2nd Sunday of Christmas, year B, 2015 (preached 1/4/15)
first reading: Jeremiah 31:7-14
second reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
gospel reading: John 1:1-18
During the seasons of Advent and Christmas we experience growing darkness, but we also experience the boundaries of darkness being pushed back.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Darkness has always been a powerful metaphor for those things in life that oppress or engulf us, frighten or intimidate us, cause us worry and anxiety, and suck the joy out of our lives.
We know darkness in our physical lives when illness or violence strikes, or when we lack the basic necessities of life like food, shelter or clothing. We know darkness in our emotional lives when we are burdened with worry, confusion, fear, grief, guilt or hopelessness, or when we live with addiction.
We know darkness in our social lives when relationships fail, when a loved one dies, when the blessing of solitude gives way to the burden of loneliness, or when we can’t make meaningful connections with other people. We know darkness in our political lives when we can’t organize our communities or society in ways that are just and fair for everyone.
We know darkness as a global community when children are murdered at school, when there’s a natural disaster, or when planes go missing or crash into the sea. And we know darkness in our spiritual lives too, when we feel separated from God, when prayer seems like an empty exercise, or worship only an obligation.
Darkness does indeed symbolize the evils and isolation with which we are entirely too familiar.
A pastor I knew years ago told our pastor’s Bible study group a story about an encounter he had with TRUE darkness. While on vacation, he went with a group of people “caving,” exploring a cave. While they were deep in the cave, the leader had the group stop, sit down, be as quiet as they could be, and turn off their headlamps. One by one the lights clicked out until they were enveloped by utter darkness.
It was the most profound darkness this pastor had ever experienced. He told us it made no difference whatsoever whether his eyes were opened or closed. It was all the same. He literally could not see his hand in front of his face.
After a little while, the leader turned on his headlamp, and what a huge difference that tiny light made! It cast enough light to push back the dark and enabled the group to once again see each other, the space they were in, and the way out.
While the lights were still out, the leader asked the group how hard it would be to find their way out of the cave without their lights. They all said it would be impossible. Any attempt would be dangerous, since they couldn’t see the hazards, the slippery places, or tell the difference between a three foot or thirty foot drop.
The leader agreed and told them, “This particular cave is very popular. People come here often. Were you to get stuck here without a light, your best bet would be to sit and wait for someone to come in and find you.”
It takes no great imagination to make the connection between the darkness of that cave experience, and the darkness we know in our lives – between the light from the group leader’s headlamp and the light of Christ – the light of the world.
We are stuck in darkness, not knowing which way to go to free ourselves, and wait for the One who enters into our darkness, shines the light, and brings us out.
This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back. A light shines in Bethlehem’s darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. It is a gentle glow, a thing of grace and tender beauty.
- It is the first light of the Christ child, God’s own Son, sent to find us, lost in the night with no light to find our way and hazards all around.
- It is the light of the Epiphany star, marking the way.
- It is the candlelight of the last supper on Maundy Thursday and the soldier’s torchlight on Good Friday.
- It is the glorious brightness of the sunrise on the empty tomb Easter morning.
- It is the Spirit’s flame at Pentecost,
- and the Son’s radiance that lights the whole city of God when He returns for us again.
This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back. A light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
A ray of hope – but more than that, an assurance that while we still know dark corners and fearsome shadows in our lives, GOD IS WITH US. EMMANUEL.
Christmas is proof of that. God stoops so low as to become one of us. The Creator of heaven and earth comes to us, not in a blaze of glory, but as a baby.
On New Year’s Eve we spent the evening with friends who have a dog and two cats. My children were SO excited to spend time with the animals, especially since we don’t have pets at home. I had to remind them to be gentle – that chasing after the pets and being loud and holding them down would only make them run away.
That’s the way God is with us. Coming to us as a baby without worldly fanfare – gently and quietly – in a stable, as a carpenter’s son.
This baby, this Jesus, shows us the character of God – the depth of God’s love for you and me, the lengths to which God will go to make sure we are never lost in the dark. Our rescuer, our Savior, HAS found us, and will remain with us until ALL darkness is banished from the earth.
Today, and every day through Christ, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.