John 1:6-8, 19-23
I have been waiting with great anticipation for Dec. 21st. Once we make it through the 21st the daylight starts getting longer on December 22nd. I did look it up, though, and December 22nd has only three more seconds of daylight than the 21st. It’s not much, but it’s everything. From next Thursday on the days will be getting longer and longer. For the next 6 months. It can be 20 below and I’ll know there is more daylight coming, even the next day.
The exact date and month of Jesus’ birth are not known. It is not known exactly why, in the 4th century, Dec. 25 was chosen as the date in the western world to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but most scholars believe it had something to do with the darkness, at least in the northern hemisphere. It’s not just since the identification of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, that darkness has been a “thing.” The lengthening and shortening of daylight has been noticed since anyone first paid attention. Before Jesus was born, centuries before, there had been celebrations of the winter solstice. Some even think that December 25 was chosen to compete with some of those celebrations.
It is possible that biblical verses like the verses today from John’s gospel had something to do with choosing this time of the year for remembering Jesus’ birth. The opening words of today’s reading from John’s gospel are all about light. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” Light certainly seems to have been on John’s mind when he wrote these words.
No one knows who exactly John was or where or when he wrote these words. The best guess for a time is late in the first century. And what we know about that time is that Christians were oppressed and trying to find their way as a new movement in the world. For them is was a joyful time. After all, they had the resurrection to remember. But times were dark in many ways. These words about light would have meant a lot to them. They would have been words of comfort and hope.
The times have been dark these days as well. Not just the lack of daylight, but things happening in our world, in our country and even in our neighborhood. In talking with some of our neighbors this week, our president’s declaration of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel has increased the tensions and fears in our own neighborhood. It is like an un-needed slap in the face to our neighbors and Muslims around the world. Darkness abounds.
Darkness can be found in our own hearts as well. The pressures of having to have a perfect and cheerful holiday season are great. The reason for the season, the birth of God among us, gets lost and the advertisers often win the day. Gifts and things become the signs of our love for family and friends. And so often the incompleteness of that is just below the surface of our cheer and glad tidings. And many are just plain tired.
Wherever you might find darkness in your own life, in your own soul, this message of John comes to us on this day. He is a witness to the light. He has come to testify to the light. To us.
He has come to testify to the light. That is his task in John‘s gospel. He is not the light. In John’s gospel he does not even claim the role of baptizer. He is the witness, the testifier of the light in John’s gospel. He is the one to announce the coming of God into our world.
And God knows we need God in our world. Brokenness and darkness are all around us, even in our hearts. And here is John announcing the coming of God.
John’s announcement is the beginning of the light. This word to his people and to the world is like Dec. 22nd. With those 3 additional seconds of light begins the coming of more light. John says to us that, yes, the light is on its way. The light is beginning to shine a bit more already.
And we know where that light leads. Jesus walked among us – healing, preaching, living out the welcome and love of God. He lifted up the lowly and the rich he has sent away empty. He died and in the midst of the darkest of days and on the cross death was defeated. And he rose again three days later.
The light has come some 2,000 years ago and yet we wait for the light to come again in completeness. We wait.
But out time of waiting is not meant to be spent in idleness. We are not to sit and twiddle our thumbs. We have an invitation as well. We, like John, are to be testifiers to the light already in our midst. We are to help usher in the light right in our midst.
At first that sounds impossible. With our full calendars and emptier wallets the idea of ushering in the light might sound like just another thing on a bothersome to-do list.
But there is a truth about light which was brought home to me on one of our family’s trips on a visit to a cave, the Soudan mine in northern Minnesota. The tour was fascinating. Just before we were to be leaving the cave, after warning us, they turned off all the lights. There is nothing like complete darkness. They kept the lights off for what seemed like a very long time. Where there is absolutely no light, where it is pitch black, your eyes can never adjust to the darkness. No matter how long we stood there in the darkness we would never be able to see our hand in front of our faces. It was stunning.
If there had been even one small pinpoint of light somewhere nearby our eyes would have adjusted enough eventually to see something.
That is how it is. All it takes is one small speck of light. And no matter how dark things may seem, that’s all it takes.
John’s testifying became the truth. The light did come. God came and was born among us, walked among us. Died and rose. And the light has never gone out. The darkness of the sky or of our hearts can never completely cover that light and life. Even when that seems impossible. The light is never extinguished.
These are not days of idle waiting. These are days to testify to the light that we already know and whose coming again we await. It is a time of anticipation when we can imagine that our welcome for the light, for the Word made flesh is a time when we can shine the light of God’s love and life into the shadows of our human brokenness. These are times for bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the broken-hearted. When we can proclaim freedom to those who are captive, bringing light to those in darkness.
It doesn’t take much. Even the tiniest light can invite others to look and see.
And if we don’t seem quite ready for that maybe this time of preparing can simply be adjusting our own eyes to see light when and where there doesn’t seem to be any at all.
Because the light has come. It is here. The light is in our midst. Now we await its coming again in fullness. For a time and place where there is no darkness at all. For we are children of the light. Already.
ELW #242 v. 1
Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
For dark the winter and cheerless,
the rising sun shall crown you with light,
be strong and loving and fearless.
Love be our song and love our prayer
and love our endless story;
May God fill every day we share
and bring us at last into glory.