Many Lights Are Brighter Together
Last week, we heard about one of Pastor Heckert’s routines to prepare for Christmas. He talked about choosing the right tree, putting it in the stand, positioning it just right, admiring its natural state and aroma, and then putting on the lights.
We heard how difficult it was to get the lights just right. How when they were finally balanced there wasn’t just a feeling good that it was done … the tree, really was a beautiful sight. I’ve certainly noticed this year how the tree is the only light turned on in the room in our home. It’s true a well-lit Christmas tree brings more joy to a darkened room than a single light bulb. Certainly, a single bulb can be bright enough on its own, but when even much dimmer lights are joined by the hundreds, their brilliance and glow just fill a room in a different way and touches everyone who sees them. It’s not magic or anything like that … it’s just nice.
Last week, we also heard St. Paul speak of a routine as we prepare for Christ, the light of the world. His words gave us encouragement as we prepare and live spiritually for his second coming. In our text today, we hear Paul’s conclusion about quarrels over different opinions among the Christians in Rome.
There were those who believed they could eat anything, while others believed they could eat only vegetables. Some wanted to observe the Old Testament festivals, while others considered every day the same. Paul wrote to settle these disputes and perhaps more importantly he wrote to teach how to receive and welcome one another, that they might shine in unity, because many lights are brighter - together!
Many lights together bring praise to God, and that because Jesus, has united all God’s children in hope through His sinless life and sacrificial death. That hope is the reason His church has been able to shine bright enough for all the world to see.
And that hope is written in the Old Testament. Paul begins our text: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Sadly, there are many today who shy away from the Old Testament, because well it can be difficult to see or understand the hope that is promised there.
My friends without that hope, we’re like lights hung on a tree that aren’t plugged in. When we look to ourselves for hope, we find only darkness. Without hope, we are blind and unable to see God’s gracious light, a light that lightens the pathway to forgiveness and so to Him.
In Christ, we are given hope through God’s Word. In this hope, we receive the confidence and encouragement to confess and repent of our sins, knowing that we are already forgiven and will be strengthened.
In God’s Word, we can look to the prophets for instruction; there, we’re given many many examples of suffering and endurance. As a pastor, I can’t imagine preaching the last twenty-five years and receiving nothing but negative feedback from everyone like for ex: Jeremiah. And yet, Jeremiah persevered and kept proclaiming the Word of God. He also persevered through physical persecution: beatings, imprisonment, being thrown into a muddy cistern. Me I’ve never even been threatened.
Jeremiah also had false prophets to deal with as they preached only what the people wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. And in the midst of it all Jeremiah was still able to write: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him. (Lam 3:22–24).
Clearly Jeremiah understood that when God is the source of your strength, you have everything you need … even in the midst of hardships. I understand that sounds easier said than done but you don’t have any choice in the hardship part, you only have a choice in how you handle it and when God is your strength it does make a difference. That too is not magic it’s His promise.
So it’s our hope in Jesus that unites us to God, and so Jesus who is the source of our strength, life, and salvation, it is Jesus who unites all who are the family of God. In the Gospel of Luke, after he had risen from the dead, Jesus explained to the disciples the entire meaning of the Old Testament as he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:45–47).
That is the Old Testament is all about Jesus, our Savior, the hope of the world. Our hope that was once prophesied through Isaiah when he wrote: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).
Our hope, Jesus is the Lamb of God who offered Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of all people, of all times and places. And God’s plan of salvation would come to its completion when Jesus was raised from the dead and unite us to Himself through his blood.
Just as many lights on a Christmas tree are brighter together, so are the united praises of God’s people. And as the many lights are joined by one strand, we, too, are joined together by the One who is called Jesus. We’re joined through the gift of our salvation that is found in Christ and offered to us and to all by the grace of God through the Good News that our sins are forgiven by his blood and we are clothed with His righteousness, together gifted to us in our Baptism, and strengthened in us as we receive His very body and blood.
Therefore (Paul writes) Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. But it’s not always easy to welcome one another as fellow members of the family of Christ. Paul knew this to be true for the Romans and for all would read his words after them and so he continued to encourage them and us to live in the love and righteousness purchased by Christ. Paul knew pride is a terrible thing to let stand between Christian brothers and sisters.
He also knew that the darkness that once filled the world has been pierced by the light of Christ. Yes, the world has seen a great light, enlightening our lives with grace and mercy, making us one in Him who loves us and gave Himself for us all.
In His Name, Amen.