Sermon Christmas Eve/Day Yr C

Christmas Eve/Day Yr C, 24 or 25/12/2006

Jn 1:1-14

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Christ the True Light”


The Fourth Gospel is very rich in providing a wide range of word pictures of Jesus. Today’s passage from chapter one is a beautiful hymn of praise celebrating Christ’s birth and life among us. One picture that John gives us here is Christ the true light. The following story, titled “The Candle,” by Willem Brandt, affirms the truth that Christ the true light continues to enlighten everyone and shine even in the darkest of places.

The scene: a dank shed ringed by barbed wire in Si Ringo, a Japanese concentration camp on the east coast of Sumatra. Outside, the tropical sun blazed by day and a huge moon filled the fantastically perpetual darkness. There were people living in that shed. No, “living” is the wrong word. We were packed away there. Sometimes we could see beyond us little sparks, as sun or moon flashed on patches of barbed wire that hadn’t rusted over the years. For it had been years now, or was it decades? We were too sick and too weak to care. In the beginning, we thought about such things as the day or hour. Now, eternity.

Beside us and in front of us, men died, from hunger, from disease, from the ebbing of the last ray of hope. We had long stopped believing in the end of the war, in liberation. We lived in a stupor, blunted, with only one remaining passion that flew at our throats like a wild animal: hunger. Except when someone caught a snake or a rat, we starved. There was, however, one man in the camp who still had something to eat. A candle. Of course, he had not originally thought of it as food, a normal person doesn’t eat candle wax. But if all you saw around you were emaciated bodies (in which you recognized yourself), you, too, would not underestimate the value of this candle.

When he couldn’t stand the torture of hunger anymore, the prisoner would carefully take the candle from its hiding place, a crumpled little suitcase, and nibble at it. He didn’t eat it all. He looked upon the candle as his last resort. One day, when everyone was utterly mad with hunger, he would need it.

To me, his friend, he had promised a small piece. So I watched him and his suitcase day and night. It became my life’s task to see to it that in the end he would not eat the entire candle by himself.

One evening, after counting the notches he’d made in a beam, another prisoner mentioned that it was Christmas. In a flat, toneless voice he said, “Next Christmas we’ll be home.” A few of us nodded; most didn’t react at all. Who could still cling to that idea?

Then someone else said something very strange: “When it is Christmas, the candles burn and there are bells ringing.” To most of us, the remark had no meaning whatsoever; it referred to something completely out of our existence. It was already very late….Then my friend became restless. He crept toward his suitcase and took out the candle. I could see its whiteness clearly in the dark. He is going to eat it, I thought. He went outside, where our captors kept a fire smouldering. Then he returned, carrying a burning chip. …he took the chip, the fire, and he lit his candle. The candle stood on his bed and it burned. Silently these half-naked men with sunken cheeks and eyes full of hunger formed a circle around the burning candle.

One by one they came forward, the vicar and the parson, too. “It’s Christmas,” said the parson in a husky voice. “The light shineth in darkness.” Then the vicar said, “And the darkness overcame it not.” You can find it in the Gospel of St. John. But that night, around the candle, it was not some written word from centuries ago. It was living reality, a message for each of us. For the light shone in the darkness. And the darkness didn’t conquer it. That candle was whiter and more slender than any I have seen since. And in the flame (though I’m sure I can never describe it, not really, it was a secret we shared with the Christ-child) we saw things that were not of this world. We were deep in the swamps and the jungle, but now we heard the bronze sound of a thousand bells ringing and a choir of angels singing for us. The candle burned higher and higher, ever more pointed, until it touched the very roof of the dark shed, and then it went on, reaching to the stars. Everything became full of light. Not one of us ever saw so much light again. We were free, and uplifted, and we were not hungry.

Now someone softly said, “Next Christmas we’ll be home,” and this time we knew it was true. For the light itself had given us this message, it was written in the Christmas flame in fiery letters. You can believe it or not; I saw it myself. The candle burned all night (yes, I know there is not a candle in the world that can burn so long and so high), and when morning came, we sang. Now we know that there was a home waiting for each of us.

And there was. Some went home before the next Christmas. The others? Well, they were home as well, I helped to lay them down in the earth behind our camp, a dry spot in the swamp. But when they died, their eyes were not as dim as before. They were filled with light, our candle’s light, the Light that the darkness did not conquer.[1] Christ the light of all people. Christ the true light, which enlightens everyone.

Whatever kind of darkness you may be struggling with; no matter how overpowering it may seem to you; there is a power greater than that darkness; Jesus Christ is the True Light of the world. He is the Light that never goes out. There is no power failure, no power outage in Christ our True Light. His Light shines in our hearts and lives each day: giving us hope in the face of despair, joy in the midst of sorrow, meaning and purpose when darkness would have us believe there is none, love and peace in a world of hatred and war. There is no darkness too strong that Christ the True Light cannot reach—like Willem Brandt and his fellow prisoners of war; nothing or no one can take Christ the True Light from us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Amen.

[1] The story here is a shorter, modified version of the one at <>.