BIBLE READINGS: John 1:1-18 Hebrews 1:1-12
Remember Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.
In the beginning were light and darkness. In John’s time, there were light and darkness. John wants us to see the big picture. This baby we celebrate holds the power of the same light that split the world in Genesis 1. Jesus has come to cut the darkness — to put boundaries on it, to proclaim light and life and love and freedom.
Across human history, there have been light and darkness – the Enlightenment, famine and earthquakes, the 100 Years War, The Great Awakening, the plague, the Great Depression, the abolition of slavery, earthquakes and floods, progress on human rights for all, dictatorships and genocide. In our own time, there is light and darkness.
Verse 5 is the key. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” – “the darkness did not overcome it.” The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not smother it or put it out or extinguish it. The darkness doesn’t win – it doesn’t put the light out of existence. . . . OK . . . so that’s good. But we might wish that it said the light overwhelms the darkness, that night is changed to day. We might wish that it said that the light shines so brilliantly that everyone has to shield their eyes. But it doesn’t say that.
It is hopeful, but is it hopeful enough?
One of the late Leonard Cohen, a Jewish Canadian musician and poets lyrics says “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” That was Cohen’s summary of a Jewish mystical doctrine which says that when God created the world and filled it with light, the world was simply not strong enough to hold the light and so the vessel broke. So now, there are broken vessels everywhere with some remnant of divine light and through the cracks, the light escapes to the world.
“The light shines in the darkness.” John is describing Mystery and we must respect that Mystery cannot be explained in too much detail. But think of Leonard Cohen’s line about the crack in everything, about the vessels that cannot contain the fullness of God, and about the baby born in Bethlehem. The one of whom John says, “he become flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.” Maybe on this holy day, Jesus slips in through a crack in the world, a thin place between earth and heaven, to bring the light, to be the light, to shine in the darkness?
Jurgen Moltmann was 16 when he was drafted into the German army in 1943. He and other boys from his village were put to service on an anti-aircraft battery on the edge of a lake near Hamburg. During a sustained English bombing, a bomb hit the platform and tore apart the friend standing next to him. More bombs fells, destroying the platform. Moltmann found himself alone on a plank in the water. He cried out to God for the first time ever in his life, “God where are you?”
When he was sent to the front lines, he surrendered to the first British soldier he saw, and became a prisoner of war. He was ultimately taken to a POW camp in Scotland where he remained for 3 years. About that experience he wrote, “The Scottish overseers and their families were the first who came to meet us, their former enemies, with a hospitality that shamed us. We heard no reproaches, we were not blamed. We experienced a simple and common warm humanity which made it possible for us to live with the past of our people.” While he was there, an army chaplain gave him a Bible. He read in Mark’s gospel, the cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and he said, ‘This is someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now.’ “And so” he said, “This saved me from self-destruction and desperation. I came up with hope, in a place where there was no expectation of it.”
Eventually the war ended and Moltmann returned home. He became something no one in his family had ever been – a pastor and a theologian. In his 90’s, after a lifetime of ministry, he is best known now for his theology of hope. In his autobiography he said, “After almost 60 years, I am certain that then and there, in a Scottish prisoner of war camp, in the dark pit of my soul, Jesus sought me and found me.”
The light shines in the darkness -- in war and desolation, in a prisoner of war camp, among the foreign enemy -- the light shines and the darkness does not overcome it.
Perhaps that might be just enough hope after all.
Jan Richardson is an artist who creates beauty with paints and with words. In Advent 2013, her husband Gary died from massive complications of what they had anticipated would be routine surgery. Two years later, she wrote about what she was learning in her grief. Among other things she said this, “Darkness is where incarnation begins. The gorgeous texts of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany shimmer with the light that God brings into our midst . . . Yet if we lean too quickly toward the light, we miss seeing one of the greatest gifts this season has to offer us: that the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. . . . For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.”
There’s a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in.
Hear these words from Jan Richardson, words she wrote the Advent that her husband died, and to which she has returned and affirmed, even in her grief.
I cannot tell you how the light comes.
What I know is that it is more ancient than imagining.
That it travels across an astounding expanse to reach us.
That it loves searching out what is hidden, what is lost, what is forgotten, or in peril or in pain.
That it has a fondness for the body
for finding its way toward flesh
for tracing the edges of form, for shining forth through the eye, the hand, the heart.
I cannot tell you how the light comes but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way into the deepest dark that enfolds you,
though it may seem long ages in coming or arrive in a shape you did not forsee.
And so may we this day turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces to let it find us.
May be bend our bodies to follow the arc it makes.
May we open and open more and open still to the blessed light
The light shines and the darkness cannot, will not, does not overcome it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Acknowledgement: Rev. Kathy J. Donley