Sermon on John 1:1–18, for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas, Year C, January 3, 2016
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 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. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.] He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
I woke up early on New Year’s Day noticing that our outdoor Christmas lights were still on – they are set to go off at sunrise, but it was so overcast they were sill shining. I looked over to the other side of our cul-de-sac and saw that our neighbors, who had such tasteful and colorful lights, had already removed them. They must not go to a church that celebrates the Christmas Season as we do.
For us, this is the second Sunday after Christmas so our text is the famous opening of John’s gospel. If it had a title this text would be called “the mystery of the incarnation.” Or perhaps, “What God looks like in human form”.
John’s Christmas: Universal and Particular
John’s gospel has no story of the baby Jesus being born to Mary and Joseph. For John, to understand what God was doing through Jesus, you have to go back to the original creation.
In the beginning, he says, was One thing, one common source of all that exists. John calls it the Word, the Divine Logos. He says that this Divine Word is the source of everything, including life:
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
There is something perplexing going on here. John sets up a strong tension, right from the beginning, between the universal and the particular. The Divine Word is the source of everything; universally so. The Divine life is in everything; universally. The Divine Word shines like a light in everyone; universally. John can say such universal statements like:
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
And then John moves from universal to particular. This Divine Word, this Life, this Light that lives and shines in everyone, lives and shines in a particular way in one: in Jesus, the Christ. The light does not shine in John, we are told, who bore witness to the light, but in Jesus.
Jesus Shows us God
This is, for us, the doctrine of the incarnation. For Christians, if we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. The spotlight is on Jesus. And in the light of Jesus, we come to understand God – as much as any human can ever understand anything about God.
That being said, notice that the tension between the universal and the particular has not been resolved nor removed. There is a continuing yin and yang.
We believe in one universal source of all being that we all are part of. God is the ground of our being, the depth dimension of life, the One who names God’s name to Moses, at the burning bush, with the inscrutable YHWH, “I Am who I Am,” which, scholars tell us, literally can be read “I will cause to be what I cause to be.” The One that is prior to being itself.
And yet, we come to know this One ineffable source-of-being in a particular person. The Christ of the Cosmic big bang shines through Jesus, the first century Palestine Jew. The perplexing yin and yang tension of the universal and the particular never ceases.
In Jesus, the light shines. We come to know God, through Jesus, as one who is not aloof and impersonal, but as a human who walks with us through our lives. He experiences humanity. He loves, and he suffers, as we do. He is misunderstood and mistreated. He channels Gods mercy; he forgives.
It is in John’s gospel that we hear Jesus saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
So we seek to follow Jesus; to live in his light. To reflect his light. In another yin and yang moment, in Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus telling his followers:
“You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14)
New Year’s Reflections
So here it is, the first Sunday in this new year, 2016. Many of us are have been thinking of the coming year ahead. While the Christmas lights, for many of us, are still up, it is good to think about the light we want to walk in, and to reflect this year.
Often a new year starts with a look back at the year gone by. So let is start there. Every year contains a mixture of light and darkness. Let us begin with the darkness.
As 2016 begins, let us ask ourselves, what are some things I can let go of that blocked the light from my life last year? What were the practices, even the habits that block the light? What did I do last year, when times were dark, that only made them darker instead of lighter?
What voices are we listening to that only increase the darkness, the negativity, the fear and anxiety in us? We can decide not to give an ear to narratives of despair.
After taking inventory of the things that block the light, let us consider how we can more intentionally walk in the light of Christ this year. What are the practices of a Jesus-follower that we can adopt or intensify this year?
If I could have one wish for all of us it is that we would begin a contemplative practice this year. I wish all of us would spend at least 20 minutes a day in silent, contemplative prayer-meditation. I wish all of us could experience the long term benefits of a practice of wordless prayer – or prayer with one mantra word.
Over time, nothing I know of is better at helping us to live in the light of God’s presence, moment by moment. Nothing else is better suited to diminish the darkness in our hearts. Nothing brings more light than a daily practice of meditative, contemplative, centering prayer.
Walking in the light of Christ also means growing. We should fully expect that next year at this time, we will be reflecting more of Christ’s light than we are this year. We should expect that because of the decisions we make now, by this time next year, we will be better at forgiving, we will be kinder, we will be slower to criticize, and more generous. Less angry.
We will be more honest, with ourselves, and with others. We will make less excuses and believe our own excuses less. There will be more kinds of people that we will allow room for in our hearts. We will have greater compassion, and find more ways to put it into practical action.
We will grow in the light of wisdom as well. I appreciate so much the wise words of Carl Jung that were quoted recently in the book The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice. He was reflecting on the experience we all have that “what is true at one time for us, at some point no longer serves us, and eventually becomes a lie.” He said:
“we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” quoted by Deborah Adele .
When I think about all the ways my understanding has grown and changed over my lifetime, it amazes me. And I expect to keep growing and changing.
As we walk in the light, we discover more and more truth, about ourselves, about our dark sides, our ego-driven small selves. And we are able to live in larger truths. We had thought that our group was the only group, or the best group, or had all the truth and the best ways.
But that was when we were younger. Now, the light shines further for us, illumining people who are different from ourselves, whose practices are different, whose religion is different from ours, whose language for understanding the mystery of the yin and yang of ultimate reality and spiritual experience uses other narratives, other symbols and other rituals.
But in a greater light, we can see how we share a common quest, and that each tends to emphasize one side of the mystery over the other; some the universal, others the particular. But both of us can, in common, reject the narratives of hatred and animosity, and instead, embrace narratives of tolerance and compassion for all people. We can move into what Richard Rohr calls “unitive consciousness”; both-and, instead of either-or.
We can, and we will grow in greater light this year, because we affirm together the words of John’s gospel:
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
How do you want to walk in more light this year? How do we, as a congregation, want to reflect more brightly the light of Christ this year?
Let these questions form our new year’s resolutions, as we prepare to see the new thing that God will do in and through us this year.