Lectionary blog for Jan. 5, 2014
Second Sunday after Christmas
Text: John 1:1-18
Several years ago, before Daddy died, I went to see him and Mama in the old farm house out in the country near Mount Airy, N.C. As I headed down the old two-lane road from town to the farm, I started to notice that every farm had what I grew up calling a “pole light,” an electric light that illuminated the farmyard all night. I played a game with myself, trying to see if I could find a place in that 8-mile stretch where I was out of sight of one of those lights. It couldn’t be done. All the way out into the country, a new yard light would appear up ahead before the last one was out of sight in my rear-view mirror.
So, I changed games. I decided to count the houses that didn’t have a pole light. Again, it couldn’t be done. Every house, every shed, every trailer and barn was awash in the purplish florescent glow of pole lights. Every one, that is, except Daddy’s. There was that big old farm house, sitting forlorn and silent and dark in the middle of a field, not a speck of light visible except a night light near the kitchen window.
As I pulled into the driveway, I laughed quietly to myself, “Leave it to Daddy to be the only person for miles around too cheap to have a light in the yard.” I got out of the car and gathered my things, and being too cheap and too careless to own a flashlight, I stumbled through the dark toward the back door, I fell over the lawn-mower and raked my shins over the well-house and bloodied my nose by walking directly into the corner of the house. Finally, I stumbled into the house and Daddy called out from the bedroom, “Well, you’re here then are you? Cut that light out in there. It’s burning ‘lectricity.”
Sometime the next day I pointed out to Daddy that his was the only house on the road without a yard light, and, as politely as I could, I asked him why he did not have one. He looked at me, rubbed his nose, took a deep drag on his cigarette and said, “Well son, I was born in this house almost 80 years ago, in this very room. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know where everything out there is, so I don’t see as how I need a light.” In that moment I realized that pointing out to Daddy that other people might need a light to get around in his backyard was unlikely to be a persuasive argument. I let it go and forgot about it, until this week, when I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, especially these words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Then my experience of stumbling about in the dark in Daddy’s backyard came rushing back to me. There is one way in which my Daddy and God Almighty were alike; they had both been wandering around their respective backyards for a long time, they knew everything that was there and they didn’t need a light. But unlike Daddy, God has taken account of the visitors and strangers stumbling around in the world’s darkness and God has provided a light to show us the way. The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has come to show us the way.
Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, “In the beginning.” This is a deliberate echo of the first words of the Bible, of Genesis, of the time of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John connects Jesus to that creative moment, when light first shined into the darkness of the world. In the time of the Exodus, when the children of Israel escaped the pharaoh in Egypt and headed for the Promised Land, they wandered in the desert and were guided by a “pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” More light. Light is an image, a metaphor, we use all the time almost without thinking.
When someone gives us new information that helps us to understand something, we say they have “shed new light” on the subject.” What is the cartoon symbol for a good idea? A light bulb. We usually refer to a very good plan as a “bright idea.” We say an intelligent person is “very bright.” We refer to an indistinct time after the end of the Roman Empire as the Dark Ages and we call the time when education and learning began to expand as “The Enlightenment.”
All these references play off one essential idea: ignorance and the darkness of sin and suffering go together, while education and intelligence and learning will throw off that darkness and bring healing and wellness. It’s a wonderful idea. There’s just one problem with it. It isn’t necessarily so.
While it is true that education can and does improve life, it is also true that simply an increase in learning is not enough to change the human heart. Our current economic crisis was created by some of the smartest people in the country, people whose good sense and prudence and concern for others was overcome by their willingness to do whatever it took to make money. The simple truth of the matter is that a simple increase in knowledge will not change the human heart.
That is why Christ came. That is why Christ still comes. We need a light that learning and intelligence and technology cannot provide. We need to learn the lessons of love and caring and compassion and sacrifice. These are lessons that can only be taught by example, most especially the example of a living God who has come into our midst to show us the way. “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
God becoming flesh and living among us shows us that God was not willing to let us wander about the universe in the dark. And God knew that the light we needed had to be more than words on a page and instructions from a pulpit. The light we needed had to be “fleshed out,” and this fleshing out began in the birth and life, and, yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And, this “fleshing-out” continues in the life of the church. The church is the body of Christ. We don’t represent the body of Christ. We don’t stand in for the body of Christ. It is not an image, or metaphor or simile. We are not a symbolic idea; we are a fleshly reality. We are called to embody our faith and love for God in our efforts to live lives of love with one another, and in the world.
The world is still dark. It is still in need of light. We are still called to be that light, beginning in our own backyard and expanding out into the whole world.
Amen and amen.