Grace Presbyterian Church
January 5, 2020, Christmas 2A
Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-9
This table here is looking a little empty, isn’t it?
No shepherds, no Magi, no Mary or Joseph, no animals. It’s a little bare.
And yet as the author of the gospel of John would have us understand, this seemingly bare setting is the most essential thing for us to know.
The four gospels deal with the birth of Christ (or don’t) in different ways. I have to throw in the “or don’t” part because of the gospel of Mark, which…doesn’t report on the birth of Jesus at all; the story picks up straightway with John the Baptizer in the wilderness. Luke’s narrative, on the other hand, is fairly extensive, including not just the birth of Jesus himself but also reporting on the unusual birth of John the Baptist; recording multiple “songs” as part of the story, including Mary’s well-known Magnificat and also songs given to multiple other characters; relating the familiar parts of the story including the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the angels’ appearance to the shepherds; the presentation of the eight-day-old Jesus in the Temple, with a couple of prophets present to call out the child and his significance; and even the account of the twelve-year-old Jesus getting separated from his parents and being found in that same Temple, deeply in conversation with the scribes and teachers there.
Matthew’s story, which is rather terse by comparison, does nonetheless include the Magi and their visit to Jesus, observed as Epiphany, as well as the repercussions of that visit in the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem and the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, and eventual settling in Nazareth.
John has something quite different up his sleeve. There is no story of what happened at Bethlehem – there’s no mention of Bethlehem at all, nor of Mary or Joseph or shepherds or Magi or any such thing. There is, instead, a story of light.
I hope you were able to notice the resonance between the first reading of the day, from Genesis 1, and the reading from John. It seems deliberate. When you begin your gospel account with the words “In the beginning…” you are inviting, practically begging your readers and hearers to remember those opening words from Genesis. When you then launch into an evocation of light, the very thing first brought into being by the words of God in that Genesis story, you’re only making the connection even more explicit.
But what about this light? We are told about John, who came to bear witness to the light, the true light, coming into the world to enlighten everyone. We are told that this light, the “light of all people,” is found in the life of this one, the Word, the one that was in the beginning with God. But maybe the most interesting thing about the light comes in this sentence: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
That sounds odd in our ears, doesn’t it? Grammar teachers everywhere cringe at this, probably. The mix of present tense – “shines” – and past tense – “did not overcome” – doesn’t work immediately in our hearing or reading.
As awkward as this sounds, I don’t think it’s an accident or a grammar mistake. The light indeed shines in the darkness. Goodness knows the world knows darkness enough today, and anyone with even a small awareness of history realizes that the darkness of human existence and conflict has never been absent.
It’s like this candle here, on the table with the Christ child. It doesn’t matter how much of the light we dim here, it still shines.
(put out lights)
Admittedly this isn’t the darkest room, even with all the lights off and blinds drawn. But even so, and even if this were in the middle of the night, this candle’s light would still be evident. In fact, if this were done at tomorrow night’s Epiphany service, the light of this small candle might be even more evident or obvious if every other light were out.
So it is with the light of which John writes; it shines in the darkness and even shines despite the darkness. And the darkness, either the darkness of the void into which God spoke light or the darkness of the hour of Christ’s crucifixion, did not overcome the light, and in fact cannot overcome it. Ever.
This light of which John speaks isn’t a huge light. It’s not like being blinded by the lights of a full stadium or concert or other venues, but it is persistent, it is consistent, and it is undying light, which no darkness can ever quench or extinguish.
Maybe this is the thing we most need to hear from John’s flight of poetic mystery. The light shines. It doesn’t necessarily overwhelm, or drown out all darkness, but it shines, and no darkness can drown it out. If anything the light becomes more evident in the darker times.
So it is with us, if we’re following Christ. We don’t overwhelm the darkness, but neither are we drowned out by it. And if that life of which John speaks, the Word who was from the beginning with God, is truly the source of our light, the darkness has already failed to overcome it. No matter how grim it seems all around us, no matter how overwhelming or hopeless it might appear to be light in a dark and angry world, the darkness has already failed to overcome the light, if it is the true light that is shining in us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #134, Joy to the World!; #123, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; #137, He Came Down; #136, Go, Tell It On the Mountain