Second Sunday of Christmas
January 5, 2020
Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 14712-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18
The Light Shines in the Darkness
For both Phylis and me, this past month seemed unusually dark. We both struggled with lingering or recurrent viruses that affected us both physically and psychologically. Normal projects, like writing a Christmas letter to family and friends, didn’t get accomplished. Decorating our home and cookie baking happened both later and more sporadically than usual. Our moods often reflected the dark and cloudy days of Michigan in December and early January.
The darkness this month was bigger than the two of us. Most of our immediate family, including our grandchildren, seemed similarly afflicted with illnesses. Another kind of darkness encompassed our nation’s capitol, surrounding the impeachment of President Trump. Uncontrolled fires in Australia unlike any other in its recorded history, the recent flooding in many southern states, and this week, the killing of Iranian General Suleimani in a U.S. drone strike all contributed to a frightening and depressing darkness that seems to cover every nation and peoples…
Phylis and I and perhaps people everywhere living with so much darkness so need these days the comfort and assurance of the Holy Spirit to receive and believe the words of John’s gospel:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.
On this last of the twelve days of Christmas, this first chapter of John’s Gospel, tells the story of Christmas in a radically unique way. It tells of a Word, the Word through which everything in the world was created, takes on human form, and in the words of one translation (The Message, Eugene Peterson) comes to live in our neighborhood, comes to be light shining in the darkness.
Yesterday a member of All Saints, Mason, stopped by our home to pick up music to be sung by choir members of Calvary and each of the four congregations where I’ve served as interim pastor over the past six years at the 50th anniversary of my ordination celebration on the 18th. She shared with us her darkness following the untimely death of her daughter in August. I thought about the parallel stories of darkness members of Grace have experienced in recent months. But she also shared with us pictures of a surprise celebration of her 75th birthday just a month after her daughter’s death. It was light shining in her darkness. Through a loving extended family, in the midst of deep grief, she experienced grace and truth, love and freedom.
She spoke to us of her painful loss and then, though not in those first days of mourning, of the comfort she now experiences in believing that her daughter is with God. I was struck by the timing of her testimony…following a conversation Phylis and I just had yesterday morning about our darkness, our depression. It seemed to me a gracious gift.
I think about how crucial and wonderful it is that God in Jesus came to live in our neighborhood about 2020 years ago. And continues to live in our neighborhood through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who suffered and died and rose again to live forevermore…who comes to our front doors on cold and gloomy Saturday afternoons with words of grace and truth.
I think about the words of Martin Luther who in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed declares that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit calls us through the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and sanctifies and preserves us in the true faith.
And so it was yesterday, the coming together of the written Word from John, chapter 1, and the words of one of God’s children who stopped by to pick up some music, all orchestrated by the Holy Spirit to quicken our faith, to bring light to the darkness.
The light shines in the darkness…in Luke’s telling of the story, to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, shines in Mary and Joseph caring for and adoring their newborn son in the humblest of nurseries…in Matthew’s story, it shines in the dreams of a troubled Joseph to take Mary as his wife, to leave Bethlehem in haste because Herod in his ruthless darkness and paranoia, had ordered all infant males in that region to be killed.
And so too in John’s telling of the God of all the world, of all the billions of stars and planets, God through the Word deigns to come to planet Earth, as one of us, to save us from the divisive and destructive darkness that too readily inhabits and would control and corrode our souls, our homes, our neighborhoods, our societies, so “in our face” these days. So for Phylis and me, the darkness of late found its opportunity in our illnesses and in the maladies of friends and loved ones. But yesterday, grace and truth also happened. In the morning we named our frustrations, our fears, our vulnerabilities. And just in the naming of these realities, there were some shafts of light. At the front door in early afternoon, more light shone in the sharing of sorrows and the expression of faith in the One who came to live in our neighborhood, who through his death and resurrection, assured us that we and all our loved ones and, indeed, all of creation which came into being through him, would be held in his Father’s heart forever.