"God's Lamplighter"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2002 

     One of the best loved stories of Christmas is Charles Kingsley's, The Littlest Angel.  Shortly after the story was published, literary critics labeled the fantasy as being too sentimental.  The story makes Heaven look like earth where angels behave with the same strengths and weaknesses as humans.  In spite of these insights, the story carries a very unique point of view.  God used the littlest and the least to give humanity a sign about a great event that was about to happen.

     Most of us have our own ideas about God's behavior. In Tibet, for example, there are sacred texts that are much older than our Scriptures.  Thousands of years ago these ancient people understood God as having similar properties to that of water.  One translation reads: 

Water seeks the natural way to flow.  It settles in the lowest of places.  Nothing compares to its patience.  Its steady currents in time will erode the strongest granites, the highest mountains, and smooth away all jagged edges.  It nourishes the roots of all living things whether they ask for it or not. Ice, liquid and steam are examples of how it will change form to accommodate differing environments.  It dwells in every living thing.  It is abundant and in greater supply than any other aspect of the physical world. 

     If God uses the small, the least and the lowliest, how easily we can miss sensing God's presence that is constantly creating in our midst.  Our tendency is to look for God in the miraculous, the powerful, the grand, the mighty and the mysterious.  Centuries ago, knowing God was a privilege that belonged only to those in the priesthood. Is there a way that we can know God? 

     One Christmas, when Robert Louis Stevenson was a very sick young boy, he watched the old Scottish lamplighter come down the street in Edinburgh each night at dusk to light the oil lamps. Reflecting on this experience he wrote,  "This is what I remember about that lamplighter -- each evening wherever he went he always left a light behind him."

     Of all the things that God has given us in Creation, who would have guessed that God's light could come through a girl who was probably no older than sixteen, pregnant out of wedlock, with a man that tradition holds was twice her age, who gave birth to a child in a barnyard in a highly obscure part of the world? 

     Who would have been looking for God in such a circumstance? Absolutely no one!  God really does not care who notices.  God's will is done just the same.  What makes this particular birth worth celebrating is because it was that of Jesus, a man who continues to change the world view of millions of people once they understand the implications of what he taught.

     A number of years ago an American tourist was visiting China.  While making the rounds of some of the ancient sites, the guide turned to him and asked, "Tell me, in your estimation what is the most beautiful sight in the world?"  After thinking for a while the American said, "The Taj Mahal? Perhaps the great China Wall?  A magnificent sunset?  I don't know.  What do you think?"  The guide said, "Our philosopher Confucius once said, 'The most beautiful sight in the world is a little child going confidently down the road after someone has shown him the way.'"

     It is interesting that Confucius, Jesus and the Scottish lamplighter all had the same mission in life -- lighting the way for people.  Jesus came that we might know the way through the maze of our inner world, a world no one sees.

     Tonight, each of us face different circumstances in life.  Some of us are alone.  Some of us may be struggling with our grades at college.  We may be experiencing the ups and downs of a relationship that is still in the process of formation.  We may be confused about where life is leading us.  We may be fearful about our financial future.  We may be dealing with the loss of a loved one. Some of us are being held captive of hurt feelings we cannot surrender.  Perhaps we need to remember that we are like little children that will walk confidently down the road after being shown the way.

     Our world is changing dramatically.  All of us need direction.  It is gravity that carves out the course for a river.  It is instinct which tells the salmon where and when to spawn and when it is time for the birds to migrate.  It used to be the stars that guided sea captains, then it was lighthouses that were placed up and down the coastline.  Today it is sophisticated GPS systems that help to provide guidance. 

     What of us? We who need to feel loved and cared for, who fear loneliness, who need to work on the way we communicate and who feel challenged when we meet people whose values are different from our own -- who is guiding us? 

     Tonight we are thankful to God for giving us love in such a small package that it was missed by all the great historians who were busy cataloging "the more significant events" unfolding around us.

     Those of us who follow God's lamplighter do so because we want more out of life than what our senses tell us is here.  Because we follow the path that has been lighted for us, we experience hope, joy, peace and love.  Such qualities as these govern our inner world, a world that determines how we feel and think every moment of our lives.  This is the road less traveled by people and yet it is the only path that can make a significant difference to the quality of our lives.  

     There are only two paths in life -- growth or delay.  Tonight we celebrate God's gift to us, a gift which inspires growth.  Merry Christmas!   


     Eternal God, who of us can enter our worship experience knowing that we are whole and complete?  Not many.  We come tonight knowing that each of us sits in a pew that holds others just like us.  Together we are like a sea of people who are often preoccupied by issues of life that we are convinced no one else has.  And while the title we give to our concerns may change, we realize that everyone of us knows uncertainty, we know what is like to be afraid, and we also know what it feels like to be loved. 

    Tonight we are united in the celebration of our faith.  There is no other community in the world like a church family that stands on its hope and stares adversity and vulnerability in the face and declares, "There is nothing here that God and we cannot handle."  

    You, O God, have come into our midst and declared for all eternity that we are loved and there is nothing powerful enough, not even our beliefs, our mistakes or our choices, that will change that.  Tonight, bless our sense of community and also bless us with the profound sense of Your presence.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .