A Little Light
Back in 1986, Robert Fulghum first published one of the most famous essays ever written. His essay begins:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
This, of course, is just some of the wisdom that Fulghum shares in the essay “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” And Fulghum’s right, these are important lessons that just about every one of us learned about the same time we were learning to tie our shoes.
But, as much as we might want to stay young forever, we all eventually grow up. This is something that the Apostle Paul – who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century – writes about in the book of 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul writes:
11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11 (Common English Bible)
Now, Paul writes all of this for a reason. Paul wanted the people that he was writing to, to know that our faith is supposed to grow and mature just like people grow and mature. But that’s also just the way life works.
When you reach a certain age, you stop buying boxes of cereal with cartoon characters on the front. When you reach a certain age, you stop rushing off to take a picture with every character you see at Disney World. When you reach a certain age, you stop building with Lego, collecting action figures, and running for the fun of it…or, at least that’s what I hear because I haven’t reached that age yet.
So there comes a time in life when we’re supposed to put childish things behind us. And there’s nothing wrong with reaching a point in life where you stop reading picture books and start reading novels. There’s nothing wrong with reaching a point in life where you care more about the clothes you’re going to wear than you do about the clothes your dolls will wear. There’s nothing wrong with reaching a point in life where you’d rather watch a documentary instead of another episode of Dora the Explorer.
But there is something wrong with forgetting the lessons that we learned when we were kids. And that’s not just true for things that we learned in Kindergarten – like how to share, or play fair, or clean up your own mess. It’s also true for lessons that we learned in church.
Because it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about things you learned in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about lessons you learned at church camp or during a church service; there are life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
There are life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
And we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about some of those lessons. Because today, at Melbourne Heights, we’re starting a new series of sermons called “Imprint” where we’re going to be talking about life lessons that were first imprinted on us when we were kids. And we’re doing that by taking a closer look at Bible stories that most of us first heard when we were little. So we’ll be taking a look at the story of Zacchaeus, and Jesus’ triumphal entry, and Philip’s encounter with a man from Ethiopia. And, just so you know, these are also the stories that our kids are going to be learning about during Vacation Bible School when it starts up in another week.
But I want to get started today by taking a closer look at a story that would make just about every kid's list of their favorite Bible stories because this is a story that we tell our kids year after year whenever Christmas starts to draw closer. So, obviously, I’m talking about the story of Jesus’ birth. And we find the most well-known version of this story in the book of Luke – or Luke’s biography of Jesus. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn with me to Luke 2.
But before we dive into this story today, I want to remind you that we’re trying to remember life lessons we learned when we were kids. So even though many of us have heard this story more times than we can count, I want you to try to take in this story like a child who’s hearing it for the very first time.
And to help you do that, I just want to point out that kids ask a lot of questions. Research done by a child psychologist at Harvard shows that the average child between the ages of 2 and 5 asks about 100 questions a day. So, as we take a closer look at this story, think about the questions you would ask if you were listening to it for the very first time.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at Luke 2 together. We’ll start reading in verse 1, which says:
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:1-7 (New International Version)
So what kind of questions would you ask after hearing this story? Because, I’ve gotta tell you, there are a ton of questions I would ask. I’d ask: who is Caesar Augustus? And what’s a census? And who’s Quirinius? I’d want to know why Mary and Joseph had to go all the way to Bethlehem when she was so close to having a baby. And I’d wonder why no one could find a place for them to stay.
And, as an adult, when I think about the answer to all of those questions, all of those answers point to something that I wish our kids didn’t have to know. Because when you stop and think about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, they show us that our world can be a dark place.
Our world can be a dark place.
I mean, let’s just stop and think about the answers to all of the questions I just asked. Who is Caesar Augustus? Well, at the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of Rome – the empire that had invaded and conquered Jesus’ people, the people of Israel, about 60 years before Jesus was born.
I also asked, what is a census? And a census was a way for the Roman Empire to figure out how many people were living in the entire empire so that everyone would be taxed at the appropriate rate. Only there was no appropriate rate because no one policed the tax collectors and they routinely took more than people actually owed.
And I asked who is Quirinius? And he was a governor appointed by the Roman Empire to be in charge of Syria. And, it just so happened that Quirinius had to violently squelch a rebellion in Syria not long before Jesus was born so that Rome could stay in power there.
And why did Mary and Joseph have to go down to Bethlehem even when there was no place for them to stay? It’s because the government told them to. And, if they had disobeyed, there’s no telling how Mary and Joseph would’ve been punished.
So, the events surrounding Jesus’ birth show us that we live in a world where the strong take advantage of the weak. We live in a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We live in a world where far too many people are only concerned with taking care of themselves…even if they have to hurt other people to do so. We live in a world where governments oppress people they believe are a threat. So, yes, we live in a world that can be a dark place.
And as much as we wish we could shield our kids from all of the darkness in our world, it doesn’t take our kids long to learn how the world really is. Research shows us that 20% of 8-year-olds struggle with feeling lonely. There are almost as many kids who have anxiety disorders as kids who have ADHD. Almost 3 million American kids between the ages of 3 and 17 are depressed. And over 11 million kids in America live in poverty. Even kids with stable homes hear and see discouraging news stories on TV. Every kid who goes to a public school has to practice emergency lockdowns. So our kids know that this world can be a dark place.
But you also learn another important lesson when you’re pretty young. And it’s a lesson I remember learning one night long, long ago when my parents told me it was bedtime. So I shuffled off back to my bedroom. I put on my pj’s and brushed my teeth, and I climbed up into my bed.
Now Mr. Sandman should have been arriving at any moment to bring me a dream...but before drifting off to sleep I heard it. Far off in the distance, there was a faint “boom.” At first, I tried to ignore it. I rolled over onto my other side, closed my eyes tight, and did my best to fall asleep. But then I heard it again, only this time it seemed louder. “Boom.” Then a few seconds later there was another “boom” and another, and another.
At this point I did what any curious kid would do, I crept out of bed and tried peeking out through my bedroom curtains to try to figure out what was going on. But it was dark outside so I couldn’t see anything. And, as I stood by the window peering out into the darkness, the noise came again. “Boom!”
And since I had absolutely no idea where this noise was coming from, it was time for my imagination to start running wild. I imagined some criminal mastermind sneaking around in the bushes just below my window, trying to blow a hole in the wall of our house to break in and steal my world-renowned collection of Lego and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
And with this mental image running through my mind, I did what any child would do to protect myself from the evils of this world...I climbed back in bed, pulled my blanket up over my head, and wished that it would go away. But the “booms” kept right on coming.
Now, I'm not sure if it only took a minute or an hour, but after what felt like an eternity, I finally managed to work up the courage to crawl out from under my blanket. But I still couldn't escape the constant “booms” ringing just outside my window. So, in order to avoid a full-blown panic attack, or at least in an attempt to alert my parents to the perceived prowler hanging out just below my window, I finally went back out into the living room and asked my parents about the “booms.”
And like any good parent would do, my mom and dad stopped and listened so they could hear these “booms” for themselves. And in the most loving way possible, my dad explained that the “booms” were coming from the tank training range at Fort Knox, which was a few miles away from our home. There was nothing for me to worry about. I was safe.
But I didn’t believe him because I couldn’t see those tanks firing from miles away. So I was convinced that someone was still lurking outside under the cover of darkness. So my dad took me to our front door and he flipped on our porch light. And that one little lightbulb drove out the darkness around the front of our house. And, as I peeked out the front door, I could see that no one was there. So I knew I was going to be okay.
So as kids, we learn that when things are dark, you just need a little light.
When things seem dark you just need a little light.
And that’s exactly what we got when Jesus was born. In John 8:12, Jesus tells us:
12 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
John 8:12 (Common English Bible)
So, yes, even as kids we learn that our world can be a dark place. But Jesus is the light of the world, so when we follow Jesus we don’t have to walk in darkness. So even though our world can feel like it’s filled with hatred, we can know that we are loved. Even though the world may seem chaotic, we can have peace. Even though the world can try to destroy our spirit, we can be filled with joy. Even though the world can be a scary place, we can hold on to hope.
Because even though the world can be a dark place, the light of Jesus is brighter than any darkness. And in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us that those of us who follow him have this light within us. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says:
14 You are the light of the world…
And he goes on to tell us to:
16 let your light shine before people…
And this is a lesson that we all need to learn no matter how young or old we are. We may live in a dark world, but when life feels dark, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
When life feels dark, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
Because you have the light of Jesus in you. So we need to take the light of Jesus and let it shine through us.
And starting next week, we’re going to dig deeper and talk about ways we can let Jesus’ light shine through our lives.