Saturday, February 3, 2024

Being Light in the Darkness

Text: John 1.1-14

According to Navy legend, once upon a time, in the early days of naval radar, a United States aircraft carrier called the USS Constitution was making its way into British waters. The Radar operator spotted a blip on his screen, directly in the path of the mighty carrier. So the Captain radioed ahead and said "Unknown Vessel, please change your course by 20 degrees to avoid a collision".

The radio crackled, and a reply came back. "Unable to comply. You change your course." The captain picked up the radio again. "Listen, this is a naval vessel - heading straight for your co-ordinates. Now change your course, or risk being sent to the bottom of the ocean".

The radio crackled again, and the reply came back, "We were here first. You change your course!" By now, the captain of the mighty war machine was incandescent with rage. "Listen, you little British pip-squeek. This is the USS Constitution - the largest air-craft carrier in the world. We won't even feel you when we run over you. Now move!"

The radio crackled for a third time. "This is the Eddystone Lighthouse. Your move."


Here, on the second Sunday before Lent, almost at the centre point of Winter, among the darkest days of the year, the Lectionary invites us once again to contemplate Light.  Just as it did last week at Candlemas.

But this time, by pointing us to St John’s Prologue, the Lectionary lays it on with a trowel.  Not content, as St Luke was last week, to merely describe Jesus as Light to the Gentiles, St John adds contrast to the picture.  He places Jesus, the wisdom and voice of God, the Word Incarnate, in direct contrast and opposition to THE DARKNESS. The Light (of Christ) shines in the darkness, he says, and the darkness did not overcome it.

These were words of hope and encouragement to the first people who received John’s Gospel.  They would have been a frightened, anxious community of early believers, hiding from Roman and Jewish authorities in private houses with the windows tightly shut, or digging out the catacombs under the streets of Rome.  They would have been whispering the hope of Jesus to one another, and recognising each other with furtive drawings of a fish in the sand of the market place. (That’s where the Christian fish-sign originated – a secret symbol between early Christians, scratched in the sand).  

The first Christians to have heard John’s Gospel, perhaps 60 or 70 years after the death of Jesus, would have known what it meant to live in darkness.  They would know what it meant to be a minority who longed for the light of God’s wisdom to shine into their society.

That was their context – and it echoes with ours, does it not?  The Christian Church of today also stands in opposition to the darkness – the darkness which gathers around us today.  In recent weeks, we’ve become aware that churches all over the world are facing real financial difficulties (and dwindling followers) accelerated by the cost of living crisis.  We’ve had to confront the uncomfortable fact that Christianity is presently dying in the West.  It’s wonderful to gather together, as we do, in what feels like a large number – but never forget we are a TINY minority of the roughly 10,000 people who live in this parish.

And this should not surprise us.  The church in the West stands in complete opposition to so much that the West holds dear.  We stand against greed, and the amassing of wealth by tiny elites.  We stand against hedonism and pleasure-seeking for its own sake.  We stand against the prevailing drug culture and intemperance of excess alcohol.  We stand against consumerism, and the exploitation of workers in slavery conditions, making cheap goods and clothes for us to hoard.

These are dark times indeed.  But they are no less dark than for the church of the first century which stood against the military dictatorship of Rome, and its hedonistic system of market-led consumerism, also under-pinned by slavery.  Sometimes, the darkness feels overwhelming for us too.  It feels too high a mountain to climb.  Too deep a darkness to overcome.

Yet “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  The message of Jesus Christ is that however desperate things feel, however deep the darkness surrounds us, it will not overwhelm us.  The Light of Christ will continue to shine.

The question then for us, we tiny few, we remnant of humanity who cling to the Light, is not so much what we stand against – for we know how dark the darkness is.  The question is, as people of Light, what we stand FOR.

We stand, in the name of Jesus Christ, for a Kingdom of LOVE.  That love, focused first on God, and then on loving our neighbours, shines out from this building and every church community like a beacon from a lighthouse.  It probes and prods at the darkness, which will never overcome it.  It offers us a completely NEW way of living.

Starting from the day when each of us knows, truly knows, that our past trespasses are forgotten and forgiven by God, we, the people of the Light, learn how to stand up for love.

·       Love which shares its wealth; it does not hoard it.

·       Love which reaches out to those in need, and offers the hand of help.

·       Love which delights in communities coming together – whether in person or online.

·       Love which frees the slaves of Eastern sweat-shops, by refusing to collude with consumerism  and by offering aid and micro-loans instead.

·       Love which offers an alternative to drug addiction and drunkenness – life in all its fullness.

·       Love which brings healing to the sinner, and balm to the sick.

·       Love which picks up the phone and bears the anguish of its neighbour.

·       Love which even has the power to overcome death – though that is a topic for Easter

So, my dear friends, when you hear that the church is in financial and numerical crisis, do not be afraid.  We’ve been in crisis before, many times…and we will be once again.  The darkness always tries to overwhelm the light of the church….but darkness, and the very gates of hell, shall not prevail against it (Mt 16.18).

For the true church is the church of Christ the Light-bringer.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!  Amen. 

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