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
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
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
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
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
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.