|GOSPEL||John 1:[1–9] 10–18|
John begins his gospel with this prologue: a hymn to the Word through whom all things were created. This Word became flesh and brought grace and truth to the world.
In 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. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was in high school and in Louisville, KY for the national FFA convention with some of the members of my hometown chapter. My advisor, one afternoon said, we were not going to the convention hall after lunch. Instead, we were going to go to Mammoth Cave, the largest explored cave system in the world. It’s over 400 miles long, and we were going to take a tour. Of course, we did the easy, walking, guided tour. We spent about an hour in there and, in the middle of the tour, our guide stopped and did something that has literally changed my perspective on light and darkness since then. He had us sit down on some benches carved out of the side of the cave, and then he turned off the lights. Caves like this, he explained, are some of the only places in the world where there is, literally, no light. It wasn’t just dim, it was completely dark. I saw absolutely nothing. As he talked, I tried with all my might to see anything. I held my hand inches from my nose, but still nothing. As he talked about how some animals can survive without light, I heard his keys jingle as he reached into his pocket. Without us knowing, he has reached for one, single, solitary match. As he lit it, without warning, you could literally hear a gasp from those of us on the tour. Never in my life would I ever think that I could see so much from the light of one, single match. It was as if someone had turned the lights back on, it seemed so bright. At that moment, my belief in what light can do changed forever. I learned, in that instant, that light could never be overpowered by darkness. Darkness that seemed so thick and overpowering that I could never penetrate it, was chased away by a single match that I could easily blow out with a simple sneeze.
Now, this has been a favorite passage of mine for a while now and I want to get a little geeky about it right now. Just hang on for a bit, it will all be over soon. We read today that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Did you notice the verb tenses in that sentence.
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
In our translation (NRSV), the translators did this passage perfectly. The light still shines in the present tense, but the darkness did not overcome the light. That past tense writing shows finality. It’s like saying, “The darkness did not, could not, and never will overcome the light.” In the midst of all of the transient, changing nature of the world around us, how refreshing to know that the light is still shining and the darkness did not overcome it.
And this light, this Word talked about in our gospel for the day, is special. This light and Word are not destructive, but creative. We read today that everything came into being through the Word and, not only that, the Word came to the world it created! It came, in the form of Jesus, not to destroy, but to build. Not to bring more laws, but to bring grace. Not to make things muddier and less clear, but to give the clearest example of who God is and what God does.
And what does God do? According to our reading from Ephesians (1.3-14), he freely redeems us, he forgives us, and he makes us children of God. Maybe the best way that we can describe this process of becoming children of God is already used by Paul in that reading. The word is adoption. Let’s think about this for a second. An adoptee, someone who is being adopted, has done absolutely nothing to deserve it. As an adoptee, you are sought out, you are searched for, and taken from where ever you are, with all its brokenness and pain, and taken someplace where you have family, shelter, food, and a home. It doesn’t matter if the adoptee is from a rural village in Asia or Africa or an inner city project in Chicago, they have done nothing to deserve a fresh start. Still, though, the fresh start is offered by their new adopted parents. Today, if you want to adopt a child, whether internationally or domestic, it takes a long time, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of money. This process involves a lot of patience and a lot of dedication. And once that adoption is final, nothing can undo it. As an adoptee, once you are in a family, that’s it. You’re in. You are a child of a new mother or father. The person adopting has spent an incalculable amount of time, prayers, and effort, and now it’s final. They have a new child. Their family has grown and expanded in more ways than anyone can ever know. I think, maybe, this word adoption carries more theological weight than just about any word I know.
Think about what this means. We have been adopted by God. We have been looked for, sought for, and fought for. When justice would be a judge condemning us as guilty, God is merciful and says, “I forgive you. I forgive you for everything you’ve ever done and nothing you will ever do is too much for me to forgive. You came as a criminal on trial and now you are leaving as my child. I am adopting you into my family. You are mine.” Because God came to earth, as this baby named Jesus, you are now part of the family of God. Because Jesus would give everything for you, you are a child of God. You have an inheritance of hope and love and peace and joy. You have a home, not in some distant far off heaven, but right here and right now, you have a family.
Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect, right? Even the closest of families bickers and argues sometimes. Even the gentlest of parents needs to correct their children and even the most obedient child still doesn’t always like what happens in his or her family. Just because we are adopted, doesn’t mean we always understand or agree. Life isn’t some perfect fairy tale from here on out. Even John was acknowledging that the darkness exists. In order for the light to shine in the darkness, darkness has to be there, right? But the darkness, pain, grief, and anger, like that darkness of cave, can be chased away with one single light. Our single light is Jesus who is showing that hope and joy will prevail because hope and joy are rooted in what God is doing and have promised to do. Our Ephesians reading says that all things, things on earth and things in heaven, will be gathered together by God. Just as we are adopted, so God is working to adopt all people. God is redeeming the whole world!
I’ve used that word, “redeeming”, a few times here. It’s a kind of churchy word that, even though you’ve probably heard it before, doesn’t always get explained. So, when I say God is redeeming the world, think of a coupon. A coupon is a piece of paper, which is basically worth nothing. But when you bring it to the right place, you can redeem it for something that is worth a whole lot more than that piece of paper. If you win the lottery, you redeem your ticket, that simple piece of paper, and you get back a whole lot more. So, when we hear that God is redeeming the world, imagine God taking our little coupon and giving us something in return that is infinitely greater than anything else we could get. God is in that process, a process of transformation and renewal, a process of adoption and restoration, right here and right now.
This is a time of year that is full of new beginnings. We are in a new year, with new possibilities, and new challenges. Some of us may make new resolutions. Some of us may try to start last year’s over again. Some of us don’t even bother anymore. But I hope you know that time of new beginnings is not an annual event, marked by the ball dropping in Time’s Square. The time of new beginnings happens every single day because every day we see the light again. Because that light that John talked about with the Word, is the same light that shines every day and will shine through eternity. It’s the light of love and hope and joy and forgiveness and peace. It’s the light that no darkness can overcome, not matter how blind it may make us sometimes. It’s the light that shows us a better way, a new way, to live. It’s the light of Christ who is shining in the darkness, adopting us, adopting you, as a child of God, and will continue to do that in all things are gathered and adopted together.
My tour guide lit one match, one single match, and it changed my life. So let this one light of Jesus Christ shine into our dark places and through us into all dark places we may face. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Amen.