'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.'
--John 1: 1-18
About four miles from my childhood home in Flat Gap, VA there was a house. It was a small, unassuming place, but there was one peculiar thing about this little house. It had these blue Christmas lights that covered it. Now the blue lights were not the peculiar bit. What was peculiar was that those lights stayed up ALL YEAR LONG! They never come down. Sometimes, even in the springtime, we would drive by that house and see those lights on. I never knew why they left them up, and though my family has since moved away from there, I'm betting those blue Christmas lights are still up.
Blue Christmas lights. Enough said. NOT the house from my childhood!
This week we get a different take on the Christmas story. It's actually the one that we heard on Christmas morning, for those who may have attended such a service at your local Episcopal parish. John does not have a manger, shepherds, or even a Bethlehem. John's Christmas story echoes the creation story of Genesis, they even begin with the same words en arche, "in [the] beginning." There God breaks through the darkness of chaos by saying, "Let there be light." But the light being created is not the sun; after all, that does not get created until the fourth day. The light being created in Genesis is the light of love and consciousness. As Christians, of course, we interpret this as God speaking Jesus into existence into the world. Mirroring this dynamic, John's prologue refers to Jesus as the Logos or Word, which is the light of all creation. The Word through which all things were made steps out into the darkness and burns brightly in the middle of it. Whether you believe Jesus was born in a house (Matthew) or in a manger (Luke), is irrelevant here. That message, the message of the light of God coming into the world is physical form, is John's whole point, and indeed the point of Christmas iteself.
When we think about this incredible feat, that God's light has come into the world, how can we not want to leave those Christmas lights up all year long? If those lights serve as a reminder of Christmas, a reminder that Jesus has come among us, why on earth would we not want to them to burn throughout the entire year? Aside from the ridiculously high electric bills.
Jesus has come into the world. It is a world that can be very dark and scary at times. We could use a little light. Regardless of how you feel about blue lights at Christmas time, I think we could stand to have more folks like those old neighbors of mine, who keep those lights up to serve as a reminder of God's love for us in Jesus throughout the year, even if that wasn’t their intention.
But notice that John does not say that the light destroys the darkness. It shines in the middle of it. Sometimes it's just a flicker. Sometimes we can barely see it. Sometimes it's a single candle or a blue Christmas light. But it's there. It's always there. God's light, the light of Jesus, can never be extinguished.
Here’s the thing about darkness, it doesn’t really exist. Darkness is simply the absence of light, but once you bring light in darkness scatters and is gone. Darkness is literally no thing. John’s proclamation that the light that burned at creation in the darkness of chaos has come into the world is a reminder that that same light, Jesus, has never left the world. There has never been a moment that the light wasn't in the world, thus there has never really been a moment when the world is truly in darkness. And if we are the Body of Christ, then surely that must mean that the light is in us, too. I wonder what it would mean for us to know that, to see it in ourselves and in one another. To borrow from Thomas Merton, I wonder what it would mean to tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun (or Son, for that matter).
I heard a story once of a old abbot whose monastery was falling apart. There was disunion among the brothers, and the abbot was losing patience. The community would fold, he thought, if something drastic didn't happen. So he consulted the town's old rabbi, said to be the wisest person around. "What do I do?" the abbot asked. "The monks are fighting everyday, and I'm afraid that our community will die." The old rabbi said simply, "The Messiah is in your midst." The abbot was shocked. The Messiah? He ran back to the monastery and shared the news with his brothers. They were elated but did not know which one of them could be the Messiah. So they decided to treat one another as though each were Christ himself. They did this for each other and for every visitor to that monastery, treating everyone as though they themselves were Jesus. And the monastery thrived.