John 1:10-18 (NRSV)
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] 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.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.
Have you ever been in a dark place? When I was a kid, we would go to Mammoth Cave National Park in KY a lot.
I remember the cave tours when the park ranger would turn off the lights in the “great room” of a large cave. You could not see anything, even your hand in front of your face!
Later in life, I did some spelunking, cave exploring. If your batteries on your headlamp would go out, it was always important to have a backup flashlight and extra batteries!
Darkness is disorienting.
The very definition of the “darkness” means to be in a state of dark, it is an abstract noun. Yet, it does not mean that one is “dark”, just living in a state of darkness. That “state” or existence can be changed.
Try an experiment this week. Go into a dark room. Pause for a moment, take in the darkness, look into it. Then turn on a light and notice the difference. Notice the change.
In our lives this past year, we may have experienced things that have been bleak, dark, and we may have felt like we are in an “in-between place” as well. We have remarked on it a lot, the pandemic, social unrest, political nonsense that is traumatic, and a disconnected world yearning for connection. We may have been sensing even before this year that a change is necessary, but this year has forced us into a season of change. We have longed for the warmth of hope, just as we may have longed for the hope of warm sunshine in the spring after a long winter. Our days get shorter, we experience darkness as we move through the changing seasons.
The changing of seasons is a good metaphor for our worshipping community called Fleming Road. As a collective group of persons, it seems like we have been in an “in-between” place. We may fill like we are on our way towards something, but we are still incomplete, not fully there. All of this can be good eventually, we are moving towards something, people inside the church and outside have remarked that there’s something different at Fleming Road UCC, and even different in our own lives, but we are still in between and not yet fully where we are called to be.
Our identity as Jesus followers gives us hope for in the midst of darkness and change, Jesus says this in Matthew 4:16 quoting from Isaiah.
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
In darkness, we cannot see others around us as we should. We stumble around often in relationships and because we are not able to see, we experience a break in relationship from folks because of something we’ve done or said, or something that was done or said to us. We often sit in darkness and darkness often leads to brokenness which can feel like living in the shadow of death.
A past spiritual director gave me a great book a while ago by Parker Palmer called Let Your Life Speak, In it Parker talks about depression and darkness. He states that we need to embrace our wholeness as persons in those dark moments, look into them, and use them as times of understanding who we are, our true selves as Thomas Merton, the great catholic philosopher and mystic might say.
Parker says this in his book:
“embracing one’s wholeness makes life more demanding–because once you do that, you must live your whole life. One of the most painful discoveries I made in the midst of the dark woods of depression was that a part of me wanted to stay depressed. As long as I clung to this living death, life became easier; little was expected of me, certainly not serving others.”
Our passage from John gives us a glimpse of where real life comes from, or who it comes through. Jesus is described as the light that shines into our lives, exposing everything through love, and enabling us to move through the darkness in our lives to find out true selves. Jesus not only sheds light, but gives us an example to follow, an example of service and generosity. Listen to these words from Eugene Peterson’s translation of our gospel text that we read earlier:
9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
14 The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
Friends, like a thief in the night, we can let darkness overwhelm us, but that is not our identity, that is not our true selves, we were not created to live in darkness, this great light has entered the world and our lives. As we stumble around in the darkness, we seek out light…and darkness flees when light is introduced. Darkness does not win. Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our neighborhood, became flesh and bone just like us. Jesus came to reveal to us what it means to live in the fullness of who we are called to be in our truest selves. We have received grace upon grace, we are given new opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to experience rebirth even in the midst of the in-between times. The light of Jesus is here, we may not always like what we see, it may cause us to ask deep questions, but the light does transform us and can bring us into places of beauty in our lives in our neighborhood, work, and even in our church!
This light was the word made flesh, Jesus, who invites us into this sacred moment where we can catch glimpses of his glory and experience salvation…and salvation is deeper than just being rescued from something…salvation means a deeper awareness that we are in this life connected…to ourselves, not afraid to go to dark places in our lives, with others, not afraid of being vulnerable and authentic…and all through God, where we find true salvation waiting for us, shedding light, in the darkness.