Sermon for First Sunday after Christmas/New Year’s Eve Observed
December 29, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Psalm 27
Sermon Theme: “Whom Shall I Fear?”
(Sources: Two online Illustrations from SermonCentral.com; original ideas and personal illustrations; Psalm 27, SermonCentral.com; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 21, Part 1, Series A; Nelson’s 3 in 1 Concordance/Reference)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible’s picture language of light coming into the darkness begins in Advent and crescendos to a climax at Christmas, with a denouement of bursting light at Epiphany. Today, at this mid-point between Christmas and Epiphany, we consider the words of Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
There are so many memorable examples in Scripture of light coming into the darkness to end it, — at least a dozen of the Psalms, including our sermon text and Psalm 89:15, “Blessed are those . . . who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord,” proclaim this. Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” John 3:19: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.” John 9:5: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Acts 26:18: Jesus tells His disciples, “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness into light.”
There are at least 50 or more of such quotations in the New Testament alone, so let those examples suffice to make my point, that in Christ, we come out of the darkness into a great light. The reassurance that David gives in our sermon text is the rhetorical question, ‘whom shall I fear’ if I have the light.
I’m sure that each one of you could come up with a time in your life that was the darkest time of your life.
For me, it was near the beginning of World War II, which was also the final lap of the Great Depression, when my brother and I were six years old. Even as a child I could sense the fear, anxiety, and depression the grown-ups were feeling. Will America be destroyed by our enemy? Will the Great Depression continue, and our poverty get worse? Will our loved ones be killed in the War? Will our young men be drafted and sent overseas? Will food get scarce?
In that darkest year, the grownups couldn’t hide their fears from the children. I remember worrying what would happen to us if my father got drafted into the army. As a Relief Foreman for the Southern Pacific Railroad, my father had to travel a lot to places like Moulton, Muldoon, Weimar, Flatonia, and Shiner. When he stayed for a couple weeks, we would have to go with him. The only car we had was a beat up, rusted out 38 Ford, ugly and disreputable looking.
One late evening, on the way home from one of those towns, the headlights in that old 38 Ford went out; and my daddy drove back to Dime Box without headlights, holding a flashlight out the window to see the unlighted road. At the height of our fear, as we drove through another little town, three or four teenage boys threw rocks at our car and hollered insults at us. By then, I felt my hands trembling.
I don’t know how my daddy could see the road, it was such a dark night. We did get home safely, and my daddy ran in our house and turned on all the lights (we were fortunate to have electricity). The light reflected out onto the driveway and the car, and I can’t describe what joy I felt coming into the light, out of the darkness. I don’t think I’ve ever been that afraid, before or since, in my life.
God has called us to live in a world that gives us many reasons to be fearful. Crime, violence, robbery, inhuman attitudes, vicious intolerance, violent greed, disregard for life, disregard for the rights of others, unemployment, poverty — and the list goes on – and these things seem to get worse every year.
But in 2 Timothy 1:7, God has, however, told us He has not given us a spirit of fear. Instead, He has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. And in 1 John 4:4, Christ has assured us that as believers, God dwells in us, and He is greater than anything that is in the world. As Paul writes in Romans 8:31, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
Consequently, every opportunity for fear should become a chance for growth, not retreat. Every fear, says Herman Abrahams, should become a bridge, not a stumbling block. As we read our sermon text by David, it is obvious that David feared, and we naturally wonder what it was that he feared
We don’t know what the specific occasion was that caused David to write Psalm 27, but he says his enemies want to eat up his flesh (wow, that’s a strong metaphor), his enemies have raised armies to come after him, and they are preparing for war.
Yet David is confident that God will lift him up above his enemies. That confidence in God brings him great joy, even though he knows he could lose his life in the battle to come. He was confident of God’s provision and protection, and he attacked his fears by wanting to be close to God. The presence of God has always been a source of reassurance to God’s people. You see, God was David’s light, God was David’s salvation, God was David’s strength. In contemplating all this, David was able to compose a great psalm of praise.
You see, the light that God gives David and all of us illuminates and banishes all fears. It’s clear that David is speaking about something other than physical light. The question in the text, “whom shall I fear?” is rhetorical. David is saying that because he lives in the light of the Lord, there is absolutely nothing to fear. That is because God’s light is very bright, spiritually bright. It illuminates every possible enemy, not just those that are physical.
David is not an idealist. He doesn’t suggest that the darkness will be eliminated from the world or even from our lives. He gives real life examples of how the darkness touches him. Darkness is the power of sin to blind our eyes to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Like David, we must not dwell in the darkness, but we must examine it and understand it to prepare ourselves for the attack.
We think the darkness is cancer, for example, or a hopeless life situation we find ourselves in. But as we examine it, we find it’s the attitude we have toward the disease or toward our living conditions. The light that Christ brings helps us to clarify what the real darkness is. The attitude we have is the form of darkness that comes from inside us.
The darkness of our own sin blinds us. It’s difficult to imagine, and harder to confess, that we are our own worst enemies. We have many ways of blinding ourselves to the light of the Lord. The most effective of these is not to listen, whether to our wife, our friend or to the word of God. Although we don’t usually think about light coming through our ears, and our blocking out that light by not listening, that is really what happens. It could be happening right now, as I preach this sermon. God uses the power of His word to open our eyes to His light.
The coming of Jesus at Christmas is a celebration of the power of light over darkness. That’s why Christmas is celebrated with lights. Candles, tree lights, tinsel, house lights – are all symbols of a much more powerful light, the light of Jesus. Your salvation is not dependent on something you do. It was accomplished when the light of the world drove out the darkness of sin by sheer wattage.
Many folks have already taken down their Christmas tree, and many more are eager to do it soon; some want it down the day after Christmas. But when I was living in Bellville, there was one little girl who didn’t want her parents to take down their tree. She put up such a fuss and threw such a tantrum, that her parents gave in; It was still up when I drove by their house in June.
I know we shouldn’t give in to our children’s temper tantrums, but I think leaving your Christmas tree up all year would be a great way of recognizing the light of your salvation. Jesus is your light and salvation; and this is true even after you put the Christmas tree out for the garbage collectors. It’s true all the time. Jesus is the light of the New Year. The light of 2014. He will be with us to guide and protect against all darkness. Whom shall we fear?
There is little doubt that many cast-off Christmas trees, many gloomy symbols of darkness, will cross our paths in the coming year. But because the Lord is our light, we can be confident that we have salvation in his name. The darkness cannot overcome the light. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.