of God in the Old Testament
– the Lord comes to His people through
a burning bush, bright clouds, and a pillar of fire.
So, it really shouldn’t surprise us
when God comes down in the birth of a baby
named Jesus, the Gospel writers describe
the gift of Christmas as the dawning of the Light.
And not just any old light but THE light
– the Light of the world, the Light of life,
the Light by which all creation came into being
– the Light of God which pierces
the chaos of this broken world.
The Light that darkness cannot overcome.
Today as we move ever closer to the manger,
we are going to look beyond the very first Christmas
to the very last Christmas ever.
Did you know that Christmas has a beginning and an end?
And I’m not talking about the 24-hour period of December 25th.
Part of the Church’s creation and observance
of the season of Advent is so that we don’t just get
all nostalgic for Christmas Past or
preoccupied by Christmas Present
but also remain expectant and prepared
for Christmas Future – when Jesus will come again
– and our final, greatest gift from God
will be opened and unwrapped.
We read about this last, greatest Christmas ever
in the final book of the Bible, a book known as Revelation.
Filled with talk and descriptions of
angels and four horsemen, a dragon and a beast,
of seals being broken open and a great lake of fire and judgment,
people can really get worked up about this book.
This last chapter of the story of the Bible
has caused a lot of controversy and fear
– dividing people in the Church
rather than bringing them together.
This divide is so bad,
some people avoid reading Revelation
whereas others read nothing else
in their Bible but the book of Revelation.
Hopefully today, we can bridge this divide
by bringing some perspective and
a healthier balance to how we understand
what is often called “the end times.”
For as we’re about to hear,
contrary to the doom and gloom
often associated with this book,
the future that lies before us
is one that is bright – merry and bright
– because it is illuminated by
the Light that never goes out.
Open up your Bibles and let’s listen
to these excerpts from Revelation, chapters 21 and 22.
Much of the confusion and anxiety about
the book of Revelation can be cleared up
by understanding that what we are reading
is a mixture of several different types of writing
making up a unique genre known as
The most distinctive feature
of apocalyptic writing is its reliance
upon the visual.
God is giving the apostle John
a vision of the future
– of the end of the world
as we know it
– viewed not from our human, linear
perspective of history but from
a divine, eternal and therefore
non-linear perspective of all things.
John, in trying to capture and convey
the things of heaven, of this perspective
outside of space and time, is doing his best
to describe what he sees with words
inadequate for the task but using
familiar images and symbols – most of which
are drawn from other divine encounters
as recorded in the Old Testament.
John is referencing back to visions
prophets like Isaiah and Daniel saw
as a way of saying
“What God revealed to me
in this final vision was kind of like that.”
Here’s the thing, despite a lot of best-selling books
and insistent preachers who try and tell us otherwise,
the point of the book of Revelation is not
to literally or chronologically decipher and break down
how every verse, symbol or number in the book lines up.
For centuries, this has been a
misguided stock and trade within the Church,
despite Jesus Himself telling us repeatedly,
that we cannot know all the details
– the when and the how of the end times.
The point of the book of Revelation is
not to give us a timetable or secret decoder map
but to receive as the apostle John first did long ago
– an encouraging glimpse of the life that is to come,
of the world that will be despite how things may appear now.
And as we can observe
it is an ultimate view of the future
that is far more beautiful than it is terrifying.
It is a vision where all our hopes
are finally realized rather than forever lost.
However, before we look more closely at exactly what we see,
we must first recognize why there is anything to see at all,
we need to appreciate how we can know this vision will,
one day, be our shared reality.
And the answer is – everything we see,
everything that will be – in all its certainty,
in all its goodness, in all its glory
– is because of, as John repeats twice
in these two final chapters,
“the Lamb that is the Light.”
The image of the Lamb is first a reference to
the Passover lamb from the Exodus story
– the blood from which a perfect, spotless lamb
covered the doors of Hebrew dwellings
so that the angel of death would pass over them
during the last plague brought upon Egypt
to set God’s people free from slavery.
Similarly, the sacrifice and the blood of
such unblemished lambs would later serve
as a substitute, an atonement for the sins of Israel
– to cover both their accidental and sometimes
willful disobedience in their relationship with the Lord.
But the image of the Lamb is ultimately
an allusion to God in Christ who came down
– Jesus who came to be the Lamb of God –
willingly, sacrificially offering the blood of His life
to cover the sins of all the world
and to set all humanity free
from our slavery to sin, evil, and death.
This Lamb – the Lamb of God
is the Light – the Light of the World.
When John talks in 21:23 of
“the glory of God gives it light
and its lamp is the Lamb,”
John isn’t describing two different light sources.
No, the light, the radiance, the brightness
of the glory of God is the Lamb.
In the same way,
the moon facilitates the light of the sun
to our darkened planet at night,
so too, Jesus as the slain and risen
Lamb of God mediates the light of God’s glory to us.
John’s vision, in putting together
these two images of Jesus,
reveals something vital for us.
Here it is.
That Jesus is, in fact, the Light of the World
is illuminated through Christ’s work as the Lamb.
In other words,
the only reason our future is bright,
the only reason darkness is not all
we have ahead of us is because of
the birth, life, crucifixion,
and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus coming to us is the start of Christmas
but the fullness of the gift we are given is
what Jesus came to do for all the world.
It is what Jesus does for us
– through the witness of His life,
His sacrifice on the Cross,
the victory of His Resurrection,
and the blessing of Pentecost
– that lights our way,
that lights up our lives,
that becomes the means,
the power source,
for all things to made new.
What we learn from the vision
given to John is not only the full power
but also, the whole purpose of the Light of Christ.
Jesus, the Lamb that is the Light comes
not just to help us see everything more clearly
– revealing how things are and how they can be.
Jesus, the Lamb that is the Light comes
not just to make everything look better and brighter.
Jesus, the Lamb that is the Light comes
not just to idly shine without any purpose or direction.
Jesus, the Lamb that is the Light comes
to take us somewhere, to lead us into
a new, dynamic future of forever dwelling with God.
That’s the reason for the season…
That’s the reason for the Lamb…
That’s the reason for the Light…
God comes down to us in order to
bring us to Himself, to bring us home to Him.
And what will our future and forever home be like?
What is unveiled here in our passage
have been one of the primary influences
of Christianity’s view of heaven.
And yet, despite, what a good many Christians today perceive,
this vision is less of the site plan for heaven showing
where the walls, streets, buildings, river, and vegetation
will be located and more of an evocative image of
the great and final Christmas gift
that God will deliver to us
– the qualities of life that will make up
the new heaven and the new earth.
Looking at John’s vision in this way,
what qualities of life do we see?
First, we see that our future is
more than just a return to our past.
While a familiar garden is present,
clearly we aren’t going back to Eden,
as much as stepping forward into
the dawn of a great city
– what is called the New Jerusalem.
But we also quickly discover
this new Jerusalem is not
your typical metropolis,
the hallmarks of this divine city
are not the structural design
and layout of the buildings
but the architecture of the people
who live in that city.
As humanity is no longer
represented by a single couple;
but by the gathering of
diverse human cultures working together.
And we miss the point of what are shown
if we evaluate this picture in terms of
the jewels that are described or with
anticipation of someday walking
on actual streets of gold.
The true beauty of this vision is
the picture we are given of
the exercise of human creativity
and collaboration marked by the fruit of
complete harmony and unfractured peace.
No longer is anyone working for themselves
apart from worshipping God.
What we see here is the seamless integration
rather than separation
of humanity’s work and worship.
Of all that we are and all that we have
– nothing is held back or held apart only for ourselves.
All is offered, everything is given for the glory of God
– which, in turns, blesses all creation.
This relates to something else we glimpse here
– that the New Jerusalem is a welcoming city,
not a gated community.
The current state of this world
is built more on fear than anything else.
Fearing for our wellbeing,
we build walls around our borders
and install gates around our communities
to protect ourselves from the threat of harm.
With all the steel bars, fancy locks,
and electronic security systems
on our homes and businesses
the message is “Keep Out!”
rather than “All Are Welcome!”
But in the future that God is preparing for us,
we will live in divine community based not on fear
but the safety and security of God’s love.
Inclusion rather than exclusion
will be the posture of our life together in God as
even foreigners, outsiders will be invited to come inside.
Streaming through gates that will never close
shall come people of every tribe and tongue
and all the nations shall find not a barrier
but access to their healing and wholeness.
All of this possibility conveyed
through John’s vision will be realized
– once again – because of
the Lamb that is the Light.
In fact, John mentions something intriguing in this regard.
More than once, John declares that in the future,
there will be no more night.
His vision is that there will be no more darkness
because the Lamb that is the Light is
the Light that will never go out.
Now here again is one of those places
where some take the picture
John offers us literally
– that in the future, all of our knowledge of astronomy
and our understanding of the celestial phenomena of all creation
will become irrelevant.
There will be no need for the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun
– nighttime will no longer exist because the Light of Jesus
will brightly shine constantly, eternally.
But is this John’s message?
That one day all creation will be filled with the Light of Christ so enjoy those sunrises and sunsets while you can – before they’re no more?
Does the Light of Christ being all around us
mean no more shadows behind us
– since there will be nowhere for the darkness to go?
If God is going to leave the Light on all the time,
if there will be no darkness at all – how will we ever sleep?
I don’t know about you, but I really like my sleep!
As we pay closer attention, we realize John is NOT
describing the elimination of physical darkness – or nighttime.
Notice nowhere in this picture does John state
there will be no more sun or moon. (Go ahead, reread it.)
What John says is the new city, the New Jerusalem
will not need the light of the sun and moon
because of the brighter light of Jesus.
The sun and the moon will still be there in the future
– rising and setting per normal but no longer necessary
in order for us to see clearly.
Think of it this way.
Who needs a reading lamp when
you’re standing under the noonday sun?
But again, what John sees,
what he describes as being eliminated
is not the physical darkness of the night sky
or a shuddered room.
Physical darkness by itself isn’t evil.
It’s part of God’s creation.
The darkness of night offers
many necessities and benefits to life.
The darkness that John describes as
being eliminated by the light of Christ
is the darkness borne of human sin.
Darkness in the Bible often represents
our life lived apart from God.
We create and we perpetuate
not a physical but a spiritual darkness
whenever we choose to move away from God
and to seek to live by our own sources of light.
It is this darkness that we create, not God,
through our rebellion and disobedience
towards our Creator where evil lies.
It is this darkness of our making
where fear, shame, and hopelessness
take root and grow into
the monsters and the demons
that haunt us even as they make us blind.
This is the dark we should be afraid of
– not the dark inside the closet of a room,
under the bed, or outside beneath the nighttime sky
– but the darkness within
the human heart and mind.
It is this darkness we cultivate apart
from the Light of God which is life
that leaves us under the shadow of our death.
But a time is coming, John sees,
when the Lamb who is the Light,
when Christ returns in glory and
completely casts away this very, present darkness.
When John describes “there will be no night there,”
he is assuring us of a future day when everything
will be brought to light by the truth of Jesus Christ
– there will no place for evil to hide.
Because of the grace of the everlasting Light of Jesus,
there will be nothing to fear anymore – as once and for all,
the forgiveness of God in Christ will drive out
all the darkness of sin from within our hearts and lives.
And because of the love of the everlasting Light of Jesus,
all that will remain is the glory of the goodness of God
– goodness that will completely overtake and fill us,
goodness that will wholly reshape us into the people, the community we always were meant to be – living the kind of life we always dreamed of but never thought possible – a life without death or mourning or crying or pain
– life in perfect, unbroken communion with God and with each other.
There is a Light that will never go out. It is the Light that is the Lamb.
It is the Light of Christ that will make all things new.
It is the Light of Jesus that shines even now before us.
Have we ever asked ourselves why God gives John,
and by extension, gives us this vision of the future?
It’s not just so that we can know
everything is going to be okay – someday.
The Lord shares the conclusion of the story,
the Light at the end of the tunnel
that illuminates a new, everlasting
beginning for all creation
in order to stamp eternity on our hearts and minds.
We are offered this glimpse into
a certain and very bright tomorrow
in order to focus and shape how we occupy today.
As followers of Jesus, our observance of Christmas
must be more than celebrating the past – the birth of Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, our celebration of Christmas
must also include joyfully anticipating the future
that Christ will one day unwrap for us
by living expectantly, generously, and loving here and now.
If we believe in Christmas, if we have embraced Christ,
by the grace of God and through the Holy Spirit,
then we already possess, we already have been given
the Light of Jesus that will cast out all fear,
the Light of Jesus that will eclipse all evil,
the Light of Jesus that will remake all creation,
the Light of Jesus that will never go out.
All we need do is keeping looking to that Light
even as we share it, share Christ with others.
Beloved, it’s not complicated,
no matter how complex and chaotic
the world might seem to us in the moment.
Practically, it means if we are citizens of the future city – the Kingdom of God – where the gates are never shut, never closed to us, that we imitate the character of the home God makes for us by keeping the gates of our lives wide open.
It means graciously welcoming others, embracing the stranger,
and being particularly sensitive to those for whom
other gates are being slammed in their faces.
Tangibly, it means, if we are children of the Light
– the Light of Christ that always shines and
never goes out no matter how dark it gets.
It means that in contrast to the temptations
and seemingly unending opportunities
we have to choose selfishness, violence, and cruelty
– often in the name of self-protection and defense
we choose instead to reflect the brightness
and the warmth of Christ’s forgiveness and love.
It means that we choose to keep
the Light of Jesus on in our lives
– shining through our words and witness
even when the night before us is long
and appears never-ending.
It means choosing to let the Light of Christ keep shining
through all our brokenness, all our growth pains,
and all the wounds we will bear from acting justly,
loving mercy and walking humbly before our God as we serve others.
The Lamb that is the Light
shows us the way into God’s heart
—to life that truly rests in the Lord’s hands.
The more we allow the weight and glory of Christ
to shine into the dark areas of our lives,
the more of the Light of Jesus we have
to extend to others in their darkness.
Are we living based upon what
we can see right in front of us
or is our assessment of the present
being shaped by the promised future
that God reveals to us through John?
Are we hopelessly afraid for tomorrow
or are we living hopefully today
out of the revelation we have been given
that when tomorrow comes
there will nothing more to fear?
The book of Revelation was never
intended as a pre-emptive calendar
for us to chart the end of the world.
The eternal perspective of John’s vision
enables us to see the Light of Christ that never goes out
– the Light that purposes to shine through your life and mine
and the lives of those still to come.
What is revealed through
the last chapter of the Bible is not
so much an end as it is a new beginning.
It God’s assurance to us, His promise
that with every move we make towards Christ
– with every conversation, every encounter with Jesus,
with new every breath of resurrected life,
the Lamb that is the Light shines brighter still.
With every act of justice, expression of mercy,
movement of compassion and gesture of divine love,
the Lamb that is the Light pushes back the darkness
until the day when there will be no more night. Amen.