Speaker: Martha Fergusson
2nd Sunday after Christmas/Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 1: 3-14
John 1: 1-18
“The Light”, written by Rev. Roberto DeSandoli
Ten years ago, when I first began to attend worship at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, as a brand new Christian, this reading from the Gospel of John quickly became my favourite.
There is so much to love and to explore in these verses:
“In the beginning was the Word”
That mysterious Word, that Logos
“And the Word was with God”
That miraculous Advocate, that redeemer and companion
“And the Word was God”
That wonderful Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, that beautiful reality of the Trinity witnessed to in all of its life-changing power; diminishing none of its paradox and mystery
As the first words of John’s Gospel continue, they reveal more and more the power and presence of God, the mystery of his nature, and (much more importantly) the Good News of His presence:
“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”
As John continues in the prologue to his Gospel, he takes us through a turn where God and God’s Word give way to God and God’s Light, after pausing briefly at God’s Life…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
This Word, this Spirit, this Christ, was in the beginning with God, all things come into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…
What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…
When we speak about God…
When we speak about God’s Word… about his threefold presence…
When we speak about God’s creation and redemption and love…
John tells us that what we are speaking about is not only “life,” not only “light,” but rather “the life” …the life [that is] the light of all people…
There is a big difference between that which is merely “life” and that which John calls “the life”.
Life is wonderful; life is the newness of the world; life is what causes the birds to sing, the flowers to bloom, and the whole of creation to cry out in celebration to its creator, but it is not “the life.”
“The Life” is what gives life its meaning.
“The Life” is what lets us know God is with us.
“The Life” is our encouragement and our advocate.
“The Life” is the Christ who has, since the very beginning, been with God and of God; who has always been coming to seek us out and grant us His peace, His mercy, and His love.
“The Life” does not end where mere life does.
“The Life” in-fact transforms mere life into resurrection, it transforms that which we are so sure of; that which we can set our eyes to and our hands upon and shows us that these things are merely shadows of what they will be in the world to come.
“The Life” convinces us that though we are not so complete and so final as we think, that this is actually Good News; the Good News that the Word came to reveal.
“The Life” John says is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
For as wonderful and as mysterious as John has already shown the Word to be, this is the moment that he shows us God’s plan for this Word, this Life, and this Light:
John’s Good News is not simply that the Word has been with God since the beginning…
Not simply that this Word is the source of every good thing on earth…
Not simply that this Word has given us “The Life” lived in God’s presence…
But in-fact that this Word’s purpose… that this Life’s purpose… that this Light’s purpose is to cast out the darkness.
A purpose that it is always fulfilling; from the very beginning until the very end, so that we should have no fear anymore.
It is truly Good News that God’s Word, Life, and Light shines in the darkness, that this darkness is no match for the light, that this light banishes the darkness and restores hope, peace, joy, and love in place of fear, however that might not even be the best news about the truth of the light and the darkness.
The best news, it seems is that the power of the light over the darkness is SO GREAT that it has caused Bible translators to struggle for all time just to put this victory into words.
When I discover a new Bible translation, the first thing I do is flip to John 1: 5, not just because it is my favorite verse but because I am so curious as to how the translators of this version have chosen to put the victory of the light over the darkness into words.
“Overcome” is how our familiar NRSV and NIV translators have chosen to put it.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not (has not) overcome it.”
Throughout the various English translations, translators have chosen to substitute “overcome” for words that they feel give better witness to the victory:
“The darkness has never extinguished it”
“The darkness has not apprehended it”
“The darkness has not overpowered it”
“The darkness has not perceived it”
Going back to the old standard, the King James Bible, this translation puts it this way:
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not”
Though each translates this fact slightly differently, what is clear in each of these translations, in each of these word choices, is that the darkness stands no chance against the light; what is clear over and over again is that no matter what the darkness throws at the light, the light has never and will never be put out.
That the victory of God’s Word, our Life in God, Christ’s Light is so sure, so complete that it invites us to see not only the light but the darkness differently.
To see that because the light has, is, and will achieve victory over the darkness that we are free to live in total freedom from it.
Because we know that God’s light defeats darkness, we are free to see God, life, and ourselves as they truly are.
We are free, as one anonymous poet has put it, to “learn by paradox”:
That the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high,
That the broken heart is the healed heart,
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is the wear the crown,
That to give is to receive…
This same poet invites us to not only bear the darkness but to find God’s light in it:
God’s life in our death,
God’s joy in our sorrow,
God’s grace in our sin,
God’s riches in our poverty,
God’s glory in our darkest valley
For a moment, I would like to invite each of you to reflect on this promise.
To please sit and reflect with me in prayer over what it really means that God’s light is shining in the darkness.
Imagine the greatest darkness you have ever faced.
Maybe it is a darkness in your past, maybe it is a force of darkness in the presence of your life; perhaps it is a fear you have for the future. Wherever it is, I want you to picture that darkness.
That most hopeless and fearful moment.
That cold, lonely night.
That hot, angry day.
And if that place is too dark, if it is too dangerous, just stay back a step; don’t go all the way in, just acknowledge where it is and what it is.
As you hold that darkness, either the darkness itself, or just the knowledge of the place of that darkness, I want you to be honest about it.
Be honest about what it is: it’s dark, it’s ugly, it has a shape and a sight and sound and maybe even a smell that is unpleasant.
Be honest that this darkness has, at least, some force, some power.
And don’t give into that darkness but just acknowledge it for what it is. It is something, not everything, but something.
In the same way that you have called to mind the darkness, now I want you to call to mind the light that is within you, that light that is Christ, the light that is God, the light that is the word and the life of God in you.
And just as you acknowledged the darkness, I want you (much more importantly) to acknowledge the light.
Imagine the form that light takes in you.
Maybe it looks like your old trusty Bible
Maybe it looks like the love of Jesus Christ in all of His glory
Maybe it feels like the power of God the Father
Maybe it feels like the presence of God the Holy Spirit – in whatever mysterious form it takes in your heart
And maybe it’s none of those things – maybe the light is a light. Maybe it’s a ray of sunshine; maybe it’s simple and comforting like a nightlight; maybe it’s just a little candlelight off in the distance; maybe instead of being big and powerful it’s very small and very delicate.
As you bring that light into your mind and into your heart, I want you to notice something.
I want you to notice that no matter what the darkness looks like or feels like; no matter how deep the darkness, no matter how scary or how unpleasant,I want you to see that it is no match for the light.
See that light, no matter how small, no matter how delicate, no matter how old or how tired that light might feel to be, and see that the darkness is simply no match for it.
That the darkness does not overcome it, and it never will.
That the darkness does not extinguish it, and it never will.
That the darkness does not apprehend it, or overpower it, or even perceive it, and it never will.
Not only does the darkness not overcome the light, but it doesn’t even comprehend it. The darkness doesn’t even know what to do in the presence of such light. The darkness has no answers, it has no power; it has no authority of any kind next to that light.
The Truth that John teaches us this morning through his Scripture, at first glance, may appear to be little more than a technical teaching about God.
In all the talk of word, and the life, and the light, it’s easy to get confused, it’s easy to get lost in the names and the mystery and to miss the Truth of John’s teaching.
The Real Truth of this teaching, the Good News of John’s teaching this morning is this:
The word, the life, the light; it’s not technical language about God, it’s not a formula or a math problem to be worked out, it’s not something to mystify us into thinking that God is far away, only the opposite:
The word, the life, and the light is as near to us as God’s own Son, who came to take on human flesh and to intercede into our human lives.
The Word is God’s eternal presence, God’s eternal purpose.
The Life is our life in Christ that gives life its sweetness and its meaning.
The Light is God’s promise in each of our lives.
The promise that though there is darkness in the world, that though this darkness is real; though this darkness has some presence and some authority in our fallen lives, and this fallen world, that next to God’s light it amounts to nothing.
There are times in our lives when it seems like all we can see is darkness.
There are times that we look up—and like looking at a starless night sky—we see no light at all.
In these moments, God reminds us that he has sent his word, his life, and his light, that not only has God sent these things but that they have been sent from the very beginning. That there has never (and will never) be a time when God’s light is not shining in the darkness.
In these moments, God calls us to look up again, to see that where once we saw only darkness there is actually now a light we couldn’t see before; maybe just a little light, maybe only a tiny point in the great black sky.
The Good News of this light is that no matter how small this light is in our darkest night, no matter how hard it is to see, to matter how weakly it might be shining when all the other lights in the world seem to be out, that this light has always and will always be shining.
That this light, this Word, has been there since the very beginning and that it will continue to be there until the very end.
Though the darkness is real, there is a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.