Before I fully address Larry’s sermon, I want to perform a thought experiment, comparing the opening bits of John to the opening bits of Genesis. This is undoubtedly not new ground, but it is something for me to think about. The fun thing is that you get to read along! [Pretend.]
Whether or not one believes in Genesis as fact or creation myth—that I bring up the matter should betray that I believe the latter—one thing is clear: the creation narrative passed along in Genesis is very much focused on darkness and light. It’s a concept that any who have walked this earth more than a few days has noticed: we have daylight and nighttime, light and dark.
When you read the creation narrative, you’re told that light was created, and then other things formed:
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Then, consider how John discusses Christ’s entry into the creation narrative:
3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Just as God first brought light into the world, Jesus brings light into our world. This was one thing that Larry preached on—he even poked fun at himself in using a three-point, alliterative outline—and it was probably the thing that struck me the most, as I’d not fully formed the thought before.
As I thought about this, I considered what it was like to be a member of the Hebrew nation prior to Christ’s birth: once again, my people are occupied, controlled by an outside ruler—although, for once, we’re at home, and not tossed into Babylon or otherwise moved from Canaan, our homeland we’ve occupied since Joshua’s day. We live in a society where we’re told that keeping the law is what makes us right with our YHWH, but we’re never sure, because we’re separated from YHWH by a curtain in the temple. The law is confusing to us, and heck … we find it hard to follow the ten laws that Moses brought down from the mountain, much less all of what the Pharisees and Saducees have given us. If we cannot fully know the law, how can the law make us free?
That felt really and truly dark to me. It was life in darkness, being thrown in a dark cave with jagged rocks, snakes, bears, and other dangers. It’s a world of object lessons and feeling your way through life.
Then … Christ. A Good News given unto us—that we cannot earn our way into God’s favor. Once told that the Law is our salvation, we’re shown that it only brings us down and enslaves us, because the Law shows us what sin is and is not. [Again, there’s that whole pesky knowledge thing—thanks, Adam and Eve!]
What replaces the darkness? It’s replaced by light—glorious, glaring light. Consider being in a darkened room, sitting quietly, and suddenly having klieg lights blasted in your face. If you’re like me, you’ll shield your face, resist, blink, and complain. That sounds a lot like being a new Christian to me—the very light that attracts us to God through Christ also shows us all the faults and misgivings. “Whoa, my socks don’t match!” “Hey, my guilt’s visible?” “Oh, don’t mind that stash I have in the corner…”
The great thing about light is that any amount of it allows us to see. Give us a few photons and enough time, and our eyes can eventually begin to make things out. Jesus’s light, as John notes, hasn’t ever been overcome—even as dark as we might see our world at times. In Jesus we have life, because we’re shown our faults and simultaneously given the grace to overcome them, to be sanctified. That’s life—fumbling along in a dark cave is not.