John 1:1-18 (NRSV)
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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, 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, 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,who has made him known.
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 may have been sensing that a change is necessary, 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 UCC. At times this past year, it has felt like it has been a place of searching and change. 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. We have wanted to change and grow in new directions, we’ve had four full with a new pastor, we’ve been working on what it means to be a “community engaged” church, we are experiencing new relationships coming into the building even as we go out into the neighborhood. All of this is good, 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.
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.
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.”
Sitting in darkness can really be disorienting. We feel lost, yet the darkness does point us toward a need for light.
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. Or we simply grow apart over time. We often sit in darkness and darkness often leads to brokenness which can feel like living in the shadow of death.
I love the band Over the Rhine, one of their song lyrics is “All my favorite people are broken”. I love that line, we are all in the same boat. None of us are competent or good enough to get through this life deal without experiencing darkness, lostness, or brokenness. The difference is how much light we want shining on our lives to expose us in our darkness.
Actually, more than that…we need darkness in our lives in order to grow into our truest selves…its only after everything is taken away, not seen, before we can be truly seen for who we are and to see that ourselves…why is that? Because we construct so much artificial light that we think will keep the darkness away, we build lives of comfort and deceive ourselves in believing that we can control when the darkness comes. We can’t…all we can do is lean into it, embrace it, and walk through it…knowing that as we stumble about, that we are also able to see deeper because we have to…
A former spiritual director of mine, Todd Long, 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:
Over the years, the befriending intent of this figure never disappeared but became obscured by the frustration caused by my refusal to turn around. Since shouts and taps, stones and sticks had failed to do the trick, there was only one thing left: drop the nuclear bomb called depression on me, not with the intent to kill but as a last-ditch effort to get me to turn and ask the simple question, “What do you want?” When I was finally able to make the turn– and start to absorb and act on the self-knowledge that then became available to me– I began to get well.
The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another from of self-distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self-planted in us by the God who made us in God’s own image– the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be.
True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril.”
― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
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 and deep awareness of his true self, others, and the divine presence all around him and us. Listen to these words from Eugene Peterson’s translation of our gospel text:
6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
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 may live in darkness, but there is a light in the depth of that darkness…and this great light has entered the world and our lives…actually, this great light has been in us all along…made in God’s image means that God put God’s self in us from the beginning…”in the beginning was the word, and the word…”.
As we stumble around in the darkness, may we go deep as we seek out light.
Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our neighborhood, became flesh and bone just like us. God made God’s dwelling, with us!!! In us!!! All around us! Jesus is a visible expression of that divine expression that we encompasses us and invites us to the work of awareness to live into…
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 sacred moments where we can catch glimpses of God’s glory, and our glory, and experience fullness with others and with God.