First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Life itself has come into being through Jesus, the Christ. He is life which is light and a hope that is for all people. What we might call Jesus is “life itself,” the making of a life worth living, treasuring, embracing, and sharing. No, Jesus’ light does not eliminate the darkness, it does not make all the pain go away, it does not give us a name that knows no suffering. The life that is introduced by Christ is a light that will always burn, however, even in the darkest pain and turmoil, even when we are most bereft of hope. The Light of Jesus, which is the way, the truth, and the LIFE is more than eternal life, though it is surely that, too. It is a way of life, a practice of living into the Light, no matter what the world may throw our way. The way, the truth, and the Light that is the incarnate, flesh-bearing Christ is our living into the fullness of life, here and now, bearing witness to that light and helping each other with that light. We know, by the light of Jesus, we are not alone.
But maybe we should start, as we are calling Jesus the Light of the world, by saying what light is. We use the word ‘light’ all the time and it makes me think: what is light, really? When I started actually trying to define light, which I don’t think I have ever done before, I realized how hard it is, when we get down to it. Definitions of/for light went something like this: “something that makes vision possible ... electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength that travels in a vacuum with a speed of 299,792,458 meters (about 186,000 miles) per second…a source of light … to ignite …” And my personal favorite: “not dark.”
And to light something is to set it ablaze, maybe a small fire that could grow into something big, vast, and expansive, which also gives light to all that surrounds it. So, light is something begun at a source and heats, radiates, moves out and illumines, burns, and shows forth – so that we can all see. Our idea of the light of Christ is two-fold: Jesus is a light that shines on our path, shows us the way to God AND He begins a fire in us, kindling, burning and energizing us to share His light (which is God’s love and grace upon grace, by the way) with the world.
John says this morning, about the light that has come into the world in Jesus, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Just to be clear, the darkness is not all bad. We learn in and from the dark, we bump around in the dark and find our way. And we find, if we are fortunate to find it at all, hope in the darkness. That darkness and light are both of God and in the absence of light, God is still present. And, in the end, there is no such thing in our spiritual world as complete and total darkness because the light of Christ burns in all places, no matter how dark.
I really love the Lord of the Rings movies. In the final movie, Return of the King, Frodo Baggins comes face to face with a giant spider – having been betrayed and set up by Gollum, who only desires Frodo’s death and the ring. And what actually saves Frodo in this moment, other than the intervention of his trusty and faithful friend, Sam Wise Gamshee, is a vial of water which magically lights the darkness when it’s bearer is in distress. And when Frodo is in the spider’s cave, nearly succumbing to the dark, his own fear and complete exhaustion, the light shines in a terrifying darkness. Sam uses the light, too, later, to help fend off the spider, as he saves the embattled Frodo.
And images of light and dark permeate the Middle Earth world of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself was a devout Roman Catholic and his faith informed his Rings world with demons, darkness, and the light of faith. But the faith that character’s in the stories have is not necessarily in any one person, but in the fellowship of the ring, as a whole. The light that they share is that of friendship and it takes all of them to complete the salvation of middle earth and the destruction of the forces of darkness. No one person does it; they do it by bearing witness to the light of all of them.
Each time, during Advent, as we lit the Advent wreath, I prayed the prayer on page 109 in The Book of Common Prayer, which are a few of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp to put it under a bucket but on a lampstand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. And you, like the lamp, must shine that light on all people in the house…”
The light of the world has shone His light on us. Now, he calls us to take that light and let it shine, radiate out and away on all in our path. The light is this: the goodness, love, and hope of Jesus, who is grace upon grace which dispels the darkness. The light of Jesus is love, faith, enduring fidelity to the reality that God has come among us. Jesus is the light of the world but He also calls us to become that light ourselves, the city on a hill, the lamp on the stand that allows everyone to see Jesus.
Light is a powerful thing, allowing us to see things clearly. Without the Light of Christ, how can we see the mysterious and powerful God who calls us? Without us, the bearers of the Light of Jesus, how will others know the love and hope of God that can change everything? We aren’t asked to do it alone. WE are given each other, community, to strengthen and steady us. God in Christ shows the way and we are called, hand in hand, hearts joined in hope, to follow His light and reach out to others along the way; the light that dispels the darkness. That is the good new for this day!