Mere Anglicanism

Christmas sermon by the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East

“My beloved people, the world in which we live is overshadowed by darkness. … But the birth of Christ and his coming to Earth gives us hope and leads us out of this valley of the shadow of death” Mouneer Anis

More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied about the birth, saying, Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). And then shortly after Isaiah prophesied, saying: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2). And so we find Isaiah describing the birth of Christ as a light that conquers the darkness.

But what did Isaiah mean by this darkness? What did he mean by the land of the shadow of death?

In response to these two questions, Isaiah described the consequences of the harsh circumstances in which the people of Israel lived at that time. The Israelites had suffered complete defeat by the Assyrians. Their land was now occupied and their cities destroyed. Their people had been imprisoned and many of the captivates brought to Babylon. They were crushed and angry enough to insult their king, even their God. Instead of repenting and turning to God, they rebelled and did evil in God’s eyes. They went so far as to approach magicians and mediums. God warned Isaiah of this black time: They will pass through the land, dejected and hungry, and when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and God. They will turn toward heaven and look to the earth, but they will see only distress and darkness…and the anguish and doom of banishment. (Isaiah 8:21,22)

So we see that the darkness which Isaiah speaks of is in fact a darkness of sin. It is a spiritual darkness and is the result of the sins of the people of Israel who rebelled, going astray from the law and the way of the Lord. The people were indeed walking in deep darkness. They had no hope. Life had no purpose. For this reason, the prophet described them as a people living in a land of the shadow of death.

However, Isaiah prophesied of hope. In the midst of this spiritual darkness there would be a light that dawns; a light that would rise up to save the people from their sins and rule over them. This light would bring back hope and a real peace to all who accept the light into their hearts. Isaiah describes the birth of Christ and his reign in these memorable words: A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Isaiah prophesies here of the characteristics of this new king; of his birth and eternal reign. The one who would finally defeat the darkness that has come into this world.

The prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem and out in the nearby fields the glory of God appeared to the shepherds as they sat, guarding their flocks in the darkness of another night. The angel of the Lord announced to them, Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11) And the angel sang, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! (Luke 2:14)

John wrote a careful description of Christ: He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world did not recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people did not welcome him. (John 1:6-11)

And earlier in that chapter; in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5) Here we see John’s affirmation of the prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah, describing him as the source of life that illuminates the hearts of the people and conquers the darkness of sin that leads to spiritual death.

Notice with me, here, that Jesus’ own people did not accept him. The people of Israel themselves, living in darkness and the shadow of death, did not accept the true light because of their hardheartedness.

Jesus himself also declared his identity, affirming once again the prophecy of Isaiah: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

My beloved people, the world in which we live is overshadowed by darkness. Every day we hear news of terror attacks, killing, crimes, and persecution. On television we watch as refugees trying to escape for their lives are swallowed by the waves of the sea. We read about millions of children who die every year of starvation. This is a darkness brought about by sin and the hardheartedness of human beings.

But the birth of Christ and his coming to Earth gives us hope and leads us out of this valley of the shadow of death. He saves us from our sins and brings light to our hearts. He gives us life eternal and a peace that the world cannot give. All that we need to do is accept this light and accept Jesus in our hearts as our savior and king over our lives. Let us walk in this light so that we may be children of the light. Jesus said to them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36) Jesus encourages us this Christmas to walk in the light which means that we must live it. This will make each of us lights that reflect the ultimate light of Christ and his love to the society in which we live. Jesus commands us to be light to the world: In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Mother Teresa once said, “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.” As we celebrate Christmas, let us then reflect the light and the love of Jesus to all of those around us.

More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied about the birth, saying, Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). And then shortly after Isaiah prophesied, saying: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2). And so we find Isaiah describing the birth of Christ as a light that conquers the darkness.

But what did Isaiah mean by this darkness? What did he mean by the land of the shadow of death?

In response to these two questions, Isaiah described the consequences of the harsh circumstances in which the people of Israel lived at that time. The Israelites had suffered complete defeat by the Assyrians. Their land was now occupied and their cities destroyed. Their people had been imprisoned and many of the captivates brought to Babylon. They were crushed and angry enough to insult their king, even their God. Instead of repenting and turning to God, they rebelled and did evil in God’s eyes. They went so far as to approach magicians and mediums. God warned Isaiah of this black time: They will pass through the land, dejected and hungry, and when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and God. They will turn toward heaven and look to the earth, but they will see only distress and darkness…and the anguish and doom of banishment. (Isaiah 8:21,22)

So we see that the darkness which Isaiah speaks of is in fact a darkness of sin. It is a spiritual darkness and is the result of the sins of the people of Israel who rebelled, going astray from the law and the way of the Lord. The people were indeed walking in deep darkness. They had no hope. Life had no purpose. For this reason, the prophet described them as a people living in a land of the shadow of death.

However, Isaiah prophesied of hope. In the midst of this spiritual darkness there would be a light that dawns; a light that would rise up to save the people from their sins and rule over them. This light would bring back hope and a real peace to all who accept the light into their hearts. Isaiah describes the birth of Christ and his reign in these memorable words: A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7) Isaiah prophesies here of the characteristics of this new king; of his birth and eternal reign. The one who would finally defeat the darkness that has come into this world.

The prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem and out in the nearby fields the glory of God appeared to the shepherds as they sat, guarding their flocks in the darkness of another night. The angel of the Lord announced to them, Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11) And the angel sang, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! (Luke 2:14)

John wrote a careful description of Christ: He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world did not recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people did not welcome him. (John 1:6-11)

And earlier in that chapter; in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5) Here we see John’s affirmation of the prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah, describing him as the source of life that illuminates the hearts of the people and conquers the darkness of sin that leads to spiritual death.

Notice with me, here, that Jesus’ own people did not accept him. The people of Israel themselves, living in darkness and the shadow of death, did not accept the true light because of their hardheartedness.

Jesus himself also declared his identity, affirming once again the prophecy of Isaiah: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

My beloved people, the world in which we live is overshadowed by darkness. Every day we hear news of terror attacks, killing, crimes, and persecution. On television we watch as refugees trying to escape for their lives are swallowed by the waves of the sea. We read about millions of children who die every year of starvation. This is a darkness brought about by sin and the hardheartedness of human beings.

But the birth of Christ and his coming to Earth gives us hope and leads us out of this valley of the shadow of death. He saves us from our sins and brings light to our hearts. He gives us life eternal and a peace that the world cannot give. All that we need to do is accept this light and accept Jesus in our hearts as our savior and king over our lives. Let us walk in this light so that we may be children of the light. Jesus said to them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36) Jesus encourages us this Christmas to walk in the light which means that we must live it. This will make each of us lights that reflect the ultimate light of Christ and his love to the society in which we live. Jesus commands us to be light to the world: In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Mother Teresa once said, “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.” As we celebrate Christmas, let us then reflect the light and the love of Jesus to all of those around us.

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