Sermon for John 1:1-18
New beginnings. Starting over. These are powerful ideas, aren’t they? And very appropriate for today too – Happy New Year! Maybe you’re like me, and it’s easy to think about the messes of this past year. And now we have a brand new year to do better. Or maybe you’ve going to exercise or read more. Maybe we’ll try to be a nicer person for a change. More patient? More accepting? More generous? It’s kind of an endless list, but hey, we’ll never be bored, right? So how about resolutions? Did any of you make some? Maybe they’ll work. I hope so. But to be honest, I’m not too big on resolutions. Somehow I just end up falling back into old habits. Does that happen for you too? Maybe we really are just creatures of habit. We say that a lot, or at least we think it.
But in a way, that’s what makes this Gospel reading so appropriate. And maybe a little frustrating too – “in the beginning was the Word.” I mean, how do we talk about a new beginning if we don’t talk about what we should change? Why can’t it be like Jesus commanding his disciples? We like that. Jesus tells us what to do, and off we go! If we’re really honest, don’t we usually read scripture this way? Though it does make sense. I mean, we’re the people of God aren’t we? We need to know how to worship. How to serve the world around us. We sing it – they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Now, it is true – we are the people of God. But if that’s the case, then it also makes our Gospel disturbing. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Ah, but we’re quick. We know the whole story, right? Jesus came to the Jews, God’s chosen people, and they didn’t just reject him. They sentenced him to death on a cross. So we turn the matter into us versus those people, and the story continues – “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Don’t we know exactly who Jesus is? The Son of God?
But, is that enough? Is faith and salvation really all just about right answers? Of course not. And we come back to that whole self-improvement thing, and we make Jesus our model. Just what would Jesus do? Except, if we’re creatures of habit, then we have a bit of a problem, er, I mean, “challenge”. But, maybe the Gospel is on to us here, with all its talk about darkness and light. “What has come into being in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people”. John the baptizer came as a witness to testify to the light. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. And isn’t that a classic image? Light good. Darkness evil.
But wait a minute – why not just simply say good or evil? What’s with all these poetic words like darkness and light? Well, the thing with light, is that it shines into the totality of darkness. Everything is dark, until the light shines in, that we might see at last. And this light is not our own making, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. No, we cannot generate our own light. But Jesus can and does.
Except, this light is like a double-edged sword, isn’t it? Because by this same light of Jesus we see how we have been stumbling in darkness. Our regrets, our failures, our sins, everything comes to light and we see it all. And, maybe this isn’t the best possible light. No, it’s the light of truth, and everyone else can see us for who we are too, and what will they think of us? Hypocrites? Fakes? And have we never thought this about anyone else? Isn’t it so easy to do this with people in power? Politicians or televangelists or anyone who’s ever hurt us. But the same light reveals exactly who all of us are, because we’ve all been walking in the same darkness. We have been just as hurtful to others, but absolutely blind to everything that God has always seen in full.
Now, it’s easy for us to argue otherwise, that we’re not so bad. But when we do so, we only reveal that we don’t understand how we have harmed anyone else. Maybe that has something to do with our endless argument over our racial and economic privilege. But regardless, this all tells us one more thing – the light doesn’t obliterate the darkness – it shines within the darkness. That we can’t fully comprehend our sin in spite of this light shining, shows that the darkness is still there. Our darkness. And do creatures of habit ever really stop stumbling in it?
But, brothers and sisters, this isn’t the whole story. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Jesus was the light of life, and the darkness and blindness of our sin nailed him to a cross because of it. And he died real death. But after three days, Jesus rises from the grave. And, the light of his resurrection doesn’t just shine in the darkness. No, Jesus defeats it by these simple words – you are forgiven. In spite of everything, Jesus promises us that our sin is forgiven. The death and darkness of the cross is so overwhelmed by the light of Jesus’ resurrection that we can dare to look at it and know that it will not overcome us either. For if we are baptized into a death like his, we will surely be raised in a resurrection like his.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Yes, Jesus’ light has revealed our darkness, but we don’t have to deny it anymore. He sees us exactly as we really are, and yet he loves us anyway, even more strongly than we can ever love ourselves. Such a Lord who loves us like this. No matter how we might stumble, Jesus promises us, assures us, that we are forgiven and freed. Free from death. Free from guilt. Free from the condemnation of sin, as we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper. All because Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit, so that we might trust his powerful Word to us. We don’t even have to make ourselves believe it – the Spirit works that work in us, and we have nothing to fear. At last, we can be honest with ourselves. We are sinners but saints, gripped by this God come in our flesh, who will not let us go.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Against the darkness of the world, the mission of God will not be deterred. Because the Spirit will draw us to people and places that we do not expect, and perhaps even fear. So often we don’t even realize what’s happening until we’re already there. We may be unprepared and uncertain. But we do not have to rely upon ourselves, because the Spirit is always with us, empowering us in ways that we don’t even have to understand. And so, we will serve our neighbors, in spite of our mistakes or our missteps. We may never even see just how we’ve helped at all. But, the Spirit that gives us trust in Jesus’ words, gives us trust that somehow, we have served and cared for others.
So, let’s circle back to where we started. New beginnings. But not just today. Every day, as we die and rise in the light of Christ. You’re still free to make your plans and resolutions if you like. But know this, what God has in store for you and for me is far greater than any plan or resolution we can even hope to think of. Therefore, people of God, arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Praise be to God. Amen.