December 25, 2018 – Christmas Day C
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
I was a freshman in high school and I had traveled to Louisville, KY for the National FFA Convention. My advisor took and my fellow students for a little field trip and booked a tour through Mammoth Cave, the largest explored network of caved in the United States. And that’s how I found myself sitting on a bench, carved by hand out of the side of a cave wall, damp from condensation, in complete and utter darkness. Our guide had us sit and, as he talked, he turned out the lights. It was dark. Not “cloudy with a new moon” dark. Not “the power went out” dark. But so dark that, even touching my nose with an opened hand, I could not see my hand. He told us that there was nowhere else on earth that could get as dark as a cave. All light was extinguished.
But as he spoke, I heard rustling from his direction. Unknown to us, he had reached into his pocket and pulled out a book of matches. He pulled out a match, one solitary match, and lit it while he spoke. When he lit that match, it was as if the world had exploded with light. The light of that one match, a source of light so small that you probably wouldn’t even notice it in daylight, was enough to drive away the deepest darkness I had ever seen. One light, one match, was enough to illuminate the entire room and brought into view the stalactites and beauty all around us. The darkness gave way to light because light always, always conquers darkness.
And that’s the real secret of light and darkness. Darkness always loses. Light always wins. That is the reality of light and that is the reality John writes about. We are in a season of darkness – the nights are long – and yet in this darkness we have gathered here to celebrate the birth of light. That light is Jesus Christ, born of Mary, to serve humanity and give to humanity God’s eternal life. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word of God became flesh and lived among us and, even still, lives among us. There is no darkness which will defeat or snuff out this light, this new life.
When talking about darkness, we often equate darkness with badness or evil, but I don’t think that’s the right way to talk about it. In the darkest places, whether spiritually, physically, or emotionally, the world is not any more or less bad than normal. Instead of darkness being a sign of badness or evil, it’s maybe better to speak about darkness as a place of fear and hatred. We often fear the darkness, but darkness has no real power over us or anything. It simply hides what we would wish to see, and so we are afraid of it. In the same way, sin, fear, and hatred hide what we wish to see – love, joy, peace, and life.
But the child born this day is the light of the world. The light of his love will drive away darkness. And we will know that love through the ways it will destroy the darkness of sin, fear, and hatred. We will see this boy grow up, learn, teach, heal people, feed people, and, eventually, die for people and rise again. We have seen God’s light, before, through the birth of creation, through the prophets, through the people who have lived faithfully, through the law which helped people live in ways that cared for their neighbors and strangers alike. But never have we witnessed God’s light and love so intensely as we do through this Word made flesh, through the light that shines in the darkness.
Eventually, we’ll hear the stories of Jesus the messiah, the savior, the conqueror of sin and death. But, today, we gather to breathe, to give thanks, and to gaze in wonder at the joy that this new life brings. All life is precious, all people have inherent worth, and this child is no different. He will be the spark that will ignite the Kingdom, he will be the flame that evil could never blow out, he will be the light on dark paths, guiding people back their Creator.
In time, he will move mountains and shake empires. He’ll put death itself in the grave. But, for now, we gather with Mary and Joseph, nomadic shepherds, and angels descending to see God, the Word made flesh, and stand in awe. This is Christ, the king. This is the prince of peace. In this child is the very breath of God and through his words all of creation is blessed. God is here, not in power, but in a manger. The light of unconditional love has come. And the light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, will not, cannot overcome it. Thanks be to God. And merry Christmas. Amen.