It was on a dark night just before Christmas, sometime in the 1950s, when I remember pulling aside my bedroom curtains and seeing the street light across the road. It was a single tungsten bulb, and its white light was reflected off the freshly fallen glistening snow lying in the road. It was strategically placed at the top of the narrow path linking our road with the main road into Bristol. Without that guiding light, it would have been easy to stumble and fall in the dark.
As I was looking out at this winter scene, two lines came to me from that famous carol by Phillips Brooks (1835-93):
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
Every time I sing O little town of Bethlehem this street light comes back to mind.
The light referred to in the carol is the Lord Jesus Christ, who declared, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Walking in darkness is dangerous – you can stumble and fall, perhaps to your destruction. At the time, I knew God existed, and that Jesus was born in a stable at Bethlehem and died on a cross at Calvary, but my heart had not been changed. I was stumbling. It was still full of ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’. The apostle John said that Jesus, the true light, gives light to everyone (John 1:9). There is no-one so dark that Jesus cannot light them up with his light of life.
A guiding light
God has given everyone an inner awareness that he exists. The apostle Paul states: ‘What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them… So they are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:19-20). God doesn’t just leave us with this basic knowledge of his power in creating the universe and a sense of his holiness from our convictions of conscience. He also actively guides us and draws us to himself if we will only look out from the dark rooms of our lives. There were once some wise men who studied the stars and noticed a new star had appeared. It seemed to be moving westward towards Jerusalem. They didn’t just say ‘How interesting!’ – they deduced it must signify the birth of a most important King, mounted their camels, and set off on their quest to wherever God, by means of the star, was leading them.
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Are you willing to seek out the Saviour? We don’t need to drive hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage to find relief from the hopes and fears of all our years, and from the guilt of our accumulated sins. We can pray just where we are that God would forgive us because Jesus was born in human form to represent us. He died the death he didn’t deserve so we might inherit the eternal life we don’t deserve.
The promised one
The wise men were not content to simply increase their store of wisdom about the religious history of the Jews. They soon realised the King they sought was the promised Messiah, the Christ of God and Saviour of the world. When they again saw the star as they left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, they ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (Matt. 2:10). Their hearts were affected and changed, so when they entered into the presence of the infant Jesus, they fell down and worshipped him, and presented their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
They found not only their King, but their Saviour. God had provided a light to lead them, and they had actively followed. Jesus tells us clearly, ‘seek, and you will find’ (Matt. 7:7). Again he appeals to everyone to ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). Jesus doesn’t ask us to bring any of our treasures to him to help earn our salvation. We must simply come in repentance for our sins and messed up lives, and hold out our empty hands and hearts to receive his gracious gifts to us of forgiveness and eternal life.
Light and love in Boston
Some years after I looked at the street light from my bedroom window, I found the light of God illuminating and warming my heart. Many years later, my wife and I were touring through Boston, Massachusetts, when the guide pointed out a statue outside Trinity Church – it was Phillips Brooks who had been Rector there. Underneath the statue, carved on the plinth, were the words: Preacher of the Word of God – Lover of mankind. Like his Saviour, Brooks declared powerfully the Word of God and loved the souls he ministered to. Will you hear the Word and seek the Saviour this Christmas? Brooks still tells us through his carol that we should pray:
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
What a wonderful Christmas present it would be to experience ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27)!