“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,” by Louis A. Dole

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“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” – Isaiah 9:2

Reading

Isaiah 9 · Luke 4:16-44 · Psalm 21

Sermon

This text tells of the condition of the world which made necessary the coming of the Lord. At Nazareth, where the Lord was brought up, He went into the synagogue, took up the book of Isaiah, and read the words “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

The Old Testament throughout tells of the fall of man from his pristine state of innocence and dependence upon the Lord until evil had gained the upper hand and held men in bonds which they of themselves could not break. And when the Lord came into the world, He did not look upon humanity as if it were moving on in the way of spiritual progress. In His eyes evil was not seen to be loosening its hold upon men. He spoke of men as blind. He spoke of them as bound and in prison. He spoke of them as lost. He spoke of the Scriptures as being made of none effect. He spoke of the necessity of a judgment.

Thus the Gospels represent the Lord as considering man to be in spiritual danger. And He came into the world to save men from this danger. He did actually come into the world. He took our nature upon Him and by means of a direct combat with the powers of evil did accomplish a redemption. He lived humanity’s life in the midst of humanity’s need and helplessness and provided the means of salvation for all men and for all time. So He was able to say, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” And then of His uplifting power in the days to come He immediately adds, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

The history of the world since the Incarnation testifies to the power which has come into the world through Christ wherever His teachings have become known and accepted. Nothing in history can compare with the spiritual power that the Advent has exerted. That the Lord came into the world, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, that He came in conflict with the powers of evil, and redeemed men from a slavery which was becoming more and more hopeless, that His whole life – His every thought, His every wish – was devoted to the spiritual good of mankind, and that through Him a new hope, a new incentive, and a new power over evil were felt – this, preached under many forms, proclaimed in many lands, has awakened an enthusiasm, a confidence, a desire for a better life, which is without parallel.

There is, of course, another widely accepted theory concerning the development of mankind. The researches and discoveries of archaeology and kindred sciences have led to the formulation of a different history of human life upon this earth. In it human life in its beginnings is pictured as very crude, and little by little, out of a dark past, the conditions of human life show improvement. In this hypothesis there is no sign of a fall, but instead a slow, struggling, upward development. Age-long is the struggle through which man passes before he emerges into anything like civilization. Thus it is urged that man has not fallen from purity but has slowly emerged from a state strangely like that of the animals below him. At the time of the birth of the Lord Augustus Caesar was on the throne at Rome, and in this view the Augustan age marks one of the higher points of human achievement and glory.

But it is not the external states that count. The seeds of destruction were within. The existence of human life upon earth as well as human life in the spiritual world is dependent upon the reception of the Lord’s life within. Human research seems to establish the fact that the human family has been gradually struggling out of a primitive rude condition. The Bible, on the other hand, certainly depicts a serious decline in man’s spiritual life, from a state of perfect innocence when “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden,” to a state described by our Lord when, in fulfillment of prophecy, He said: “This people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed.” This spiritual history teaches us that true knowledge became more and more obscure and perverted as man became more and more wise and prudent in his own eyes, having less and less that innocent quality of little children to which our Lord said it was more easy to reveal spiritual truth. The knowledge of spiritual truth gradually became so obscure that in time a Scripture had to be written in accommodation to perverted states of thought and life. Spiritual darkness did cover the earth, and gross darkness the people. All knowledge of God was in danger of being lost. Iniquity had at last so prevailed that religion, whether through the guidance of the spirit, through sacred writings, or through forms of worship had about lost its hold. The powers of darkness were boldly trying to destroy man’s spiritual liberty and to make him “the servant of sin.” At this point the Lord came into the world as its Redeemer and Savior.

The “fall” was man’s turning from love to the Lord and the neighbor to the love of himself for the sake of himself. The Lord could not by Divine fiat abolish evil. Evil had become the life of men, all the life that they were capable of knowing or realizing. To blot it out would be to blot them out, to wipe out the human race and defeat heaven itself. So He came into the world to save men alive. This the Lord accomplished by His life in the world. A large part of the world is yet unaware of this. The Lord took on our nature and came into the world that He might be present with us always. He came into the world never to leave it. He is today closely present with everyone. Philip said to the Lord, “Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” To anyone asking this the Lord’s reply still holds: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” We cannot see Him with our physical eyes, but we can see Him with the eyes of the spirit. With some this inner sight is closed; yet as the Lord opened the eyes of men’s understanding, He can today draw aside the veil which keeps men from recognizing their God and Savior.

But this is not the whole story. We need to see Him as one who is engaged in conflicts which even His closest followers did not know. In the greater light of this new age we can see that deeper control over evil which is manifest from the words of the spirits of darkness, “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us?” and the exclamation of His disciples: “Even the devils are subject to us through thy name,” and His own words: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”

In our thoughts of the Lord at this season we should not leave out this deeply tragic side of His ministry. For it tells of struggles against spiritual powers and adversaries, and it tells of a victorious might which wrought a deliverance and secured a freedom which can in part be understood by one who, through the exercise of this same Divinely given power, gains deliverance from bondage to his own evils.

As we celebrate Christmas, may we be able to look forward with confidence to the day when knowledge of the Lord shall spread everywhere through the earth “as the waters cover the sea.” For as men come to look to Him who said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” and become more and more moulded by His spirit, there will come again into the hearts of all the perception of God and of His presence which will crown the age-long struggle for wisdom, restoring human life to its fullest possibility of development and culture, of righteousness and peace.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Amen

Read the original sermon in PDF format

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