Posts Tagged ‘Light in the Darkness’

Light 12-25-16

In this Christmas Day sermon, I explore John 1:1-14. God enters into our reality as Light shining in darkness, and as the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/light-12-25-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you here today have probably heard me talk about John’s gospel being my favorite, simply because it is so different than the other three gospels. Whenever I encounter it, my first inkling is to compare the differences…and that certainly applies today.

The thought in my mind here with the open verses of John is to compare how each gospel begins…and perhaps more specifically, to recognize just where the good news of Christ needs to begin. Mark starts with John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness to be prepared for the coming Messiah, though by that point Jesus was already around.

Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, going back as far as Abraham. This makes sense with Matthew’s intended Jewish audience, as Abraham represents the beginning of their culture, when he received the covenant from God…a promise that included Christ as a descendant of Abraham, and the way that the entire world would be blessed.  Luke also features a genealogy, but he takes it all the way back to Adam, showing us that the good news of Christ includes all of humanity.

But John, he goes all the way back…starting off with a direct reference to Genesis and the creation of the world. In the beginning. We hear John say that in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God…which mirrors our account of the start of our reality through God’s creation…that in the beginning was God.

So it would seem, that the gospel of Jesus Christ starts at the very instant our reality became reality. But its important that we think just a little bit deeper as well. This is, of course, Christmas Day, when we celebrate God entering the world as human…when God physically enters our reality…something that scholars like to call the Incarnation.

Now Matthew and Luke both feature the birth of Jesus…that moment when, as John puts it…the Word becomes flesh, dwelling among us. But some would argue, me included that the incarnation here in John’s gospel…the moment when God enters our reality occurs when the light shines in the darkness…that the light is the presence of God…and the connection between John and Genesis starts to make a little more sense.

When creation began, we hear that the world was formless and void. Now that doesn’t mean that the world was a big mess of stuff, nor does it mean that it was just empty space…rather, reality just wasn’t…but then God said a Word…there’s that Word with God thing…The first thing God said was let there be light…and there was.

The first thing in our reality as we know it, was light…the first step that God took in bringing order to chaos…was light…and if John’s gospel is to be believed, and that everything that has come into being is through this divine word of God, who is God…then the first step that God took towards the ultimate unity, the ultimate togetherness that we will one day experience…the first step was light.

Now here’s the thing about light shining in the darkness. When one occurs, the other doesn’t. Darkness is in essence the absence of light, so if light is there, darkness loses…it retreats. I discovered this first hand about a year and a half ago. We were in Colorado at family camp, and I woke up in the middle of the night…at it was utter darkness in our cabin…and for the first time ever, I experience claustrophobia…fear simply because I could not see. But then I grabbed my phone and turned on the screen for just a brief moment…and that gave enough light to drive that fear right out of me…it gave me hope…and the amazing thing is that even after I shut my phone off again, and I was still in the darkness…the hope that light gave me remained.

I’ve thought a lot about that notion in recent weeks…because I don’t know about you, but it really seems as if our community…both here at church, as well as here in town and the surrounding area…has had a really rough year. 2016 has been a tough one…a lot of death…a lot of broken relationships…a lot of hardships…and I know a lot of people are struggling…but it is in the midst of this very thing that we remember the promise, that the light of God shines in the darkness of this world, and though the darkness is not yet gone, it cannot overcome the light of God…the light of Christ which began at the first instant of creation in the beginning, and then literally…physically entered our world when the word became flesh and dwells among us.

I love that both of those statements include active verbs. The light SHINES…and the Word made flesh DWELLS…and this action is ongoing…still…right here right now…and I’ve seen it…I’ve seen the way that our community has gathered around one another…sharing joys and sorrows…being in community…in relationship with one another…in short…being the body of Christ right here right now.

But since we are one body together, its important that we share our collective experience. And so I’d like to give you the opportunity to share ways that you have seen light shining in the darkness…How do you see God in the here and now?

(Individuals shared various examples).

The Word became flesh and dwells among us…and we have seen his glory. Let us cling to the hope that we find in one another…as the face of God is reflected within your faces…and may that hope that we find in the light of God shining through one another give us strength to face the darkness still present in our world. Amen.

Where Do We Go From Here

I haven’t actually sat down and written a blog in a long time…too long. I can’t even tell you the last time that I did any writing that wasn’t a sermon or a board report or a newsletter article.

But life has afforded me a moment to stop and catch my breath in the midst of a lot of craziness. And when I find these moments…which is admittedly often though typically quite fleeting…my mind starts going. Lately there’s been a lot to think about.

This is a crazy time of year. People and activities are buzzing all around us. Christmas shopping, holiday planning, school concerts, seasonal changes…the list goes on and on. Additionally, the wide spread buzz has been…well…buzzing with a lot of controversial things as of late. Arguments have erupted around different issues like gun violence/control, grand jury decisions regarding tragic deaths, racial based tensions, immigration…and the list goes on and on.

Here at home things have been crazy as well. Following a week’s vacation over Thanksgiving, I came into a week that I was expecting to be low key…thanks to the Adult Choir at church performing their Christmas Program this Sunday and letting me off the hook for preaching. But yet in the midst of a casual week, I’ve kept busy. Conversations with other area pastors my first day back filled an afternoon with discussions, sometimes heated, about the difficulties we face within our own small niches. Due to this, my normal monthly visits to members in nursing homes was postponed. A congregational family experienced a death, and in the midst of offering them support my wife’s family experienced their own loss of a beloved aunt.

Its one of those situations that sort of leaves you with your head spinning.

Where do we go with all this stuff…there’s too much. Too much violence…too much hate…too much death…ITS TOO MUCH LORD!!!! WHERE ARE YOU ON THIS STUFF…There’s more darkness in the world than I know how to handle.

And when I get in that mode mentally, my mood goes south in a really big hurry…and I kind of walk around in a bit of a dark funk…every bit as dark as my perception of the world around me. That was my situation as of about 24 hours ago…but I put on my big-boy pants…as well as a brave face…and I went on the nursing home visits that had gotten postponed a couple days earlier.

One of the visits found me sitting at a table with 4 or 5 ladies…a couple of which I knew…and a couple that I was just meeting for the first time.  I can’t quite account for this, but what I perceive to be the combination of extreme hearing loss as well as an “I’m old enough that I’ll say whatever I want to” attitude led one of the new ladies to lean over and “whisper” to her neighbor.

“He’s a pastor? Oh he can’t be a pastor, he’s too good looking.”

And then…

“He look’s like a hunk to me.”

Cue laughter…a lot of laughter from everyone at the table…myself included.

Here in the midst of the dark funk that I’ve been feeling lately…powerless to do anything about it, comes a glimmer of light…a spark of joy.

And in that moment I found myself reminded of the season. We’re in Advent, coming right up on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ in the world…the Incarnation as its known in the church world…and when I realized that, I immediately thought of my favorite Gospel…sorry Matthew, Mark, and Luke…you guys are great but it isn’t you…and I thought of the Incarnation in John’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 5…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus is the light…he is the light of the world…and at Christmas he comes into the world…and in the midst of all that darkness…all this death and tension and fear and anger that so many of us are feeling these days…that darkness doesn’t win. God says so…because the darkness doesn’t get the last word…God does…and while I believe with every atom of my being that God is mourning the current state of our reality, I also believe that God is doing something about it, whether we realize it or not.

And that moment of extreme belly laughter, brought on by one elderly lady building up my ego, reminded me that God’s not hindered by our darkness…he’s not stymied by the difficulties that we face…and God IS…up to something. The darkness cannot and will not win…because the LIGHT has come into the world.

Don’t believe me…think I’m just another religious nut? Think I’m crazy to hold on some fantasy? That’s okay, but I’ll get scientific with you too. Darkness is the absence of light…period…darkness is not even its own thing…it can only be when something else is not…and that is the light…the instant light comes on the scene, darkness retreats. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

So in the midst of a dark time, let’s hold onto the hope that Light is, once again, coming into the world…and the darkness CANNOT over come it.

The Light Still Shines 10-27-13

In this sermon, I abandon the lectionary reading and preach from John 1:1-5,9-14. I address the recent school shootings as well as other examples of darkness that is still present here in the world.

Listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-light-still-shines-10-27

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Before I read the gospel lesson for today, I’d like to say a quick word. I had high hopes for this week’s sermon. I had a lot to choose from. I could have focused on the Reformation and Martin Luther which we are celebrating in worship today…I could have come from the direction of our new members…and how our congregation is changed by their presence. That we are a new creation today…and with their gifts do that much better of a job of representing the body of Christ on earth. (pause)
I could have talked about freedom or enslavement or sin…topics brought up in the assigned Gospel text from John 8 printed on your bulletin…but considering some of the stuff going on in the world lately…that just didn’t seem fitting…that didn’t seem like the message that needed to be spoken today, and so I’m going off topic and I ask that you bear with me.
(read the Gospel lesson…John 1:1-5, 9-14)
I woke up Friday morning and I thought I had a pretty good plan for the day. Hang out with my kids as they were out of school. Do some housework. Take in the Underwood football game, and enjoy the company of some family that we had coming into town…and somewhere along the way, knock out a sermon for this morning.
As I already mentioned, I had a lot of different options for that sermon…a lot of different directions that I could go…but none of them really felt right…and none of them felt applicable, or hopeful…none of them were sitting well with me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. (pause)
As the day progressed, some different things happened that started to shed some light on things…although perhaps that’s not the best choice of words…perhaps a better way to say…some different things happened that started to shed some darkness on things. (pause)
Most of you have probably heard by now, that there was another school shooting this week. Last Monday, a 12 year old boy snapped…he pulled a gun and injured two fellow students…then he turned the gun on a beloved teacher and former US marine…killing him…and then he turned the gun on himself. (pause)
2 days later, on the other side of the country…another young man snapped…a 14 year old boy killed yet another teacher, this one a 24 year woman…3 people dead…more injured…and we don’t have to think very hard about other examples violence displayed in schools over the course of recent memory.
Every time we hear about things like this, I think it gives us pause. And we think to ourselves “That’s terrible…I can’t believe it happened again…I can’t imagine what those people are going through…I just hope that never happens here.” And we hug our kids just a little bit tighter for a few days…and we say some prayers for nameless strangers on the opposite side of the country for a few days…but then we sort of go back to normal don’t we? We try to forget the invasion of darkness into the world and pretend that everything’s okay. (pause)
But everything isn’t okay…and its not just school shootings. Darkness takes many forms…and it finds a way to get at us…it finds its way into our lives.  Maybe it’s violence…or maybe it’s a kid getting bullied…something all too common these days…or maybe it’s a foreclosure…or a failed business venture…or maybe it’s a terminal diagnosis…maybe that one sounds familiar to you.
In the last week, one of our members got that news. Cancer…the word that you never want to hear in a doctor’s office…the news that we never really want to admit to…that our days are numbered…or on the other hand that someone you love gets that diagnosis, and you have to sit there and watch them struggle…you have to watch them wither away until their strength gives out and they die. (pause)
We live in a world filled with darkness…we see it every day…we read about it in the paper…and we hear about it on the news. Often times it seems like there’s nothing good happening…nothing good at all…this is our reality.  Its messy, its ugly, it hurts…and we’re all stuck in it…and we all contribute to it…that darkness…it resides in each and every one of us…we might not want to admit it…more often than not we don’t want to cop to it…but like it or not that darkness that fills the world…that darkness that shows its ugly face in violence and disease and death starts right here.
We’re all a part of it, and though for some of us the darkness stops short of pulling a gun and shooting up a school room, we cannot deny the reality that sinfulness runs every bit as deep in our existence as it does in those 2 young men this week…those two young men who were so filled and overcome with darkness that they were able to justify taking lives this week. (pause)
We’re all a part of it…and we’re all stuck in the midst of it and often times when we stop and think about it we ask the question WHY? Why does this keep happening? Why can’t we stop this? What does this all mean…and often times when we ask those questions…the one that we’re directing it at doesn’t come back with much of an answer for us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there violence and death and disease? WHY GOD? (pause) We ask those questions and there are no good answers. And I can stand up here and try to tell you that all this crap that continues to happen in the world is simply a result of the way that sin has twisted our present reality…and while I believe that its true…it seems like pretty sour grapes in the face of all this darkness that keeps coming up again and again this week.
And as much as I might find myself questioning God…arguing with God…crabbing God out for allowing this sort of thing to happen…blaming Him…in the midst of those struggles…I get smacked with the verse “The light shines in the darkness” but I’ll be honest with you…I hear that and I want to call God out on that too…You know what God…there’s too much darkness happening…I can’t see the light!!!
But then I come back to it again…the light shines in the darkness. NO IT DOESN’T…NOT THIS TIME GOD…THIS TIME I’m CALLING YOU ON IT!!!!
The light shines in the darkness…and the darkness…has not overcome it. (pause)  Are you sure about that God because from where I’m sitting…it seems like the darkness has a pretty good hold on things…it seems like the darkness is still holding on pretty tight and I’d say its still pretty well established in the world…its all around us…and its in us…and you know what God…as much as I hate to admit it, when I get honest I see an awful lot of it in me! (pause)
Have you ever had those times…those times when the darkness overwhelms you…and you find yourself arguing with God? They happen…and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because you know what…God can take it…he can take your questions…he can take your anger…and in fact…I believe that God encourages us to express it.
Ever read the Psalms…they’re prayers…plain and simple…and while they cover a wide range of emotion, the largest single type of psalm is lament…arguing with God, laying out our troubles and our concerns and our anger with God…and hey…if the Bible is the word of God which Martin Luther swore up one side and down the other that it is…and that the Bible is our soul authority…well then maybe we need to wake up and pay attention…
We face darkness in the world…and we face darkness in ourself…but God’s not immune to it…God hasn’t turned his back on it…quite the opposite…God got into it…and that’s why I changed up the scripture lesson this week….to remind us in the midst of some pretty dark times…that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That…right there…that’s the incarnation in John’s gospel…that’s the first time Jesus comes on the worldly scene…when the light starts shining because Jesus is the light and try as it might…all that darkness…all the crap…and ugliness…and filth in the world…it can rage all it wants to but the light…its still shining….it is not overcome…and in the end…the darkness loses.
You see…darkness is the absence of light…when light shows up, darkness flees…it has to…try as it might it cannot defeat light…and even though we feel that darkness closing in…IT CAN’T WIN!!!
And despite the darkness, we are able to cling to the hope that in the end, everything is made new…its like going to the end of a scary story…reading the last couple of pages and seeing that the good guy wins…we can go back into the story knowing the ending and its not so scary anymore.
That’s the hope that we have…the hope that despite all this darkness and death…there’s more…we believe it…we proclaim it…and whether we want to admit it or not…it’s done (pause)
And by the grace of God…not by any merit we possess…its done for all of us…despite the darkness that we are surrounded by, and penetrated by…and yes even the darkness that we ourselves possess…we are freed from the powers of sin and death…we are freed from the powers of darkness in this world by the light itself…by God himself…by the one that calls himself I AM!!!
And the truly remarkable part is that gift of life…that gift of the light…its offered to everyone…regardless of who they are…its offered to you…its offered to me…and as much as we might like to forget it…its even offered to those two troubled young men who chose to take lives this week…and while we might find that offensive to hear…God doesn’t really care what we think on the matter…because when we stop and think about there are very likely individuals who are offended by the notion that we have been offered salvation from sin…the gospel…the good news…it is so radical…and goes so far beyond our own understanding.
This notion that God is willing to completely overlook…to completely forget the worst sins that we could possibly imagine…and offer forgiveness to ANYONE…even those who are so filled with darkness that they don’t realize it.
That’s the gospel we proclaim…that’s the hope that we hold on to. That the light shines in the darkness…that the word becomes flesh. (pause) That God enters our darkness…and no matter how much we might want to rage against it…He’s still there…and the darkness…even our darkness…CANNOT…overcome it. Amen.