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Advent 2020 Devotional – December 19th

LIGHTING THE CANDLE

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.
Philippians 2: 14-15

Who has not wanted to be a star? Who has not wanted to stand out as a star athlete, star musician, star performer or star student? From the time a teacher put the first star on our paper, we have all probably wanted to shine and make a difference.

It is expected that Jesus’ followers would want to shine. Jesus commands us to let our light shine before others so that they will see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). In today’s scripture Paul writes from a dark prison cell asking Philippian Christians to “shine like stars in the world.” He wants them to reflect the light of Jesus, the Morning Star and Sun of Righteousness.

Admittedly, Christians in Philippi lived in a dark place “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Their church was established in the midst of opposition and violence, and at a time when Paul was thrown into a Philippian jail (Acts 16:19-40). Yet it is in such a place and time that people most need the light of Jesus.

Where do stars shine the brightest, but when the night is the darkest? We bear the most effective witness to Jesus when we are in the darkest times. This is when there is the sharpest contrast between the “children of God” and “a perverse and crooked generation.” The Philippians must go against the flow, against the popular opinions of a culture intent on its own destruction. Sound familiar?

A man talked with his pastor about the difficult people with whom he had to work, and how hard it was for him. Then the pastor asked him: “Where do people usually put a light?” “In a dark place,” the man replied. “Sounds like God has you right where He wants you,” the pastor pointed out.

Paul calls the Philippians to shine in the darkness by doing “all things without murmuring and arguing.” People often respond to trials and hard times by murmuring and arguing with God and among themselves. The Greek word gongysmos, translated “murmurings”, is frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the Israelites complaining against God and Moses in the Wilderness (Exodus 16:7; Numbers 14:2). It is common in time of pandemic and political and economic turmoil to resort to murmuring and arguing. Just watch today’s news!

I remember fondly an elementary school teacher who would often admonish, “Others may, you cannot.” In ways I did not understand at the time, she was calling us to dare to be different from the crowd. So when Jesus calls us to follow Him, we cannot follow other people, or measure ourselves by them. In following Jesus we will shine like stars in a dark world. If we follow Jesus closely, our faces might even shine like the martyr Stephen’s face, when ‘the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). The promise for those who follow Jesus is to rise and to wake to God’s eternal Day, and “shine like the brightness of the sky…like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

One night, when writer Robert Louis Stevenson was a boy, he put off going to bed. He kept looking out the window watching the city’s lamp lighter as he walked down the street lighting the lamps. When his nanny asked what he was doing, he said: “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

Let’s, you and me, punch holes in the darkness! Let’s lighten the darkness!

PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP

PRAYER

Lord, when life gets difficult, help us to look to you in faith, rather than grumble against you and others. We long to be different as Jesus was different, showing your love and compassion to even the least of these. We ask for your grace that our lives may be bright lights for reconciliation and healing in our families, churches, and communities. We want to punch holes in the darkness. Amen.

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