Jesus - Light of the World
Second Sunday of Advent • December 10, 2017
Recommended Reading: John 1:1-14
In Jesus, the Word of God became flesh and this was the Word of life and love – a gift from God of radiant light for the whole world.
I grew up in the Methodist Church when it was still called that – it became the United Methodist Church when I was 11. I went to Sunday school and got confirmed in the church. But it wasn’t until I was in junior high school that I had a conversion experience, after which I became a Jesus freak for a couple years. But it didn’t go very deep and I soon became much more interested in sex and politics than religion. So by the time I was 17, I had abandoned Jesus and didn’t look back for 20 years. I can’t say that nothing good happened in my life during those years, but I did cut myself off a lot from family and old friends. I was full of rage and hatred in those years – hatred of the ruling class, of right-wing ideologues and fascists, of union bureaucrats, Stalinists, and opponents on the left. I endured a painful divorce and five years later an equally painful breakup. There were many times when I felt depressed, despairing, and as if I were sitting alone in the dark.
But God led me back to a relationship with her/him/them and to a community of faith and love and I rediscovered Jesus. It wasn’t like Paul on the road to Damascus – I didn’t get knocked to the ground and blinded by the light, but over time, as I re-learned and appropriated in new ways what Jesus had taught and stood for and did, my life was transformed. I learned from Jesus a new way to envision and practice the struggle for justice. Jesus taught me how to really love and why love is more powerful than hate. Jesus became my light.
There is a powerful passage from scripture that speaks to me of this experience. It says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. God, you have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest... For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken…. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting One, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2-6). It sounds so perfect for this season of Advent and Christmas, doesn’t it? Do you know when it was written? That passage was composed by the prophet Isaiah several hundred years before Jesus was born. Isaiah envisioned a coming messiah, one anointed by God to bring shine God’s radiant light in the world, to bring healing, spread love, to overcome all forms of oppression, and beat weapons of war into instruments of peace and love. The Song of Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke, echoes this sentiment, when Zechariah proclaims with exultant gratitude: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
In the middle of the night, when the nights are the longest, Jesus came to be light – “the true light that enlightens everyone” – the light of the world. We need this light so much! We are living through a very dark night of human history. It can certainly feel like the light of God and of goodness and compassion and justice has been terribly obscured. But the light of God has not gone away – it shines on us still – though many seem to have lost any sense of it and are surely not allowing themselves to be guided by it. That is all the most reason why it is so important for us to access that light within ourselves and our communities and let it shine out into the world.
In the right settings, light can be very beautiful in its own right – think of the way light can create amazing horizons at sunrise and sunset, or the brilliance of light strings on trees, wreaths, and banisters. Yet, the value of light is not primarily in its physical properties, but in what it helps us to see and therefore, the ways it helps us to grow and to discover new pathways.
I join with the authors of the New Testament in calling Jesus “the light of the world,” but I am also reminded that Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.” So Jesus’ coming was not just about revealing to us the radiant light of God. Jesus was telling us, “I brought the light to you so that you could also reveal the light of God to the world. That light is in each of us and in our gathering as a community and we need to let it shine.
Just last night, I learned of an incident of light that occurred just before last Christmas, 2016. A customer of a retail store alerted the manager that someone was stealing items. The manager approached a young man as he was exiting the store and she saw that all of his pockets were bulging. She followed him to his car and tried to take a photo of his license plate but, with a look of desperation on his face, he said, “Please don’t do that.” She said, “Look, if you will return all of the merchandise, I won’t call the police.” They returned to the store and she took him to a private area where he emptied his pockets into a basket. He had taken ribbons and bows, toys and candy and the manager said, “Are these for your kids?” Yes, the young man admitted, getting tears in his eyes. The woman took the man and the basket up to the check out counter and paid for all of the items with her own money. She said, “I don’t want you to go to another store and do something that will get you arrested and have your kids disappointed that you are not with them on Christmas Eve.” Another customer standing behind them said, “Is there anything else you need?” And, in spite of his protests that he didn’t need anything else, she insisted on taking him around the store to buy a few other gifts and paper to wrap them in. The young man thanked them and said, “I just can’t believe this is happening,” and then left. Reflecting on this immediately afterward, the manager said, “I am not a real religious person, but no one can tell me there isn’t a God. God touched me today – out of the blue. I felt God in my heart.” That is the radiance of God shining through.
You and I are called to let the light of God – parent, child, and holy spirit – shine through us in our words and actions in every circumstance and toward everyone around us. Jesus brought the light for us personally, but also for everyone else and that we would benefit from it together. So our call to shine and share the light is personal, but also communal and social. This is a high calling and a very challenging one. I approach it with a lot of humility, knowing how imperfectly and dimly that radiant light shines through me, but I seek to do my very best to let it shine because I know it is the light of Jesus – Jesus, who taught me to bring love and justice together – that shines through us.
The light of Jesus shines through is when we strive to dismantle racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all forms of oppression. It shines when we seek to counter violence with peace and hatred with love. It shines when we feed hungry people, provide adequate clothing, and give hope to those in despair. We bring light into dim spaces when we continue to proclaim that a child has been born for us, a son given to us, who is God’s light for the world. The light of Christ is overcoming the night, day by day. Our greatest hope is that the light of Christ will continue to be born in our hearts so that all those we encounter will see that light and desire it for themselves. The light of Jesus changed my life and yours and is, even now, transforming the world.
Excerpts from an ancient prayer:
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp to put it under a bucket, but on a lampstand where it gives light for everyone…. And you, like the lamp, must shed light among all people.” For the same God who said, “Out of darkness let light shine,” has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation – the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Almighty God,...we implore you, in your great mercy that, as you enfold us with the radiance of this light, so you would shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit. Dispel the darkness of our hearts, that by your brightness we may know you to be the true God and eternal light. Be our light in the night, O gracious light, pure brightness of the ever-living God in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed. Amen.
 Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth (San Francisco: HarperCollins, Kindle edition, )