Have you ever been in a really dark place – maybe the power went out in a storm one night or you were out in the countryside on a cloudy night…it can get really dark. And because we are so accustomed to light of some sort always being on –your phone, your clock or radio, outside street lights– it can be really disorienting when all the lights go out and it is completely dark.
That’s how Gary Finnigan felt when he was in the underground subway concourse between the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. Gary had been working as an undercover transit policeman and was walking past a brightly lit gift shop when the plane hit the first tower. He heard a low rumble that turned into a constant explosion. As the buildings came down, everything underground went dark. Completely black. The air filled with smoke and dust and the walls began to crumble.
There was rubble – everywhere. Gary could hear people crying out for help – but he couldn’t see them. Even though he was a trained policeman, Gary felt helpless. He had none of his equipment on him – and he had lost all sense of direction… He didn’t know which way to go or even which way was up. He – and the others were all caught in the rubble, dust and darkness underneath a crumbling tower. They were…in a word… stuck.
It was probably only a few minutes… but it seemed like forever when a beam of light shone on him and a voice called: “Take my hand.”
You would have thought that his first impulse would be to grab the hand and go but Gary said, “Wait, there are more” and he reached out his hand in the darkness and said, “Take my hand… there’s someone who can lead us out”. Someone grabbed his hand and called out the same message… “Take my hand”. The message continued… “Take my hand”… there’s someone to lead us out… “take my hand”.
Finally…the man with the light whose hand he was grasping tightly…began to move…slowly, carefully and with him, a long line of people were led out of darkness into light.
Gary Finnegan said that they counted when they got out: 36 people had held hands and followed the man with the light out of the darkness and into the light that morning.
When I heard this story, it reminded me very much of what the prophet Isaiah said to God’s people thousands of years ago when they were in the darkness of exile, wondering if God had forgotten them, and feeling very “stuck.” Into that darkness and despair Isaiah proclaimed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”
At the time, it was a bold prophecy, a promise for the future. But that promise has come true!
Friends, just as the angels – God’s good news messengers -- proclaimed to the shepherds, tonight, let me proclaim to you: Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate tonight, is the light that shines in the darkness. Jesus is the one who calls to you and to me: take my hand. Jesus leads us from death to life.
Gary Finnegan’s story illustrates it well. Gary saw the light, heard the voice and grasped the hand… and then called out to those who were behind him. And that’s all it took to lead 36 people out of darkness and death into light and life. Gary later recalled that when he turned to thank the man with the flashlight… he was gone. He never knew his name or saw his face.
You can try to explain it some other way, but that’s how I believe Jesus works. Jesus, the light of the world – shines a light into our deepest darkness – and then uses ordinary people like a man with a flashlight and Gary and people like you and me… to encourage one another, to hold one another’s hand, to follow the light.
And we need the encouragement because it is really easy for us – for you and me -- to get stuck in the darkness. There is much darkness in our world over which we can be filled with despair, sorrow or fear – global concerns about our environment, war, terror, hunger, fires and earthquakes. And then there are the pains and sorrows that hit closer to home: family and friends who are sick, dying, in trouble or somehow in need of help. It can be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel “stuck.”
But… again.. it is into the darkness of our lives, into those places where we feel “stuck” that Jesus shines a light and calls out to you and to me: take my hand.
Take my hand. You see God did not come into our world as superhero with light shooting from his palms or as a cosmic bolt of lighting or even in the wonder of an eclipse… God came into our world as a baby…a vulnerable human baby – like us. And because Jesus came as one of us… he can call to you and me and offer his hand and lead you and me out of darkness and death into light and life.
The prophet Isaiah called the coming Savior “Emmanuel” which means “God-With-Us.” God sent Jesus to us to be God-With-Us so that we would know that we would never be alone. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, even in the dreariest places, we find Jesus Emmanuel is with us, Jesus who is the light of the world.
Jesus is shining a light on you… and calling out to you… “Take my hand.”
The invitation is “for you.” Receive Jesus’ offer as a gift because living with the light is so much better and brighter than remaining “stuck” in darkness and despair or trying to somehow get “unstuck” on your own. We all need a hand. Jesus offers us the gift of a light to see, a hand to grasp and a savior to follow. This gift is given “for you.” There are no strings attached. It’s free – and it’s “for you.”
But maybe… you will choose to respond as Gary did and turn to another and say… there is someone with the light who can lead us to life and light… take my hand….and she can say to the next person…take my hand… and he can say… take my hand… and so on… so that together… we can follow the one who is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Together, we can become bearers of the light of Christ – letting Christ’s love and light shine for all to see.