The Light in the Darkness

The opening verses of John’s gospel offer a grand, poetic introduction to who Jesus is and where John’s theology will lead us throughout his writing.  He begins with a wide-angle view of the Word existing from the beginning of time, part of the universal Creator.  Next he narrows his view slightly to describe the Word as the source of all life and light; a light that vanquishes the darkness.  Next he closes in a bit more to tell of the Word who rules the earth and all its inhabitants.  Finally, he gets really specific and tells us the Word is expressed in a singular, finite human form in Jesus Christ.  Of all the gospels, John’s is the best example of “Awaiting the Already.”

When we look back into the Old Testament, we realize that John’s literary structure mimics that of the  writer of Genesis.  The Creation story flows much like John’s story begins, as it tells of God from a cosmic view, to God who brings light into the world and separates it from the darkness, to God who rules the earth and all its inhabitants, to God whose image is expressed in the creation of a finite, human form.

The parallel is clear as John wants us to think of Jesus as the beginning of a new creation and a new covenant coming through a new divine image in finite, human form: The Word made Flesh.

“The Light in the Darkness”
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Fourth Sunday of Advent
#4 in series: Awaiting the Already

John 1:1-14, NRSV

For many people, Luke’s Nativity Story is a favorite because of its pastoral setting and story-teller style.  The poetry of John puts the story on a grander scale.  I must admit that this is one of my favorite parts of the Gospels because of the way it connects the birth of Jesus to the Creation Story and establishes His divine connection.  John’s style challenges us to notice the epic nature of God’s relationship with humanity.  It also helps us to comprehend how God has planned, from the beginning, to be with us through all things.  For me, this is the ultimate example of “the already” that we are waiting for this Advent.

Let us pray…Lord, today you show us Jesus as a Light shining brightly in a dark world.  You assure us that this light cannot be overcome by the darkness.  Lead us through our own darkness into the Light of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”

I can’t imagine a clearer way to describe Jesus.  John intentionally draws a parallel to the origins of Creation, to suggest that what happened in the Incarnation of Christ was the beginning of a new creation and a new covenant through a new divine image in human form: The Word made Flesh.  There is no doubt that “the Word” is Jesus.

In Genesis, God speaks, “Let there be light,” and light appeared.  In John, the Word brings light once again into the darkness of the world.  John will continue to use this image of light throughout his gospel.

  • When Jesus encounters Nicodemus in Chapter 3, it is under the cover of darkness; Jesus tells him that those who live in truth are those who come into the light.
  • In the Temple in Chapter 8, Jesus describes himself as the “light of the world.” He then heals a blind man, removing his darkness and opening his eyes to the light.
  • Just before he raises Lazarus from the darkness of the tomb, Jesus challenges his disciples to walk in the light of day so they will not stumble in the dark.
  • And in Chapter 12, Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time and calls his followers to believe in the light, so that their lives might be determined by the light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  This is good news for people in Advent who are living in darkness; it is a reminder that sometimes, the light is only visible when one has lived through the darkness of one’s life.

Jim Lovell, the hero commander of Apollo 13, tells the story of when he was a Navy pilot in the 1950’s flying a mission off the coast of Japan.  Faulty instruments had led him off course, away from his aircraft carrier and he missed his rendezvous point by several miles.  Lovell felt hopeless as he circled in the dark over the Sea of Japan.  As he tried to turn on a cockpit light, his instrument lights suddenly shorted out and everything went black.  His chances of survival were growing dim with no navigation assistance at all.  As his eyes began to adjust to the complete darkness, he glanced at the water below him.  Lovell was able to spot a faint trail of phosphorescent algae, which had been churned up by the propellers of his aircraft carrier.  He was able to follow this trail and land safely.  If it had not been for the complete darkness, he would not have seen the radiant trail that had been there all along to lead him to safety. [i]

Suffering can be like the darkness that surrounded Jim Lovell’s plane.  Just as it forced him to adjust his perception and see a new way forward, our hardship can give us an unexpected chance to recognize a hope that has been with us all along.  I’m not suggesting that God wants us to suffer, or that God causes our suffering.  I think that we are reminded that God is always present with us to offer us a new life, something better than what we are suffering through.  Sometimes it is the suffering that helps us arrive at that realization.

To be honest, we need to realize that for many people, maybe even you, the “season of lights” feels a little dark this year.  We see the lights, hear the music, go to the parties, sing the songs, but we still can’t quite feel it.  It’s hard to convince someone coping with the loss of a loved one that this is the season to be jolly.  How do you get in the spirit of giving when you’ve just lost your job or your business is failing?  Watching the news every day makes it hard to think of this as a season for peace on earth and good will toward all.  How does this light John talks about help us get through any of that?

Think about all the brightly colored lights that adorn our trees, homes, and businesses this time of year.  They do shine bright and pierce the darkness at night, but they also cast shadows.  For many people this Advent, the observance of Christmas is hidden by painful shadows.  It doesn’t help to offer false hope, forced good cheer, or shallow encouragement disguised as friendly advice.  The best thing we can do is lift-up what John’s Gospel makes clear: What has come into being in Jesus is life,
and the life is the light of all people.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not extinguish it.

Jesus was not born into a world filled with holiday cheer, colored lights, or peace on earth.  He entered a world of crowded city streets, inhospitable innkeepers, a paranoid, murderous king, and hopelessly oppressed people.  As Matthew already reminded us, Jesus entered the world as it is, with all its darkness and gloom.  In his life, Jesus experienced the same kinds of pain we do.  He learned about loss, betrayal, and disappointment.  Jesus became human to fully experience our humanity so that we could share this one truth:God has come to be here with you.  Not in spite of our suffering, but to share in our suffering.  Not in spite of our darkness, but precisely because of it.  Because, as the gospel suggests, we were sitting in darkness, and now we can see a great light.  And this is not just any light – it is God’s Light.  Against all the laws of physics, this light does something that no other light can do: God’s Light casts no shadows.  That’s why the darkness cannot overcome it; this light fills every space with hope, love, and forgiveness.  This light shines on an irrational vision of peace.  This light warms every place it touches.  This light tells us that we are not alone.

The One who cried your tears, felt your anger, wrestled with your temptations, and felt the sting of saying goodbye joins us in this light.  The way we have been waiting for is already present in the Light of God – Emmanuel, God with us.  For now, that is enough.  It is enough to affirm that God has come to identify with your humanity, feel your pain, and accompany the lonely steps along your path.  God is with us in Jesus to be a light that shines through our shadows.  God gives us hope that will not fade, peace that will not be understood, love that will not let you go, and joy that will not create shadows.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] deVega, Magrey R. Awaiting the Already, © 2015, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, Page 70-71