Sermon Text: Isaiah 60:1
You heard our Advent plan this year. As we lit a positive candle, we put out a negative one. We lit peace and put out fear. The peace we have with God gives us confidence moving forward. We lit joy and put out disappointment. The joy of a Savior never lets us down. And we lit love and we put out sadness. Christ’s love is all the comfort that we need, comfort that picks us up. I’m not saying we will never struggle with fear, disappointment, or sadness ever again. But the whole point is that we don’t have to just suffer through those things as if we are all alone. We find our peace, our joy, and our love in the arms of our Savior. So, which other candles would you like to put out in your life? Those three we mentioned – fear, disappointment, and sadness – that is a good start. But surely there are more we can add to that list. Like what?
1) Anger. Do you struggle with anger? This is the most wonderful time of the year. But think how easily little things during the holiday season, can get the anger train moving. Stores are crowded, and 3/4 of the people in the self-checkout line have no idea what they are doing. Streets that were practically empty for 11 months are bumper to bumper, full of people who seemed to have barely passed their driver test just yesterday. We order something from Amazon and our Prime membership 2-day delivery doesn’t apply, so your aunt will get an Epiphany present instead of a Christmas one. These are, or should be, blips on the radars of our lives. But we go through this, and anger comes so easily, right? And is anger like this fitting for a believer, a child of our gracious heavenly Father, esp. at Christmas? How nice it’d be to snuff that one out.
2) Doubt. Wouldn’t it be a great to put out that candle? Yes, because doubt is something we all struggle with. Just think about promises God has made in his Word. He promises to forgive every sin. But we struggle with the same one over and over and we wonder if we are ever going to go too far and cross the line. He promises to work all things for our good. But life lately has been one kick in the teeth after another. We doubt anything profitable can come from that. He promises to never give us more than we can bear. But as we wonder what to do with unruly children, deal with aged parents who need constant attention, sit in the doctor’s office waiting for news, or sit at the kitchen table with a stack of bills and an empty account, it’s really easy to doubt you will make it through this. If only we could extinguish the doubt candle.
3) Selfishness. This one is tough, because often when we’re being selfish, we don’t realize it at the time. But usually later, it does hit us. Whatever we did, wherever we were, whomever we were with, we didn’t make it about our Lord or other people. We made it all about us. The focus was on what we had to say, what we wanted, and how we thought things should go down. Being that way, 1) runs contrary to God’s Word which tells us to serve one another (not ourselves) in love. And 2) no one likes hanging out with selfish people and they stop calling, stopping by, or reaching out. To have a heart that is always looking out for the others’ good, esp. at Christmas, to put out that selfish candle in our hearts would be a blessing.
We could go all night, couldn’t we? 4) Envy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to snuff that one and live with happy, godly contentment? 5) Shame. Shame comes from us doing something wrong, contrary to the Lord’s Word. And shame is awful. To do the right thing and avoid shame, to be able to extinguish that candle would be wonderful? 6) Impatience. How can we not want to put out that one and instead trust God will always do the right thing at the right time? One more – 7) Anxiety. To stop that candle’s burn and instead relax because we know everything is in God’s hands – who wouldn’t want that?
All of these candles stink. They really, really, really stink. But we struggle with all of them. At times, the flames burn brightly. Why? All of these come from sinful hearts, which we all have. We’re angry because things don’t go our way. We doubt because we lack a perfect faith. We’re selfish because at its core, that’s what a sinner is. We’re envious because we think God messed up and we deserve more. We’re ashamed because we know what we did was wrong. We’re impatient because we arrogantly think things should run on our schedule. And we are anxious because we want to be in control. When that isn’t the case, we freak out.
And while I would love to say that Christmas gives us a reprieve from all this, in many ways it makes things worse. We already talked about the anger as things bother us while we get ready for the big day. Does doubt that the birth we are celebrating is just some legend or myth that we hold to because it makes us feel good creep into your brain? Selfishness this time of year – be it for stuff or praise – is a constant struggle. Envious because he got something you “deserved”? Ashamed to go to a party and face a family member you wronged? Impatient with family as stress mounts? Anxious all ends in disaster? We covered fear, disappointment, and sadness, but what about all the rest of the candles?
Well, there is one more candle we have to light – the Christ candle – the one smack dab in the middle of our wreath. Sorry to get all nerdy, but it is like the one ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A number of other magic rings were created, but all of them drew their power from the one ring of the bad guy. And the saying about that one ring was, “one ring to rule them all.” In a similar way, this one candle rules all the others. It rules three candles we already snuffed out – fear, disappointment, and sadness. No need to fear, for our Savior is always there for us. No need to be disappointed. He’ll always be all we need. No need to be sad. To know Jesus’ love helps us power through our trials. The Christ candle, and everything it represents, rules the three candles.
And it also rules all the other burning candles we lit in our minds tonight. Go through the list. Anger. Our Savior was born for angry sinners, to appease his Father’s rightful anger against us. Knowing that huge thing has happened, we don’t need to get uptight about the small stuff. We can snuff the anger candle. Doubt. Is this Christmas thing real, factual history? Will God live up to his promises? Will I be OK? Yes! What we celebrate tonight is something that happened – no doubt. It was a promise fulfilled. If he fulfilled the promise to send a Savior, won’t he fulfill the other ones? Believe it - he will. We can snuff the doubt candle. Selfishness. To see perfect selflessness, a selflessness that results in our forgiveness and our home in heaven, how does that not build us up to faithfully serve as we have been served? We can snuff the selfishness candle.
Envy? Snuff it. What more could we need than God’s love and guidance? Shame? Snuff it. Because your sin is gone, your shame is as well. Impatience? Snuff it. God knew when to send his Son, just as he knows when to do everything in your life. Anxiety? Snuff it. And it that candle tries to relight, douse it by running to the arms of your heavenly Father.
Get the point? As the Christ candle rules the Advent wreath, so Christ rules our hearts. And with that being the case, we have hope, peace, joy, and love. AND we have calm instead of anger. Confidence instead of doubt. A servant’s heart instead of a selfish one. Satisfaction instead of greed. A comforted heart instead of a guilty one. Patience as we wait for the Lord. And relief amidst the anxieties of a crazy world.
No, those things are not completely gone. Chances are one of them will try to relight even tonight. But remember which candle rules – the Christ candle. And remember who not only rules but loves, forgives, cares for, and blesses you. It is the Babe of Bethlehem and the Man of Calvary. It is your Lord, your Savior, your King. And in his glorious light we bask. We close with Isaiah’s words: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Indeed it has. Indeed it does. And thank God, it always will. Amen.