Sermon Archives

Thursday, December 24, 2020
The Feast of the Nativity
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Light is of God

In the name of God, whose light cleaves the darkness of the world and of our lives. Amen.

Never in my lifetime have these words of John seemed as appropriate and as timely as they do this year, heard again amidst all of the anguish and despair, which we as a nation and even we as a global human society have experienced. What began as any other year begins with fireworks and celebrations, hopes, and new opportunities, quickly devolved into a year of isolation and confrontation, a year of destruction and of death.

From COVID-19 to George Floyd to raging wildfires, 2020 has been a particularly dark and destructive year in the course of modern life. And yet, we mustn’t forget that the darkness many of us have experienced this year is a darkness that many others experience every year, if not even every day of their lives.

While 2020 has been a particularly difficult year relative to modern American experience, for millions the world over and even millions within our American society, the world is dark, pervasively dark. From extreme poverty to famine and under nourishment to lack of education or constant conflict and instability, the world for many is a perpetually dark place.

And so it is into this darkness, the darkness we have experienced this year and the darkness many experience throughout their lives, that John speaks again these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him. And without Him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life. And the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

For John, the message is not so much a hope for something to come, a hope for a new light to shine, but rather is a proclamation of what is the very presence, the enduring reality of an old and eternal light that ever shines, even when we, for whatever reason, cannot see it. John proclaims an experience of reality that we, at times, particularly at times of great darkness or great fear, so easily miss. That God is here. That God is at work. That God continues, in fact, to work for life and for light, especially for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

And we have seen this light. With each passing hour, with each minute of each day, in fact, men and women the world over have born this sacred and eternal light into the world to cast a great beam of light into the darkness of the night’s sky. As COVID surge, nurses and doctors and medical technicians dawned whatever PPE they could or reused what they have to care for the sick and the dying in their midst. They worked long days, days without end it seemed. They experimented with new treatments and quietly held the hands of the dying as if they were their own mothers and their own father. And through them, God’s light shown.

As fire burned, pilots and jump crews took to the air to battle nature’s fury and to save the homes and lives of strangers caught in the fire’s destructive path and through them, God’s light shown. As the dark and agonizing truth of racism emerged again in American society, millions of women and men, the black and white and brown, took a knee in the streets to remind us all that racism has no place in our society and that our work is not done. And through them, God’s light shown. And yet, these words of John are more than a reminder or proclamation of God’s eternal presence and work. They are also a reminder of God’s very heart.

William Temple and his great exploration of the Gospel of John reminds us of the difficulty inherent to any translation. For you see, no matter the quality of scholarship, every translation has its limitations as many words have multiple meanings woven together, such is the case here.

The words we are so accustomed to, the words we have grown to love, in the beginning, was the Word, has other meanings woven within it. For it could also just as easily and just as rightly be translated. At the root of the universe, at the foundation of all things was the Word, the logos, the true and unifying principle.

Now, those words don’t flow off the tongue with quite the same poetic beauty, but they remind us that all this talk of life and of light is not simply a product of God’s hands, but the very substance of God’s heart. No more can a mother stop loving her child than God can stop creating life and light, for they are part and the parcel to God.

To play with metaphors, Jesus is not so much a lighthouse casting out light into the darkness, but every particle of light that shines in the darkness of our world and of our hearts. Whatever, and wherever we see light, in the kindness of a friend, in the passion of a partner, in the protection and care of a stranger, we see not only the light bearer, but the very presence of God who is light and who is life.

Finally, friends, as this eternal light shines into our darkness, it has the effect, not only of illuminating our path, but revealing the cracks and imperfections of our hearts and our lives and of our world. This, of all things, may be the most difficult aspect of God’s light. It reveals not only a path forward, but that which we wish not to see and try so desperately at times to hide, such indeed is the case this year.

As brightly as God’s life has shown through the generosity and care of emergency personnel, frontline workers and impassioned allies, God’s life has also shown through the destruction and suffering to reveal again the great fractures of modern society and the chasm that remains between the world we have created and the kingdom to which God invites us.

COVID-19, George Floyd and Brianna Taylor and the 2020 wildfire season have laid bare modern crises we wish not to see. Racism and the long legacy of inequality continue to plague American society. Our fear of others and our ever increasing drive for safety has turned strangers into threats rather than neighbors who might become friends. Our stewardship of creation has led instead to its consumption and near destruction, such that what once was wild and verdant has become fragile and destructive.

These are complex issues that will demand the very best of our minds and our hearts to address. But the light which has shown throughout this difficult year has revealed that much work remained still to be done. Yet, John’s promise remains ever our hope. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness, it did not overcome it. These things of which we are ashamed, these things of which we are afraid, these things which we hide in the darkness or in the darkness of ignorance, which we hide ourselves from, these things will not, cannot, overcome the light. For the light is of God, and of God’s light there shall be no end.