Christmas Around the World – Light for the World with John Lee

At Gateway Church in South Austin we kicked off our series called “Christmas Around the World”!

No matter where Christmas is celebrated in the world, lights are an essential element. Whether it’s hanging them on your house the day after Thanksgiving, lighting candles on December 24, or decorating streets with luminaries, Christmas is the embodiment of God bringing light into the darkness.

Digging Deeper:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner,  life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Digging Deeper

Message Video:

Message Audio:

Message Notes from Carlos Ortiz:

As we dive into this Christmas season we wanted to give a different vantage point on the impact of Jesus’ coming 2000 years ago. Often times we only focus on the birth of Jesus, and we forget this was God’s plan all along. Jesus wasn’t plan b, He was always Plan A to come and rescue us. It’s a story God was weaving from before time began. And the story He was and is weaving wasn’t for a select few, it was for the WHOLE WORLD. Over this series we will take a look at how Christmas brought something new into humanity and how its beauty is celebrated differently across nations, ethnicities, and languages.

Not everything is transferable from one culture to another. Even things that seem mundane and simple can have vast meanings from one continent and people group to another.  In one culture we greet by shaking hands, another a firm and welcoming hug, some share the sentiment with a bow, and yet other people greet with a kiss.  But at the core they are all trying to communicate the same thing.  Here’s what we’ve found at Gateway, for all of the things we hold near and dear as Americans, (and yes we have beautiful expressions in our country that people from around the world long to experience) there are still so many things to learn about God’s favorite creation, people.  We hosted a dinner a few weeks back and invited people who call our great country, and our beloved church, home.  We learned a few transferable truths that we can all learn from, and how much they tie to the gospel of Jesus. 

This first week preparing for the Christmas season, we celebrate the transferable truth that light is important.  Light has been essential for humanity for thousands of years, and mainly came in two forms: Sun/Moon/Stars AND Fire.  Light guided people from one point to another, light gave the ability to see in the darkness, but light also was a byproduct of fire.  The difference between the light of the universe and the light from fire, was that fire could be grown, fire could be shared, fire could cook a meal, and thus fire became essential in EVERY part of the world. 

Festive seasons brings to life lights in multiple ways: the German lighting of a Christmas tree, the British tradition opulently lighting our windows and homes for the neighborhood, the New Mexican luminarias that many of us grew up with, lighting candles for traditional Jewish and Kwanza celebrations, Hindu celebrations of Diwali, and the list goes on and on. Light plays a prominent role not just in celebration, but also in meaning. 

It is no different for us, and in some ways the center of Christian faith, to believe that the light of the world is what we prepare for and celebrate during this Christmas build up. John chapter 1 is explicit in this analogy of Jesus:

JOHN 1:1-9 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

Big Idea: The light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and then transforms it. 

The light brings life to the world

Just from a biblical perspective, there’s a telling story of the journey of light into the world.  It starts off with a world that is chaotically dark and without form.  Then God speak light into existence, a light without form and shapeless, but one that brings a distinction between light and darkness.  Then on day 4 of creation, we read that God creates the Sun, the Moon and the stars, and they rotate to bring a constant major and or minor light into the world.  When God is done creating the world, he steps back and calls it good.  God is pleased at this point, but our humanity takes perfection and puts a spin on it.  This is where the literal light of the world turns into a metaphorical one. 

The fall of mankind in the early creation story takes perfection, and re-invites darkness into the world.  That darkness is now something humanity has to fight against.  The Old Testament is full of great imagery of light and darkness, and the ways God leads people through dark times with his light.

We see a “burning bush” have the essence of light by fire, but not the substance of light because the bush is not consumed.  Moses sees the “miracle” and is transformed from a runaway to the leader of a nation.

We see the Israelites wander in their freedom, and God leads them with a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  

But when we get to the New Testament, the last part of the scriptures, we see a resurgence of God’s sustainable grace with the introduction of Jesus as the one who will bring light into the proverbial darkness of the world. 

So when we sing of a manger in Bethlehem, and the pomp and circumstance of the birth of Jesus, we aren’t just singing about baby Jesus.  We are singing about one who will bring order to the chaotic darkness that has enveloped the world.  Much like God brought light into the chaos of the dark undeveloped world we now live in. 

God’s introduction of light as substance allowed for new life to be formed, and for creation to take place and to populate the earth.

Jesus’ light introduces life as one that is in need of saving from the darkness.  This darkness leads to death, so when we accept the light of Jesus, his good news of salvation and transformation, we are granted new life in him. 

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”

We didn’t get to choose if Jesus came, we didn’t get to choose where he came and was born, and today we don’t get to choose if the world will celebrate Christmas or not, but we do have a big decision to make.  Will WE (you and I) choose to believe he is the light of the world.  Because for those who do believe, I Peter 2 says this:

I Peter 2:9-10 – 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The light has witnesses who believe

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

This passage is making it about as clear as possible, that the focus of this story is not on the one who has seen the light, but the one who is the light.  John is not the light, but a witness to the light.  It points us to multiple times in the New Testament of the Bible where there are witnesses to the light.

One of those is Saul, who would later be called Paul. It was before his conversion and belief in Jesus, and he’s actually persecuting those who are followers of Jesus.  On his way to Damascus he has an encounter with the light, and it knocks him off of his horse. His given clear directions of what to do next, and the first person who encounters him encourages him with this in Acts 22:

Acts 22:14-16 – ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth.  15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.  16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Now we go back to Jesus entering the world, and as he does, he has clear witnesses of his appearance.  When the son of God entered the world, he didn’t come by way of a castle or an earthly kingdom.  The first witnesses were not royals or of noble blood.  When Jesus first came into the world it was witnessed by a teenage girl, her loyal newlywed husband, and lowly blue collar shepherds.  

The shepherds were just minding their own business, when angels appeared and gave them a message to not be afraid, good news has entered the world, their Messiah was born in the town of David.

Luke 2: 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The shepherds were the very first evangelists of the good news of Jesus.  They were so excited they could not help but tell everyone what they had seen and heard. 

Have you ever seen someone who just had a baby? Or a new grandbaby, niece, nephew?  They are over the moon for this little one who has yet to produce or change anything.  But their mere existence, and the hope of all that they will become fills the hearts of those who are near to them. 

Do we understand today that we too can be these types of witnesses?

We daily get to experience this Christmas story of the true light that shone and continues to shine. We are the lights that shine Jesus on a world languishing in the darkness. “Long lay the world, in sin and error, pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of HOPE, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn…”

This new, glorious and hope filled tomorrow is all tied to our last point…

The light overcomes darkness

As the light of Jesus enters the world, darkness doesn’t just go away and make a way for him.  No, he lives in this world like any other human, all the while preparing the way for a time where he would take the right opportunity to overcome all the evil that was intended to keep God’s creation separate from its creator.  But until that time comes he faces the attack on who he is, his character, his ability, his way of being in the world.

He’s questioned by the spiritual leaders of the day (Pharisees/Sadducees), he’s tempted by the evil one himself in Matthew chapter 4. Even when he knows he has to die a painful death, he has to put those closest to him in check. 

Matthew 16: 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus overcame darkness (death, evil, sin, separation) by entering into it for us. As we’ve already touched on, in order for darkness to be overcome, the light has to enter into it.  The world began out of dark chaos, Jesus entered the world as a light in the darkness, and he would have to go to the depths of darkness in order to obliterate it.

Jesus didn’t have the luxury of living in the gray of life, and seeing how close to darkness he could get.  He was and is the standard of light, life and love, and he couldn’t be found in relationship with darkness. 

Our response to the light of Jesus.



John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

What kind of people are we?  What is the verdict of our relationship with the light of Jesus?  If his light came to bring life, if his light shines so bright that there are witnesses, and if his light came to dismantle darkness…what relationship do you want with the light of the world?  

This passage from John 3 says we either:

Love the Light  OR Love the Darkness

We all have sinned, have evil deeds we are guilty of, but are we willing for them to be exposed by the light, or do we want to keep them hidden in the darkness?

This is the beautiful truth of the light of Christ…this light is a light for everyone!  We started today talking about transferable truths from one continent and people group to another.  The fact that light is a shared value in a practical way, sheds truth on the spiritual fact that the light of Jesus is also a transferable truth from one nation, tribe and tongue to another!  

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