John 1: 1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 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.…
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Our gospel lesson today is one of my favorite readings in the Bible. It is also one of the most enigmatic, hard to pin down passages in the gospel. To me, it is mystical, enticing, and challenging. It calls me, asking me to ponder deeply. The words themselves resonate—the word was made flesh. The word lives among us. The light shines in the darkness.
Powerful. Mystical. In this ancient hymn, the prologue to John, we hear everything we need to know about Jesus–the Word made flesh. Uncreated and imperishable. The Word, who brings God’s words to us in real time. The light of the world, the one who faces excruciating rejection, yet makes us all acceptable to our God, our Father. The life of the world.
The Word became flesh and lived among us.
God, Creator of the Universe, Life itself, Light with a capital L, Love, grace, truth, Christ, redeemer. God put on flesh, became incarnate, allowed Himself to be in flesh, with all its warts and wrinkles–really.
God became flesh and lived among us. Mary held her baby, smelling his neck, stroking his soft skin, feeding him, nurturing him, wondering how such a miracle could be. Jesus came and lived within our realm— drank, slept, walked, got hot or cold, ached, hurt, talked, reached out, hugged, dreamed, sat in silence, bled, and died. It boggles my mind when I think it through. And why? Why would God come and dwell among us? So we might fully know what we can know about him, about ourselves, about life, about our short human life? Yes, and maybe more. For in the Incarnate God, in Christ, we see ourselves.
The Word made flesh. The Word living among us. The Word of God, Jesus, God Incarnate, the Christ. Living, still present, in spite of 2000 years, in spite of crucifixion and resurrection, in spite of churches and religions and technology and theology. In spite of it all, Christ is still present here and now. God is still among us. Love, grace, truth, life, light. Grace upon grace. Light in our very deep darkness.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
These words resonate so deeply with me this morning. We have seen a great darkness, haven’t we? As a matter of fact, we have seen many darknesses, many deep and disturbing and long lasting darknesses. The Spanish word for dark is oscuro, oscuridad for darkness. Obscure, unable to see, absence of light.
In thinking about great darkness, the first image that came to my mind was the sky the morning of the great fires. It was an eerie dark, with smoke and ash filling the air. The sun was blood red, and then not visible at all. It felt like Hell, really. It felt like a concrete image of the year we had already had and the view of the near future. Bleak, obscure, kind of scary. In an odd parallel of the pandemic, it was hard to breathe and we all felt like staying home.
But light comes. Light came. The fires were gradually extinguished, the skies gradually cleared, some rain came and dampened the ground. We went on with our Covid- altered lives. And now the forests lie waiting for the promise of healing snow, white softness replacing black scars, deep moisture sinking in to help damaged roots recover, deep enough snow to keep breaking branches from falling too far or too fast. The light shines. The darkness did not overcome it.
We have had lots of darkness besides the fires. We have lost friends and family to Covid, we have lost jobs and vacations, school days and play days, we suffered through a nail-biting election process that doesn’t seem quite over yet, we heard horror stories of hurricane after hurricane beating down on our neighbors to the south and east. We each have personal stories of our loved ones, all that bring us sadness and worry. Reports from around the globe reminded us that we are not alone in slogging through a difficult time in almost all respects. This has been a crazy, difficult year.
But still the light shines. All this darkness did not overcome it.
It gets dark mighty early here in the winter. The early dark surprises me sometimes, and I find myself groping around the house about 5pm, forgetting to turn on the lights soon enough. It’s a silly thing really, but I love to let the natural light be in our house during the day. It seems more in tune with nature and our natural rhythms. But it does indeed mean that dark, obscurity, comes early. The Christmas season with all its holiday lighting comes at just the right time. I love to plug in the tree lights, flip the switch for outdoor lights, and watch the white lights around the big mirror come on and chase away the dark. Sometimes the one little battery powered candle light in the window comes on first. It is a little light—I’m not sure my across-the-street neighbors can see it—but in the first dark of evening, it shines brightly enough for me to make my way through the house. Even one small light overcomes the darkness.
Christ is our light, Christ has brought this light into the world. He became flesh and dwelt among us. This Christ-light is still very much with us. His light has overcome the great darkness, the great void of absence. His light is present with us always, in all our darknesses and human-made light.
So what do we do with Christ present with us? We go looking and seeking and following stars and rumor as we look for Christ. We find him in the mirror, in the crowded stores, on the street corners, on TV screens, in places of peace and places of violence. We find him here and in Korea, and in Uganda, in remote places throughout the world and in our most populated cities. Christ sits beside us in the restaurant, or on the plane. He comes to us in our moments of isolation. He is there in the Covid rooms of the hospitals, in the peaceful rooms of hospice houses, in the solitary cells of penitentiaries. He agrees with what we say, or we have nothing in common. She is in our best friend, or in the woman who has betrayed us beyond belief. He reaches for us with arms of love or is in the face of those who despise us. For Christ is there, in each one of us. He is unbounded by the borders of church, of Christianity, of human judgment. Christ lives in a very real sense in each of us. He lives in the least of us, the most powerful of us, the best of us, the worst of us, the churched among us, the unchurched, the unbeliever, all and each of us.
An article by Mark Sandlin brought some challenging ideas into my view this week. Mark is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church, and a blogger that I read upon occasion. The article that grabbed my attention was entitled, “The Problem with Finding Christ in the Least of These.” His main thesis was that it is necessary, but perhaps too easy to see Christ in the poor and needy. For those who are hungry, we can swoop down with our canned goods and warm coats and be the savior. For those on the streets, we can hand over tarps and try to provide shelter. We can see Christ, but can we be Christ–can we be in relationship? Can we eat with those we would rescue? Can we sit and talk, or just give charity? Christ would have us look beyond the easy, the obvious. Christ himself befriended tax collectors and beggars. He cured lepers and Roman daughters. We need to look for Christ in those we disagree with, in those who insist on their own way, in those whose rhetoric represents the worst of our society. In all situations, we need to look for, and find Christ, and be Christ.
It is too easy to stand with those we agree with. It is too easy to polarize ourselves against those who seem so obviously wrong. It is too easy to listen to one-sided newscasts and cast judgment with incomplete information or limited experience. Our lives make it too easy to be sure, too easy to be righteous. We find ourselves holding the spotlight of opinion, the glaring searchlight of bias, rather than the light of Christ. Instead of dispelling the darkness, we cause people to shy away from the awfulness of glare. Instead of leading the way with a light that shows the path, our light of judgment causes blindness to us and others in its way. We cannot do this any longer.
I cannot do this any longer. I read news reports of violence, of people shooting and killing other people, of neglect and abuse, of people threatening and bullying and acting out of ignorance. I react. I stand in judgment. I turn inward. I stand on my own self-righteous box of belief and cast negative judgment. But Christ would have us hold the light high. He would turn the situation upside down. He would have us see him in those situations.
If we truly seek to illuminate our world with the light of Christ, if our faith is strong that God/Christ/Word is present in all situations, we must go out, seek, find, and then be ready to find common ground. Being a force for de-polarizing our world means we listen with love and openness, we do not judge or stand in bias, and we work hard to open doors of communication that have too long stood closed against the light. We find common ground, and reasons to be in relationship. As we find our common ground, we find our faith again. We find Christ. We find who we are meant to be, and how we can be Christians, really, in this difficult world. We hold our light high, giving light to those around us, showing the way.
We cannot do this alone. We can only do this in prayer and faith. We must go beyond our human inclination to find right and wrong. We must believe and see the Christ in each one of us, including ourselves. We must be in relationship where relationship is difficult, where communication is tenuous. It is time for us to be very brave, to be very sure of God’s presence, to be very clear about the power of Word, love, and grace.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was of God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 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.