Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Light in the Dark - A Sermon

I’m still basking in the glow of Christmas Eve services, aren’t you? Or maybe it’s just the bloat of too much holiday chocolate. No, really, it’s those services – they were awe inspiringly beautiful. One of my favorite moments in both of the services is when the lights are dimmed and Silent Night was played.

I love sitting there in the semi-darkness with the glow of candles illuminating the place. There’s a warmth about it that you can’t find anywhere else. Good thing for all those candles, though – otherwise it could get very dark indeed, especially if we were to have a power outage. That wouldn’t be comfortable at all.

Actually, I like the darkness. I get up very early – around 4 AM – and like to go around the house without the lights on. It makes for a gentle start to the day. I watch the sun come up and never have to worry about alarm clocks. I can do this because I know the house so well that I could just about walk it end to end with my eyes clothes.

Besides that, I have cheats. The house is never in total darkness. The DVD player and the VCR have little blue and red lights. Just about every clock in the house has an LED light. I navigate through the house using the little dots of light as guideposts so I don’t bump into things.

It’s sort of like years ago when I took flying lessons and my instructor decided I was ready for night flying. I was not so sure. I had enough trouble navigating during the daytime. But once he got me up there at night, the twinkling lights above and the lights below made any insecurity worthwhile. What’s more, I could see the roads lit up and the bridge – and even the airport came into beautiful view with the runway all lit up and guiding me home.

Darkness is great when it’s not total, when there are guiding lights. In our modern society, you don’t get much total darkness, so it might be hard to appreciate that fact. But in John’s day when he wrote the Gospel, darkness could be nearly complete, and dangerous. People understood the power of a light in the darkness.

That may be why he sandwiched this little meditation on light in between the more well-known segments about Jesus being the Word. You know, In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Great stuff. And important.

The “Word” passages for John do the same thing that Matthew’s and Luke’s birth stories do. It tells us that Jesus was a real person, God with us. Emmanuel. The significance of this cannot be understated. God is with us, one of us. In becoming truly human, God makes OUR story into HIS story. And in making our story his, God shows with absolute clarity that we matter to him.

But John wants to go beyond that. These first few paragraphs of his Gospel serve as a prologue – a map for where he’s going with the rest of it. And he shows us up front that he wants us to see Jesus as more than merely God-become-man. John wants us to see Jesus as Guide as well. He is the light in the darkness, the one who not only lets us know that God is with us but that he will lead us home, show us the way if only we will follow.

John might see Jesus as those blinking LED lights that guide me through the dark house or as those beautiful runway lights that let the weary pilot know that this way is rest and safety.

Since we’re still in the Christmas season, I’ll tell you that one of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I love the beginning when Joseph tells Clarence the Angel (second class) all about the world, he shows him a picture of the earth. When he gets to Jesus, there is a flash of light. The only problem is, it’s a flash, it fades when Jesus leaves.

I see that and scream in my head, “Noooo!” The light still shines in the dark! The darkness is still there, but it cannot overcome the light. You might despair that the darkness still exists, but take heart – it doesn’t take a huge light to point the way. Jesus is our light, still shining steady and sure. All we need to do is keep our eyes on him, and he will guide us home.

As John knows, the miracle of Christmas is not just a birth, but also a light.