(This was a sermon preached on Christmas Day at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Ottawa, on Dec. 25, 2014.)
The text is John 1:1-5 – 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (NRSV)
Darkness in the World
I think we can agree that we have heard or seen, maybe even personally experienced, darkness in this world. From the disturbing news in Australia of a mother killing seven of her children, as young as 18 months old, as well as her niece, to the hostage taking in Sydney, Australia where three people lost their lives, to the incomprehensible shooting in the school in Pakistan where over a hundred schoolchildren were killed, to the racial profiling that occurs throughout the world, but in the news lately in the United States with the death of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police, to the news of the two police officers shot dead in New York City, to the shooting at Parliament Hill in THIS [Ottawa] city and the death of Nathan Cirillo, to the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec by vehicular homicide, to the ongoing fight against Ebola in West Africa and the thousands of deaths in its wake, to the horrifying beheadings and reign of terror that ISIS carries out in the Middle East, to the rape and sexual harassment allegations of Jian Gomeshi and Bill Cosby … we can go on and on with our list of darkness in the news. We see oppression, injustice, abuse, violence, and death everywhere.
We do not even need to turn to the news for signs of darkness. For many of us, we have loved ones ravaged by cancer, or other forms of serious illness. Or we turn to our memories and see those who have left us, making Christmas time often a difficult time for us.
I don’t blame you if you are starting to feel depressed at this point in the service! I don’t mean to depress you with this litany of woes but you get the point! There IS a lot of darkness in our world. We cannot escape it.
But notice that darkness, for us, does not mean ignorance. Darkness for us means evil, injustice, violence and death. And we know that all this darkness cannot simply be solved by sensitivity training, or better education, or more information. Those things help, but, I believe, we sense that the darkness we see go deeper beyond ignorance. Ignorance or lack of knowledge, or lack of understanding, is not the main cause or source of the darkness we see in the world. This darkness has deeper roots.
Light and Life
Likewise, then, the light that the Bible talks about, the light that will shine in the darkness, is not simply about intellectual enlightenment. It’s not about intellectual insight or ideas, like a light bulb going off in our heads. No. When the Bible talks about the light that God gives, it is almost always referring to life. As with our passage this morning, it is the life that is the light of all people (verse 4).
In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” “The light of life.” Light and life are often linked together in the Bible. And all that life in God entails, such as joy and salvation, are also linked to light. For instance, Psalm 27:1 – “The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” We see here how light is linked with salvation and life.
Now life in the Bible is MORE than biological. Life in the Bible essentially is being connected to God. That’s life. Life is being connected to God. It doesn’t matter if you have a beating heart, and that you walk and eat and drink. You are the walking dead if you are not connected to God. Life is being connected to God. God is our lifeline! That’s why God came in the flesh in order to reconcile us back to him, to reconnect us back to God. As the Christmas hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” says, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Christ reconnects us back to God, our lifeline.
But there’s more! Being connected to God is the main and primary source of life. But in the Bible, life includes connection, not only to God, but to each other and to the all of God’s creation in meaningful and loving relationships or connections. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It means life to the fullest.
Salvation, in Scripture, is not simply getting you a ticket into heaven! In fact, that is a reductionism of the biblical gospel! Getting you into a disembodied existence in heaven is NOT the reason why the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh and entered the darkness.
Salvation, in Scripture, is about giving us life in the fullest, abundant life, here and now, and into eternity in the new heaven and earth. Because the life as God intends for us his creatures is a bodily life in a world full of taste, sound, sight, beauty, excitement, joy. That is why Jesus became flesh, took on a human body, that is why Jesus came as a helpless baby, to live a human life, to grow, to learn, to experience what we experience, to redeem human lives, to redeem the sufferings of the world, to die a human death, and to resurrect, with a human body, and to ascend back to the right hand of God, in order one day to return and usher in a new heaven and earth – a world without sin – so that we, too, with our resurrected bodies – so that we will be raised from the earth and have a second birth – will live with God, and with each other, forever more in a world without sin, in a world without darkness, without evil, without violence, without injustice, without wars and rumours of wars, without oppression, without sexism, without racism, without marginalization or discrimination of any kind, a world without death. It’s the kind of world that the prophet Isaiah envisions as a world where the wolf lies down with the lamb, where the child will play with the snake; that is God’s kingdom.
Salvation is not about God taking us out of this world into heaven, but salvation is ultimately about God righting the wrongs of this world and bringing us all, with our new resurrected bodies, into this renewed world to live life to its fullest, abundant life, life that is connected to God, connected to each other, and connected to creation, in joy and peace, in justice and grace in a world where God’s ways reign, in God’s kingdom.
Life in the Darkness
Until then, until that day when the whole world will bask in God’s light, we are in a world that has lots of darkness. Not full of darkness but lots of darkness. This is not a world full of darkness because of Christmas. God has shone his light of life in the world in the past. But in Jesus Christ, God made his light of life shine in the world in a most decisive way. And Christmas is the day we have set apart in the church to celebrate and commemorate God’s light of life – Jesus Christ the light of the world – shining into the darkness. Because God’s light has come into the world through Jesus Christ, things are going to get better. Darkness will be turned to light. Oppression will be turned into freedom. Suffering will be turned into rejoicing.
And we are also called to shine God’s light of life into the world. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.” But in Matthew 5:14, Jesus turned around to his followers and said, “You are the light of the world.” YOU are the light of the world. Just as Jesus was God’s light of life shining in the darkness, we are called to be God’s light of life shining in the darkness around us.
We are called to spread God’s life, joy, love, justice, peace, and grace. And it’s not easy. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. The darkness will always want to snuff out God’s light. Just as it tried to snuff out Jesus when he was born, when Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus, or when the darkness tried to snuff out God’s light when it nailed Jesus to the cross! It can be downright dangerous to be God’s light of life in a darkness that is determined to snuff it out.
But we have this promise – the darkness will not overcome the light. The darkness will not overcome the light. Light will triumph over darkness. Life will triumph over death. Because Jesus resurrected from death, God’s life has triumphed over death, God’s light has triumphed over the darkness. And we can have hope and confidence and rejoice in this reality.
Let us not be depressed or discouraged by the darkness we see in the world. But let us also see the light in the midst of the darkness. Let us see God’s light of life in the darkness, and let us rejoice! No matter how hard or difficult it may be to shine in a darkness that wants to snuff you out, or we might be going through difficult times in our lives, it is still right to celebrate this Christmas, it is still right to rejoice this Christmas for the light of life that God has given to us.
Remember I said that life, ultimately, is being connected to God. You can cut off a branch from its tree in the summer. And it may still have lots of leaves and even flowers or fruits, but once you have disconnected the branch from the tree, you have just condemned it to a death sentence. But on the other hand, in the dead of winter, you can see a branch on a tree that looks dead, without any leaves or fruits. But you know that branch can bloom again in the spring because that branch is still connected to the tree. As long as we are connected to God, like that branch on a tree, even as we suffer through the dead of winter, we will live and the darkness will not overcome us, because of Jesus Christ.