January 5, 2020

“The True Light”

Psalm 27:1; John 1:1-9


Words hold incredible power. Words create images and emotions; they can start a war, and bring about peace. Certain words bring us certain powerful images. For example chocolate, presents, love, sunset, sunrise, family, ocean, baby, - all positive images for us. What about these words: politics, hunger, divorce, famine, war, hatred, darkness, death? Also strong images, yet negative for us. Words wield incredible power.


This morning’s New Testament passage is about words, yet not just any word, but The Word. The Word was spoken into being at the beginning of all creation. The Word John is speaking of is Logos(Logos) in Greek. The Word, in this case, is Jesus. Logos means -Divine wisdom. This idea of John, in calling Jesus the Word was meant to reach out to a diverse crowd- Greek philosophers thought of logos as not only spoken wisdom, but also thought, or reason. The reason was an important principle for philosophers of the day. Jews used the Word as a way of referring to God. John, therefore, used this term, logos, to identify with a broad audience.


The Word, Jesus, was with God and was God. That is to say, Jesus was there at the beginning, one and the same with God, yet distinct from God as well. John tells us that both the Creator and the Redeemer were together in making all things. Jesus and God were a part of creation from the beginning. As it says in Colossians 1:15-16,

“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created.”


The Word, Jesus spoke powerful words to guide us as well. I believe Christ’s words are the most powerful, life-changing, world-altering words ever spoken, as revealed to us in Matthew chapters 5-7: You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world; turn the other cheek, love your enemies, forgive others; do not worry about tomorrow; do not judge, lest you be judged.


In this powerful Word, was life- this word has incredible power- the power of giving new life, and reclaiming our identities as children of God. This life, we are told is light, a light for all people, one that shines in the darkness, and is more powerful than the darkness. Psalm 27:1 tells us, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” The light of God is connected through the power of the Word, the most powerful Word of them all: Jesus Christ, which leads us to our second focus- light.


Like words, light is also powerful. Light can change our perspective, can help us see things and people in new ways. 19th-century British author Augustus W. Hare wrote, “In darkness, there is no choice. It is light that enables us to see the differences between things, and it is Christ who gives us light.”  


Light can also give us comfort and reassures us in times of darkness. Rev. David Lasko shares a story about his great Aunt. “Her isolated house was far removed from the homes of others. As she reached her eighties and lived alone, I asked her how she coped with the apparent lack of contact with others. She pointed across the distant field to the nearest house and said, ‘If my kitchen light doesn’t come on by such and such an hour, they call me. And when I see their light come on, well, I know they are there (for me).’ In an age when we are instantly connected by cell phones, I was reminded of the meaningfulness of a simple light on a dark night that spoke of life and reassurance to these neighbors. This day we are reminded of another light bringing life and reassurance across dark skies, the one true light, Jesus Christ.”  


Light can also guide us. When I was 16, I had a great opportunity to go mountain climbing with my uncle. It was a two-week trip, and we climbed four different mountains during the trip. We planned to climb one mountain in particular in just one day. So we left early from our base camp and began our ascent. We got to the summit of the Matterhorn (don’t get excited- it is in Oregon and is called that only because it looks like it, and isn’t really that difficult to climb) also known as Mt. Washington- Anyway, we got on top of the Matterhorn at about 4:00 in the afternoon. We had a quick bite to eat and began the descent. Before too long the sunset, and about halfway down the mountain trail, we were in complete darkness. I turned on my flashlight and put it in front of me. The flashlight guided me all the way back to base camp, and I would’ve been lost or tripped without it. Jesus the Word is like that in my own life. When I am in times of darkness or difficulty, Christ’s wisdom and light guide me through. His light can help us walk down the right path, help us find our way, even in the dark. His light can keep us from getting lost in this world. The Word is a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path.


This Light from heaven has come down to be among us, helping us to see in the dark places, helping us know hope in our struggles, showing us new ways to view the world and other people, and leading us to true life as children of God. This light shines on days that are both happy and sad, on moments of success and failure, experiences of honor and dishonor, in times of well-being and illness, birth and death. For a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We celebrate the Word and Light that speaks and shines for all people.


The Late Great Theologian and pastor Henri Nouwen spoke about the manger that was set up near the front of his sanctuary. “I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that had been arranged under the altar. This is probably the most meaningful crib I have ever seen. Three small wood carved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figurines are smaller than the human hand- nearly too small to attract attention at all. But then- a beam of light shines on all three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world... Without the radiant beam of light shining into the darkness, there is little to be seen. I might just pass by these three simple people and continue to walk in darkness. But everything changes with the light.”


Everything can change with the light and word of Christ. By following the Word, Christ’s light then shines through us- Word and light are interconnected. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid.” Then in verse 16, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” So the answer is simple! Follow Christ’s words, be the light and all will be well!


Yet we know it isn’t that simple, is it? We often choose to be darkness rather than light. I saw an illustration in this month’s Dialogue about our internal struggle with darkness and light. A Cherokee elder, teaching his grandchildren about this struggle likens our struggle with light and dark to two wolves fighting inside of us. The elder says to his grandchildren, “One wolf is evil-he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other is good- he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”  “Which one will win?”, one of the grandchildren asked the elder. “The one you feed,” he replied. All too often in life, we feed the wrong wolf.


Another illustration of the inner struggle to be and choose light-Consider the character from the Star Wars saga, Ky lo Ren, in the latest Star Wars movie, “The Rise of Skywalker.”  If you have yet to see the movie and want to, and do not want the plot spoiled, please cover your ears and eyes (And for heaven’s sake it has been out since December 20- GO see it)…Ky lo Ren, as we found out in the last film, is the long lost son of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Ky Lo was trained as a young Jedi by good Jedi Luke Skywalker. However, he was also unfortunately fascinated by his late Grandfather,  the mostly evil Sith Darth Vader, and followed a tug to the dark side of the force. He had an internal struggle, which tore him apart, that subsided when he chose the dark side and killed his father, Han. So, Ky Lo made his choice and will followed in Vader’s footsteps, at least until this latest installment, when he follows the light and becomes Ben Solo once again, due to his mother’s love and the power of the force. He fed the wrong wolf for a long time, but in the end, chose the light.


We all have that struggle within. It is a daily struggle with sin for us. We have been given God’s divine word, the logos, the wisdom of God, and divine light in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ can turn us from the shadows, and help us stay on the lighted path.


That light was followed by three wise men some 2000 years ago as they followed the star to the toddler Jesus and his parents. Something else I found in this month’s Dialogue- a wonderful poem about the journey of the magi by Jan Richardson, shared by Carol Horton, which reminds us the light accompanies us on our faith journey. In writing of the wise men and their departure from the Holy Family after delivering their gifts, Richardson remarks, “We cannot show you the route that will take you home; that way is yours and will be found in the walking. But we tell you, you will wonder at how the light you thought you had left behind goes with you, spilling from your empty hands, shimmering beneath your homeward feet, illuminating the road with every step you take.”


Everything has changed with the birth of Jesus. The Word speaks to us, and the Light journeys with us, shines to guide us through the shadows and encourages us to be the light of heaven to others. May we go from this place today, guided by the light that is more powerful than any other light, and by the Word that is above all other Words, Jesus. Alleluia! Amen


Closing Prayer-19th century English cardinal and Theologian John Henry Newman wrote, Lead kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on; The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead Thou me on. Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” With angels and archangels, with prophets and apostles, with the Wise men, we come before You this Sunday, O God, and proclaim, “You are our Word and our light.” Despite our inner struggles and turning away from You time and time again, You have not given upon us. We thank you for Christ, whose wisdom helps us feed the right wolf, and for his light that goes with us, every step of the journey ahead. Amen.

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