Transcribed from the audio.
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” The first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John which you just heard comprise what’s known as the Prologue of the Gospel of John. And the prologue functions much like an overture in a symphony in that it lifts up the themes that will be more fully explored in the course of the gospel. Just as in an overture, you get a sense of hearing the themes that will be more fully developed throughout the symphony. And it seems a particularly appropriate message for us today as we find ourselves in that bridge time between Christmas and New Year’s because some of the themes that are lifted up for us in that prologue are, and have been, central to our Christian faith from the very beginning—the light coming into the darkness. And unlike some of the other Nativity stories that we hear from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, you don’t hear about mangers or Magi or angels or shepherds. You hear about Jesus: the Word, the Word who existed before time and the Word who exists for all time.
And as we find our place not very far from a new year, I know that for many it’s a reflective time. And I know because of my years in ministry and life, that for many it can also be a challenging time. As we reflect on the year past, for many of us it contains some hard memories: the loss of someone we loved, loss of a job, the loss of…fill in the blank. And we can find ourselves in the midst of what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, feeling, well, not quite so happy. Maybe a little bit more reflective. The great good news in the gospel lesson you just heard is that even in the midst of what for some of us can be darkness, the light came. The light came and was not overshadowed, cannot be overshadowed, nor ever will be overshadowed by the darkness.
And I’ve come, over the years, to have a very different appreciation for the whole notion of darkness. When I was a kid growing up, I was one of those kids who was terrified of the dark. Perhaps I watched too many bad TV shows and movies but I was convinced that there was something bad in what I couldn’t see. And, of course, those feelings were probably not helped by the fact that my older brother had a habit on a couple of occasions of hiding in the dark of my bedroom when he knew it was about time for me to go to bed and to jump out to scare me and he was very good at that. He succeeded.
But as I got to be a little bit older, I developed a different appreciation for the dark. I learned, as I did learn many things from my mother, a new way of looking at darkness. When I became a young adult and went home for Christmas to be with my parents, I would discover early in the morning my mother sitting in the living room and all the lights were out, except she did turn on the lights on the Christmas tree. And I found that disturbing; I mean, I thought that was weird. Why in the world is she sitting in the dark? And so I asked her. And she very quietly looked at me and said, “Oh, I’ve just been thinking and praying.” You see, what I came to discover was that my mother experienced that light powerfully in the midst of the darkness. I may not have been able to see the light but she could. It was her sacred and holy time with God and God Incarnate in the very early morning in the dark and the still and the quiet. For her the light of Christ was beaming brightly and it grounded her for the day that would unfold. The light was not overcome by the darkness; I just couldn’t see it. And as I’ve gotten older, I, too, have established part of that practice. It’s not uncommon, if I get up extraordinarily early in the morning, to just sit in the darkness. And I, too, in the darkness, experience that same bright light and life and love that God gave us and God continues to give us year after year and day after day.
I think the challenge for us, when we find ourselves in the darkness and we can’t find the light, is to be open to it, to know that it’s there even if we’re having difficulty seeing it. Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, talks about how she was able, with some help, to find the light in darkness. Anne Lamott writes about growing up in a writer’s family that was not terribly religious. But she, through a series of circumstances and people, came to know and believe that there was a God. This happened to her in college. But like many people, she sort of wandered away from God and as she began her life as a writer things started going terribly wrong. She became engaged in pretty self-destructive behavior: drinking too much, taking too many drugs, too much sex. She was slowly but surely destroying her life and filling it with nothing but darkness. And she writes about how she was at a point in her life where she literally felt cracks going throughout her body and she was frightened that she would soon die either from falling or from an overdose. She says that at that point in time, she described God as follows: “Mine was a patchwork God sewn together from bits of rag and ribbon, Eastern and Western, pagan and Hebrew, everything but the kitchen sink and Jesus.”
One afternoon, as she was in the dark in her apartment, it occurred to her out of nowhere to pick up the phone and call the new priest at the Episcopal Church that was right around the corner. She’d gone to that church a few times as a child but this idea, when she was in the depths of darkness, came out of nowhere. I think it’s no coincidence. But she picked up the phone; she called the new priest; and she began to tell her story and how desperately she needed to talk to him. And he was about to leave the office; but God bless him, he heard the desperation in her voice and asked her to come. And so, she did. She met with him. She sat down. She experienced a love and a calm that were like a balm to her cracks and her wounds that opened up the space for her to let her story tumble out of the darkness and what she would describe as the sordid details of her life. And at the end of sharing her darkness and her story with him she said that she knew that God couldn’t love her. To which he responded, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” And she believed it. And over a period of time, she says that she slowly found her life again.
John of the Cross writes that if you put love where there is no love you will find love. Using John’s Prologue, I would invite you to consider that if you put light where there is no light you will help someone find the light. In this Christmas season as we reflect on the year that has been, as we look forward to the year that will come, if you find yourself in a dark place, get someone to help you to see the light and find the light even if you can’t see it. Know that it is always, always, there. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not, cannot, nor will it ever, overcome it. And the great glad news in that is that it’s not my promise; that’s God’s promise and that is eternal. Amen.