Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Sacrifice of Light

 John 1. 1-14: Sacrificial Light

 Everyone loves a story - which is precisely why Jesus used parables, and why we all love movies and books.  The Christmas Story is one of the greatest stories ever told.  Its many characters help us to see ourselves reflected back – in the trust of the Shepherds, the wisdom of the Wise Men, the generosity of the Innkeeper, the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph, the abuse of power of Herod – and even in the evangelism of the angels who share good news.

The Gospel writers give us different perspectives on the same story. Luke is fired by the way Jesus reached out to the poor and the oppressed.  So he gives us the story of shepherds, outsiders who are invited to be front and centre at the coming of the Messiah.  Matthew, on the other hand, is fired by Jesus’ message that God’s love is meant for all humanity – so he focuses on the coming of Wise Men from Eastern Lands.  These are non-Jews, outsiders, who are brought into the fold of God’s love.

The oldest of the Gospel writers, Mark, actually says nothing about the birth of Jesus.  And John, the most recent Gospel writer, is not interested in shepherds and wise men.  Scholars tell us that John wrote his Gospel in his old age – after a lifetime of spreading – and reflecting on - the message of Jesus.  John wants us to grasp the enormity of the Christmas event, the coming of Jesus, what scholars call the ‘Incarnation’ - that moment when God, who is Spirit, takes on human flesh.

There are two words which John especially plays with, in his poetic Gospel introduction.  The first is ‘Word’, and the second is ‘Light’.  Let’s break them down a little…

‘Word’ is the English translation of ‘Logos’ – a Greek word from where we get the word ‘logic’.  John is saying that the incomprehensible being we call God is many things – spirit, love, a creative force that binds the universe together.  But he is also mind.  He has thoughts.  He has desires and intentions for the world that he has created.  God’s thoughts, God’s logic, God’s wisdom – these are his ‘Logos’ – his ‘Word’.  “In the beginning was the Word” – the Logos – “and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.  It’s one of those great big thoughts that we human beings struggle to get our tiny brains around – that God can be thought of as having different aspects, but each of them is also fully God’.  And that’s ok.  We are limited, created beings.  We cannot ever really grasp the reality of God.

So John paints a different picture.  He uses a metaphor.  He has stated the truth as clearly as he can grasp it, by talking about the ‘Word’ dwelling among us.  But now he chooses a different tack, and begins to talk about ‘Light’.

Ah!  That’s better.  ‘Light’ we can understand.  We know about Light.  We see its effects.  We know that even a tiny spark of light cannot be extinguished by the darkness.  We know that if this church was completely darkened, save for one candle, all our attention would be focused on that single solitary light.

“In Jesus”, says John, “was life, and that life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  And that, ultimately, is the message of Christmas.  Darkness is all around us.  The darkness of war, and famine, and poverty, and homelessness and selfishness and consumerism and loneliness, racism, homophobia, and fear of the stranger and all hatred and rebellion against the reason and logic of God.  “But the light shines in the darkness”.

In Jesus, through his teaching, his life, and yes even by his death, life is offered to the world.  That’s why we are going to mark Jesus’ death in a few minutes, even in the midst of the 12 days of Christmas!  Jesus’ whole life is offered to us, by John and the other Gospel writers, as The Way to life.  His way of living – generously, lovingly, wisely is offered to us as an example of what God’s logic and reason look like.  Jesus’ way of dying – sacrificially, trustingly are still more examples of the Logos – the wisdom - of God.  These are signposts for us.  Lights in the darkness.  Clues to how we too should live, if we truly want to find life.

The star of Bethlehem is of course another great symbol which the Christmas story offers us.  It too is a light in the darkness, which leads others to the true light of Christ.  And let’s not forget that the light of a star is ultimately a sacrificial light.  A star gives out light by burning itself up.  All that the star is gets consumed, given out completely in the task of burning bright.

And that ultimately, is the task that we are given, as a response to the sacrificial self-giving of Christ.  In a world only temporarily distracted by COVID, a world which will soon return to its selfish, greedy, destructive ways, we are called to be stars of Christ – sacrificially shining out into the darkness of the world.

So, here’s my invitation, at the turning of the year.  Let tonight be a turning point for you.  Let the light of Christ illuminate and inspire you.  Draw from the spiritual energy he offers around his table, even taken in virtual form via this livestream.  Follow and pursue the light of life every single day from this point on.  It’s what wise men did, 2,000 years ago.   And it’s what the wisest men and women today still do.


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