Summary: Rather than shine light into the darkness, God brought light out of darkness, hope out of despair for Israel and will do so for us.
Introduction: In America today, when most people think of Christmas, they think of images like these.
(Show slides of Christmas images.)
We have a very glamorous, glittery, plastic, cheery, bright image of Christmas here in America. It’s a holiday of parties, and gifts and shopping and decorations. It’s a holiday loaded with nostalgia and memory. It’s a holiday full of children singing and Rockwellian images of snow covered roofs, Christmas trees and the joy of discovering just what lies entombed within the shiny red, white and green paper covered boxes under the tree.
We don’t really have a solid grasp on this holiday. That’s largely because we celebrate a holiday when the true celebration should be that of a HOLY DAY. I do want to make clear, as I have done many times before, that Christ never called for us to celebrate, commemorate or in any other way remember his birth. He DID call us to celebrate and remember his death, but not his birth. However, if we’re going to celebrate it, we need to focus on the Holy Event that occurred and not on all of the glitzy, sparkly minutia that goes with our current celebration of Christmas.
Typically, we get so caught up in the celebration, the business, the shopping, the decorations the grand memories, that we forget that there is a dark side to Christmas. We often forget that it was because of despair, shame, frustration, hatred and darkness that Christmas even occurred.
We’re so often distracted by the bright lights of the holiday that we forget the darkness that brought us a Holy Day. That’s why, this Christmas season, I’m preaching a series call “The Dark Side of Christmas.” The focus is not the darkness, but the light. I’m not wanting to focus on the dark, negative, depressing aspects that are symptomatic of our need for Christmas, but I do want to make sure we understand them so that we may have a greater understanding of the amazing grace of God. So that we may have a greater understanding of just what it was he gave us through the gift of his Son on Christmas.
Today, I’m going to focus on the fact that God brought us hope from despair. Traditionally Christmas is seen as a time of hope, but for so many people despair is the controlling emotion of their lives. And that despair can bring a suffocating darkness. Despair is the lack of hope. And many people, of all walks of life, of all faiths, of all experiences find themselves buried in the darkness of despair so deeply that hope isn’t a glimmer in the distance, it’s barely a distant memory. Yet, out of this despair, God brinks hope.
To understand this, let’s look at the despair Israel found themselves in when God chose to bring hope.
Movement 1: A Growing Darkness
Review Jewish history OT:
• Called out of slavery in Egypt to re-present God to the nations (God always hears the cry of the oppressed.)
• Failed to live up to their God given destiny
• Returned to slavery under the Babylonians
• Persians defeated the Babylonians…giving the Jews a small degree of self-rule.
• OT ENDS…With Malachi giving God’s promise that “THE DAY OF THE LORD” is coming…a day of rescue and a day of judgment (refiner’s fire.) It will be proceeded by one who will prepare the way in the spirit of Elijah (John the Baptist)
Teach Jewish history Intertestamental:
• Alexander the Great conquers Persia (332 BC) and begins “Hellenization.” The policy of uniting the world under Greek language and culture…the policy was followed by Alexander’s successors.
• Two of Alexander’s successors set up dynasties at his death. One, the Ptolemic dynasty was based in Egypt, the other, the Seleucid dynasty based in Syria and Mesopotamia. Both fought over Palestine…and the Jews…for more than 100 years.
• Eventually the Seleucids won control and one of their leaders, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (literally translated…God made manifest) was especially harsh and radical in his attempts at Hellenization.
o He aimed to eradicate Jewish religion.
• He prohibited central elements of Jewish worship
• He attempted to destroy all copies of the Torah
• Required offerings to Zeus
• Erected an idol of Zeus in the temple and to that image he sacrificed a PIG on the altar of God.
• Antiochus was opposed by Mattathias. An old man from the tribe of Levi. He had five sons, the oldest named Judas Maccabeus (the Maccabes) this family led a revolt against Antiochus, destroying Greek altars and beginning a revolution that turned into a 24 year war in which Israel ultimately won it’s freedom from Antiochus IV and the Seleucid Dynasty.
• However, upon winning the new Jewish leaders established a kingdom that largely followed the Greek ways of Antiochus and often persecuted the more devout Jews. During this time the two dynasties that were ruling Israel fought amongst themselves, leaving the nation in a constant state of unrest.