Lectionary This Week: January 3

There’s a strong connection between light and life. Plants require light to grow. Winter comes and seasons change with the fading of light. We measure the length of our lives in periods of daylight. Even our bodies and minds require sunlight to be healthy and happy.

But not all kinds of light bring or sustain life. We know that too much light can burn our eyes and our skin. Concentrated light can be used as lasers. And too many outdoor Christmas lights can drive your neighbors crazy.

We have such a neighbor.  He spends thousands of dollars on holiday light displays.  There was a Halloween display in October that soon morphed into a “Christmas” light display that includes everything from Snoopy to Star Wars and several Christmas movies in between. It’s entertaining and choreographed to music that you can listen to on a radio station dedicated to the show. The kids love it — and a fair number of adults do too, based on the amount of traffic that it draws. But when it comes to Christmas and the symbolism of light, I think it misses the point.

Entertaining lights have a time and a place, but in this Christmas season they do not bring or sustain life. Only Christ can do that. In this week’s passage we are reminded that Christ’s incarnation was more than a sweet nativity scene full of shepherds and angels. His incarnation brought light and life that would drive out the darkness.

The Passage: John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Jesus Brings Light and Life

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s clear that the world is still in need of Christ’s light and life. Violence and hatred in many forms fill our news feeds and remind us how much our world needs God. But none of us have seen God, and we seem to have such a hard time understanding how God wants us to live.

This problem is acknowledged in today’s passage. But we are also told that the problem was solved in the miracle of the incarnation. Jesus is not just a prophet, or even just the son of God. Jesus is God. He was here on earth where people could see how he lived and hear his teachings. The mysteries of God and how God wants us to live were revealed and illuminated in Christ.

Just as a lamp lights a pathway and shows us the way to go, Jesus serves as a light to the world showing us how to live in a way that brings life instead of darkness and death.

So, how can we live in the light and life of Christ? When I look at the whole of the gospels and the life of Jesus I see a perfect example of one who loved people and was committed to reducing human suffering.

At the very start of his public ministry, Jesus proclaims his commitment to bring good news to the poor, healing to the blind, and freedom to people who are captive or oppressed (Luke 4:18). As we start this new year, in what ways can we live in this kind of light? How can we work to drive out the darkness in our hearts and in our world?

We can follow the path illuminated by Christ and bring life — caring for the poor, serving as instruments of healing instead of violence, and working to free ourselves and others from systems that oppress.