The First Sunday after Christmas, Year C
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Over the past few months, our world has slowly grown darker and darker. Night has fallen earlier and earlier each successive night. For the past four weeks, the darkest four weeks of the year, we have lit our Advent wreaths, kindling small sparks of light in the midst of the darkness. Each night for four weeks now, we have engaged in this ritual of human defiance, a way of struggling to exert our mastery over the world around us. And now, the days are slowly growing brighter. The nights are shorter. The light has come!
Of course, we know that our world is not just physically dark. We bore witness to wars and rumors of wars this past year. We bore witness to the violence of terrorists and the Islamic State. We bore witness to Christians martyred around the world. We bore witness to violence in our churches, schools, and streets. It has been a dark year. And we have gathered together what small sparks of light we could to stave off the darkness.
But now, Light has come! Unto us a child is born, God from God, Light from Light, True God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. And that Light shines in the midst of our dark world, a world that we know is both literally and metaphorically dark, and we are promised that the darkness will not, cannot, overcome it. God has heard our prayers: Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. God has stooped low and heard our cry. And the Son of God, who was with God from the beginning, from before creation itself, the Son of God has become flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, born in a stable, born a peasant, but a king, born to die. And with his birth, the true Light has come among us, and this Light promises us that the darkness that surrounds us will never overcome it.
Some of you, I am sure, are more familiar with this passage in the lyric translation of the King James Version: And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehend it not. That is, at first glance, a very different promise. But the Greek word that John uses in this sentence is one of those words with multiple meanings that are hard to pin down. It can mean “to over power by force,” as the New Revised Standard Version translates it. It can mean “to grasp intellectually,” as the King James translates it. Or, it can mean “to suddenly come upon,” just as night suddenly falls in the winter months. So, for hundreds of years, translators have debated which of these meanings John intended.
Personally, I think that he meant all three. Our dark world will never overpower and snuff out the Light, just as Christ promised us that the Gates of Hell would not overthrow his Church. Our dark world will never fully grasp what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, for it seems inconceivable that our Lord and our Maker should become so powerless, so willing to sacrifice, so willing to die on our behalf. This is a love too deep, too broad, too high for us to grasp. And our dark world will never overshadow this light. It will always burn, just as the sanctuary light above the aumbry always burns, a symbol of the fact that Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness has dawned upon us, and will never set.
The Light of Christ, which comes to us each Christmas, is a beacon in our dark world. William Temple, an English theologian and former Archbishop of Canterbury, compared John’s description of the true Light in this passage to a lighthouse, whose light cuts a clear path through the darkness. This is the Light of Christ, through which we are shown the way to the Father. This is our beacon in our dark world, where things are so uncertain, where our path is so often dim, where it can be difficult to discern the glory of God around us. And this Light will always burn, like a lighthouse’s beam on a dark, storm-tossed sea, guiding us home.
For this is what Christ came to do. Christ became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, Christ was born, lived, and died so that he might, on the hard wood of the cross, bring us all into his saving embrace, reconciling us before God the Father, and giving us the power to become God’s children. Christ is the Light of the World, revealed to us in the words of Scripture, revealed to us in the waters of baptism, revealed to us in bread and wine. Christ is our beacon, our guide upon our earthly pilgrimage. So let us rejoice, for on this holy day, we are assured that God has answered our prayer: Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this dark world; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.