When I was a little boy I had an older friend named Edna. But I called her Eddie. She was a widow who rented a small beach cottage near my house. I frequently paid her visits, not just because she always had candy to share but also because she and I seemed to like the same stuff. Eddie was an artist who spent her days in the sun making little sculptures out of pieces of metal and junk. As she soldered, I would watch her hands, and eyes, and mind work in perfect unity. She would take frequent breaks to sip sweet tea from an old plastic cup or to draw a slow, contemplative drag from a cigarette that she kept clutched in her tan, chunky fingers. It was with her, sitting at her picnic bench studio, I first discovered my love for art…and smoking. I learned a lot more from my friend. Like how the light brings out the extraordinary from the ordinary. As we watched the evening sun dip into the Gulf of Mexico she would say, “Notice the light transforms simple life into a work of art?”
When the summer rains dropped, we’d eat candy inside and look at books by Rembrandt and Caravaggio. It was there that I learned how their meticulous use of warm, glowing light increased the drama of their paintings. With Ansell Adams, life was in the darkness of the dramatic shadows that contrasted against the bright sunlit landscapes he so famously photographed. In short, Eddie taught me how to see the world differently. How to see the beauty that was always right there, living gracefully and fearlessly in the moment. Many years after she died, I would come to see what she meant when she told me, “Light always makes a difference to the darkness.”
I am reminded of this when I read John’s gospel. In these dramatic opening verses we learn how to see the light in the darkness, and even darkness in the light. My question this morning is this: Do we still faithfully see the light, or have we been so “enlightened” that we no longer comprehend the darkness for what it really is?
In John’s famous prologue, we meet Jesus, not under the starlit skies or in the Bethlehem stable. Instead we meet him before creation itself, when light broke through the darkness. John strips out the virgin birth, the shepherds and angels, and the Magi who have come to visit. Instead, he gives us two metaphorical accounts of Jesus to highlight the complex theology behind the Divinity and the Humanity of Jesus.
The first metaphor is “the logos,” which translated from the Greek means, “the Word.” Jesus is the very Divine Word of God who brought us the Good News of our redemption. John offers hints of last week’s text, in that “through Jesus we are adopted into God’s family and become heirs of God.” As we hear the word of God spoken to us through Jesus, we are brought closer to a place of faith that helps us better understand what the Good News means to us today.
The second image of Jesus is as the true light that enlightens every human. God came to us in human form to shine on our darkness, to illuminate our pathways that lead us back to our creator. Christ came down from heaven, to bring us the Word. And to light up our lives. From the story of the Magi seeking the newborn king to Paul’s blinding encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, whenever Jesus shows up, a new light seems to enter the atmosphere. It is this light that John says, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Or to quote my childhood friend, “Light always makes a difference to the darkness.”
But not everyone comprehends this notion. There are some people today who do not see Jesus Christ as the “true light, which came to his own and his own people did not receive him.” To hear the Word and to see the light, takes faith. And faith is not always easy to come by. We are living in a post-modern, “enlightened” world, where the popular notion is there are no absolutes. There is no black and white, light and dark, just grayish ambiguity. I am sure many of you have friends who do not share your faith. I have friends whose life is only black and white. Their faith is based on that which can be scientifically proven and fact checked. (I mean if it can’t be Googled, it can’t be true, right?) And there are others whose faith is based in situational ethics. Right and wrong are defined on “what makes one feel good” rather than on “what is good.”
There are many Christians as well who are so blinded by the light that all they see is darkness around them. This brings its own set of crippling challenges to one’s faith. Jesus came to his own people, who had been praying for a savior to rescue them from the darkness that was enslaving them. God answered their prayers, yet they did not believe. Why? Did they lack faith? Perhaps it was hard for them to see the true light because they had been living in the darkness for so long. Perhaps, like many of my friends today, the people of Israel had come to understand the darkness as light and the light as something to avoid, or mistrust.
What about you? Do you need to see in order to believe? Or is believing seeing? This is where our faith roads diverge. Taking a leap of faith is the most important action we can do. To take a leap of faith means trusting in something not quite understood. It means making our hearts vulnerable,(which we do not like to do.) But it is in our leaping that we begin to see God and life in a new light. And in that light we see a Supreme Being who loves us so much that he will humble himself in human form to walk in our shoes, eat at our table, and cry at our bedside.
It should be of no surprise that our faith is often put to the test in our darkest moments, when we are scared and frightened, when our minds race and anxieties overwhelm us. Darkness is often just as blinding and as crippling as the light. In her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark” Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that darkness need not to always be feared. She writes, “Even when it’s so dark you cannot see God, God can still see you.”
Kathleen and I discovered this Friday night while coming home from our trip to Washington D.C. We discovered how a little light and a lot of faith always makes a difference in the darkness. As we were getting closer to home our car’s GPS took us on a detour through the pitch-black farmlands south of Belding. Out there, off the main road, our high beams seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness. We had barely enough light to see the twists and turns that darted out of the road like deer from behind the trees. Even though we could see the faint red glow of taillights off in the distance, it was the immediate space around us that we needed help seeing.
Before fear set in or the muscles in our necks tightened, we chose to live in the moment with our faith, in the light of Christ. For it is only in the moment that things jump out at us cause us to swerve off course. But it is also in the moment that we catch glimpse of God at work. It is in these moments of darkness God’s blinding light stops us in our tracks and surprises us.
We could have kept going straight on the road we were on until we hit the 44. But instead we chose to follow the directions faithfully, if not blindly. Because we did our renegade GPS led us to the Shoe Tree, a little known roadside attraction that Kathleen and I had just talked about the night before at my parent’s house. Believe it or not we had put it on our bucket list of weird things to see one day. There is no time like the present, or the middle of the night, right?
To live faithfully in the moment with the light of Christ means we don’t have to think about the darkness behind us, because all has been forgiven. Nor do we have to worry about what is far ahead of us, because Christ has taken care of that as well. As long as we faithfully follow the way of Christ, we know exactly where we are and where we are going in every moment. It is in the moment we see the light. The darkness no longer has power over us. Christ gives us all the light we need to make the next step; to leap faithfully....free of fear. In this light we see more clearly the place to which we are jumping towards.
This is great comfort for all. (Especially those of us with poor eyesight.) Just as light makes it easier for a person to see, Jesus Christ who came into the world as the divine light, the one who gave sight to the blind, He has come to help us see the Word of God right there in front of us, in the flesh, full of grace and truth.
The disciples would come to understand this. As they sat at the Passover meal, they too began to see Jesus in a new light. (move to the communion table)