Sunday, December 30, 2012

light shines in the darkness

All Saints Episcopal Church
December 29-30, 2012
First Sunday after Christmas, Year C
Here are the readings for today.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

photo of light on Bald Head Island by Daniel Stroud, December 2012

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I am afraid of the dark. There, I’ve admitted it. I’m afraid of the dark; always have been. And not in the, “Oh, the dark’s a little bit creepy” kind of way. I’m talking hair-raising, quake-in-my-snow boots kind of scared. I’m not afraid when there are other people around, but when it’s just me and the dark, I’m terrified. Case in point: my housemates have been gone this week, and while I have enjoyed having plenty of introvert time, when night comes I have to dash from each room as soon as I turn off the light. It’s ridiculous.

I bet some of you (whether or not you admit it) are afraid of the dark, too. But what exactly are we afraid of? What is it about the darkness that scares us? The dean of my seminary shared an interesting story in one of his classes. He had had the opportunity to travel to Africa, and in one of the conversations with the people there he asked them if they had doubts about God. “Of course!” they exclaimed. But when the Dean probed further, he discovered that what they questioned was not the existence of God, but rather whether or not God was strong enough to overcome the darkness in the world. 

We are constantly being reminded that we are surrounded by darkness, that we live in a broken world: violence, hunger, poverty, crime, war, disease, genocide. 

But Scripture is full of instances of where the light is not overcome by the darkness. Let’s start in the beginning. 1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). But also “[i]n the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). And the Word that God spoke brought forth light and “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). The very first creation is light! God was overcoming the darkness from the beginning of time! 

And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). We heard about this just a few days ago, but perhaps, if you’re like me, you got distracted by the image of the cute little baby and forgot to take in what this birth really meant. In a dirty stable, surrounded by smelly animals and rotting hay, when the teenage Mary lovingly peered down into her son’s face she was, in fact, looking upon the face of God. God, the Creator of the universe, the one who separated the light from the darkness, chose to demonstrate God’s love for creation by living within human limitations. The child Jesus grew up to be a man whose teaching and healing “made [God] known,” helped us to better understand this God who is so enigmatic (John 1:18). Jesus, the “true light,” referred to himself as “the light of the world” several times in John’s version of the Gospel (John 1:9; 8:12, 9:5). At one point he even explains, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness” (John 12:46). Up until Jesus, the only way we knew how to relate to God was through a complex system of rules and rituals. But when Jesus was born, God went from being way beyond our grasp to being made of the same atoms and molecules, having flesh and feelings just like us, able to fully understand and appreciate what it means to be human. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we learned more about what God was really like and how we could better relate to God and to each other. God in Jesus pulled us away from the barrier we had created between us, pulled us away from the darkness. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:3-4). 

God is not finished with us, just yet. In the final chapter of the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, Jesus describes himself as the “bright morning star,” foreshadowing things to come (Revelation 22:16). The morning star appears just before the sun rises; it heralds the dawn. A new day lies on the horizon, waiting to break forth and scatter the darkness. The light that was at the beginning of creation, that was born on earth over 2,000 years ago, will return to us! “[T]he home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). “5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). God will, once and for all, overcome the darkness.

In the meantime, darkness still remains. Yet we are not powerless against it. One of the most moving scenes in all of the Harry Potter films comes in the sixth movie, right after one of the main characters dies. As the students and teachers gather around his broken body, the group responsible for his death places a symbol in the sky known as the Dark Mark. The Dark Mark consists of a skull with a snake slithering through it, a terrifying reminder of the power of the forces of evil and darkness. However, rather than cower or remain incapacitated by fear and anguish, a single teacher raises her wand, projecting a small beam of light onto the Mark. One by one other teachers and students raise their wands, filling the Dark Mark with such light that it is turned into vapor. The light shines in the darkness. 

Lights shone in the darkness when people held candlelight vigils after the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Light shines in the darkness whenever we take a stand against poverty, violence, disease, and injustice. Light shines in the darkness whenever we move from exclusion and hate to inclusion and love.

Throughout the ages, this reading from John has provided a sense of comfort when tragedy strikes and we begin to fear that the darkness will win. It reminds us that the God who created us, who came to earth and “lived among us,” who “destroyed death,” rose again, and promised to return, will defeat the darkness (John 1:14, BCP 374). Indeed; God already has. 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5; italics my own emphasis).

Scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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