Advent 3B Lectionary Text: John 1: 6-8, (19-28)
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.
I love Christmas lights. When I was little, my family would pick at least one night right before or immediately after Christmas and drive around and look at the Christmas lights. Later, as a young adult, I several times drove my Grandmother Reue around to look at them. My Grandmother seemed to have as much of the childlike appreciation of the lights that I had always had. Many of us are like that. There’s something about Christmas lights—full of wonder and awe, a sort of call to the season for us.
The Gospel passage that we read for this week uses that image of light. For the writer of The Gospel According to John, the Logos was the light of humanity, the true light. It was there from the very beginning. Now there are no customary announcements here of Jesus’ coming and there is no birth story. I guess the writer of this Gospel left that to the other Gospel-writers. But this is essentially the equivalent: the coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, is the coming of the true light, the Light that always existed, which enlightens everyone and illumines everything. We once again see Creation in its splendor, as the light folds into the dark void that was and life begins. Think about it—it is hard for us to imagine—but there was only darkness before and then God said “Let there be light” and life began. The earth was from then on bathed in light. And now, now God enters and invites us into the Light.
We like the image of light. It’s warm and illuminating and sort of comfortable. But that’s not what this is. See, John had a “way” about him and sometimes his words were not very popular. I mean, he went around like some wild man in the wilderness preaching repentance, preaching that we needed to change, preaching about the one who was coming after him, preaching about the light that was just around the bend, a light such that we had not seen, a Light that would change the world and us with it. “John,” we want to say, “Shhhh!…you’ll wake the baby.”
Admit it. That’s where we want to be—at the manger, kneeling before our Lord, basking in the illumination of the star above and singing Christmas carols, and yet we still want to hold onto those shadows in our own life. For there is familiarity; there is safety; there is that which we can control, there is that place to which we can retreat when life is just too hard. And the light…We would rather the light be allowed to remain in our thinking depicted as a warm and comfortable place to be. Just let us sit here awhile with this sleeping baby, the Christ child, there in the manger while the Star in the East dances overhead. This is a sign of the season!
But John the Baptist, John the Witness, was right. This light is not a twinkling, intermittent light like those that light our houses this season. This is not a warm, glowing, candle-lit light that makes us feel comfortable even as we are content to sit silently in its shadows. And it’s closer to us than any star in the universe. This light is different. This light is so big and so bright and so powerful that sometimes it hurts to look at it. Sometimes it is just too painful. This light is so pervasive and so encompassing, that it casts no shadows. The light of Christ, this light to which John pointed, is not a warm glow but is rather a radical illumination of everything around it. This light shows EVERYTHING. Yes, EVERYTHING. The world is about to be unable to hide its shadow side.
In her book, Lighted Windows, Margaret Silf tells the story of when her daughter was born and how one of the first problems that they encountered was light. She said that “to make sure that [our daughter] would always experience the presence of a gentle, comforting light if she awoke during the night, we installed a little lamp close to the nursery door. It also meant that if she cried we could grope our way to her even in a half-asleep state.” But they soon realized that even the little nursery light burned their eyes, especially after the third or fourth time they went into the nursery during the night, groggy from sleep with eyes burning. “So,” she says, “we went to the local electrical shop to ask whether they had any bulbs lower than 15 watts!” “It’s strange,” she comments, “how light that is so needful for growth and life can also be so hurtful when we are unprepared for it.”
In this Advent season, the way that we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Light is by looking at that light. That is why God came and burst forth into our humanness—to show us what full illumination looks like and to call us into the light. So, during this season, we squint and rub our eyes. But we continue looking even if sometimes we’re squinting at the light. But the Light will remain as we get used to it. And then it will guide us Home.
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)
Grace and Peace,