Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sermon on John 1:1-18, for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "The Light Shines in the Darkness"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the introduction to the Gospel according to John, chapter 1:1-18. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Holy Spirit inspired John to begin the Gospel with words that clearly echo another well-known passage of Scripture. John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What does John 1:1 echo? Genesis 1:1, the first words of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” What are we to make of this connection? This is teaching us that the Word, [Capital ‘W’], was together with God at the very beginning of creation, and thus is eternal. The Word, is also at the same time together with God, and in fact is God. Yet they are in some way distinguished from each other, because John makes it clear that the Word was “with God in the beginning.” As an individual, you don’t speak about being “with yourself.” But if you’re talking about more than one person, you may say, “He was with so-and-so.” Obviously we’re treading on the edge of a mystery that’s too deep for any of us to grasp—namely, how God is One God, yet at the same time is three persons in one.

Yet here we have it simply, that God and the Word are together eternal, together creator of all things, together God. “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” We go on to the rest of the verses in John 1, and we find out the identity of this mysterious eternal Word. And that Word is described both as the Light that came into the world, and as the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. This Word is of course Jesus Christ, who was with God in the beginning, who was together eternal, together creator, and together God. But who was also now uniquely born into human flesh as the baby Jesus. Not the Father, not the Holy Spirit, but Jesus, the Son became incarnate as a human. The Christmas season is a celebration of the Father sending the Son to become incarnate. Since Christmas is a season of light, I want to focus today especially on how these verses speak of Jesus as the Light.

Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s light. The darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is the winter solstice, around Dec. 21 or so, and yet as the darkness encroaches and creeps around us, we fight back with the illumination of light. People decorate their houses and streets with Christmas lights, keeping the darkness at bay. It’s as though we’re unwilling to succumb to the increasing darkness of winter. Here on Maui, closer to the equator, it affects us less than others, but in the more northern parts of the hemisphere the darkness and cloudiness is accentuated even more in winter. But light brings comfort in the darkness. A candle, a tiny flame of light has such power that it can be seen across miles of pitch darkness. In fact the deeper the darkness the more the light stands out; even a small ray of light gives comfort and hope. Light illumines our path so that we don’t stumble. And so Jesus is the Light that illumines the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the true Light that gives light to every man.

Speaking of how even a tiny candle flame is not drowned out by the darkness, John 1:5 says that “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” For Jesus as well as the apostles and prophets, darkness portrays the physical absence of light, but even more significantly the spiritual darkness of sin and separation from God. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the light and darkness this way: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus judged the world that men loved darkness instead of light, because their works were evil, hid them under the cover of darkness. We’re all guilty of doing things that we wish would never see the light of day. The light shames our wickedness. Not because there’s anything bad about the light. No, the light is pure and good, but when it shines on our lives, whatever sin we have is exposed.

But returning to John 1:5, we heard that “the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Our sin-darkened hearts don’t immediately grasp the light as something good, to be desired, but we flee from it for shame. We don’t understand that it’s for our good that Jesus came as the Light into the World. We retreat into caves of sin, blinded by the light. But there’s more to the verse than just that the darkness didn’t understand the light. English translations are roughly split even between translating the word here as “understand” or “grasp,” and “overcome.” So the word could also be read as “the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” Just like the candle that can’t be extinguished by the darkness. Jesus also said of Himself later in the Gospel of John, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (John 12:35-36). Jesus urges us to walk in the light, to believe in the Light, so that the darkness will not overtake us. It’s the same word we’re talking about: “the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

The spiritual darkness of sin is always trying to overtake and overcome us. It would drive us into hiding from the light, so that we think our sinful actions are covered by the darkness. As if we really could hide from God. But if we turn to the darkness, instead of the often painfully revealing and cleansing light, we’ll simply lose our way. Because the one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he’s going. Christ our Light gives us our bearings, shows us where to walk so that despair and solitude and hiding don’t keep us from confession of our sins, and the forgiveness that brings hope. So we Christians can become like thousands or millions of tiny mirrors, reflecting His light. Even as we turn away from the darkness of sin, turning our back on the sinful paths we’d been walking, so now we turn our mirrors toward those who’re still dwelling in deep darkness and the shadow of death. We turn our mirrors to reflect the light of Jesus to those who have lost their way, who wander in a dark maze of life, with darkness and sadness as their companions. To those who’ve lived under the false notion that their efforts would lead them out of darkness, that enough searching and groping around in the darkness without the Light, would eventually lead them out of it.

In a far greater way than a mere candle, Jesus’ Light isn’t overcome by the darkness, it isn’t overwhelmed by the darkness, and the darkness has not and will not prevail over His Light. For a brief three days, His Light was extinguished from the world, and darkness would’ve seemed to have prevailed, when Jesus was crucified on the cross. In a divine sign that foreshadowed this, there were three hours of unearthly darkness as Jesus suffered His last hours on the cross. There if ever, it seemed as though darkness had won. It seemed as if the Light had been snuffed out. Thinking a few months ahead in the church calendar, can anyone tell me what we traditionally do at the end of the Good Friday tenebrae service that symbolizes this? Every light is extinguished as we gather in darkness, except for the lone light of the Christ candle. And then for a brief time, the candle is carried out of the sanctuary and it’s light is hidden from our view. Jesus lay in the tomb. Then long moments later, the candle is brought back into the sanctuary before we quietly dismiss, the light shining in the darkness, a reminder that Jesus rose again on Easter morn. And so the light reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection.

In Jesus we have the Light that gives light to every man. The Light that came into the world. By believing in the Light, in Him, we become sons of light so that we won’t become overtaken by the darkness. His light guides us and keeps us from stumbling. He leads us so that the encroaching darkness won’t take hold of us and wrestle us from Him. Our sins whisper to call us back to the darkness, hide from the light, as if our sins won’t be seen in the darkness. But He brings light to every man.

But let’s also consider how Jesus came as the Light. John says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And later he says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The eternal Word of God brought God’s glory to show to us. But how? God could’ve burst onto the scene of earth with the sheer, blinding light of His glory….but infinitely brighter than the sun, His holiness would’ve incinerated us with our sin. God is described as “alone [having] immortality, [He] dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Moses learned from God that “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). God couldn’t come with His unclothed Light and Glory, or we’d perish in our sinfulness.

Even though the darkness had to be overcome, it’d be too great of a shock to eliminate it all at once. We would’ve been the casualties, the collateral damage of that kind of arrival, of that kind of redemption. It would’ve been a hostage crisis where the hostages were killed in the rescue. Incidentally, this is part of the reason why a good and holy God allows evil and suffering to continue in His world, and God doesn’t just instantaneously intervene when bad things happen. Sin and the spiritual darkness that drapes over the world is so pervasive that every man, woman, and child is born sinful. No matter how good our outward lives appear, every one of us has inherited sin from Adam, and is a poor, miserable sinner. So to call down God’s judgment on evil in this world, for Him to intervene in all the bad things that happen, would be to call down judgment on our own heads too. In order that we wouldn’t be the collateral damage of God’s shining into the darkness, God in His wisdom saw fit to preserve our lives for His redemption.

So instead of coming in the blinding brightness of a million suns and the fearsome holiness that would cause us to perish in His presence—God clothed Himself like a candle. Clothing His light and glory in human flesh, the eternal Word became mortal flesh and dwelt among us, so that when God came among us to overcome the darkness, we would be able to see His Light. God’s Light wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, the Light shining in the darkness. The Light of Hope, of Peace, of Forgiveness, of Comfort. His Light that would guide us, cleanse us, and shield us from the darkness—the darkness that cannot and will not overcome His Light. Christ our Light has made God known to us. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1.What does John’s introduction to the Gospel tell us about “the Word” and who or what it is in relation to God?
2.What does it mean that Jesus is the “Light shining in the darkness”? What’s the darkness?
3.What particular darkness do we find in ourselves? Clouding over our lives?
4.Why couldn’t God come to earth in His unclothed glory and light? How would that affect us? Why?
5.How did God instead choose to reveal His Light? How does Jesus’ Light guide and lead us? In what way does it cleanse us?
6.How does the world and the darkness in it, fail to understand, and also fail to overcome the Light?
7.How did Jesus in turn overcome the darkness?

1 comment:

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Josh Schneider

On the subject of "how God is One God, yet at the same time is three persons in one;"
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you in your quest for truth.

BTW, when I read your comment:
"This Word is of course Jesus Christ, who was with God in the beginning, who was together eternal, together creator, and together God."

It reminded me of a quote by Colin Brown of Fuller Seminary (who incidentally is featured in the video), who remarked:
"It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John's Gospel to read it as if it said:
'In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God and the Son was God' (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning."


Your comment is a classic example of this!
Nevertheless, please watch the video, and let me know your thoughts.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor