The Light of the World – a sermon

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016 – Second Sunday of Christmas
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:7-14, John 1:1-18
Hymns: “Everlasting God”, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”, “How Great Our Joy”, “Emmanuel”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Come Share the Lord”, “They’ll Know We Are Christians”, “Joy to the World”

The Light of the World

“In the beginning was the Word…”
The first words of the Gospel according to John seem appropriate for the first Sunday of the year. It’s the beginning of a new year. A fresh calendar, a blank slate. New opportunities, new chances, a time to start everything anew.
And yet, even as we look at this blank slate, all of the events of 2015 loom behind us, staring over our shoulders. Personally, I am acutely aware of the fact that four major components on my Chevy failed in the month of December, leading me to question the reliability of a car that is less than four years old. As a community here at this church, we have with us a debt that has been with this congregation every first of the year since 2007. As a larger community in northwest Missouri, we are all no doubt aware that 13 weeks from today is opening day for the Royals, and we wonder if they’ll live up to the expectations the last two years have produced. And of course, as a country, we are about to begin the oh-so-painful process of electing a new President.
We think about all these things that carry over with us from 2015. Never mind the fact that I’ll probably be trading the Chevy in within the next couple of months. Never mind the fact that our debt on the AFC will probably be gone by mid-summer. Never mind the fact that, as of right now, the Royals have zero wins and zero losses, the same as every other club in Major League Baseball. Never mind the fact that, no matter who we elect as President, they will have the support of the majority of those who vote, and the transfer of power will be peaceful – a claim that very few countries in the world can make.
In the beginning, there was nothing. Genesis 1:1 tells us that the universe was a void of nothingness before God set into motion the spark of creation. But John 1:1 tells us that Christ was there. The One who would come to earth, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, was present from the very beginning. He witnessed the formation of the world, watched from eternity as the Earth became the life-giving planet we now know, and observed with delight and pain as mankind grew, rose, fell, and rose again.
“The Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
One of the great mysteries of the Christian Church and the faith we find therein is that of the Trinitarian God. Some theologians decry it as heresy. Some grassroots Disciples of Christ thinkers have discounted it because it is not a Scriptural idea, and as we are a church that has long championed the practice of sola scriptura, it is hard to justify the Trinity within our context. And yet, at the same time, it is the most logical and reasonable way of explaining the mystery of Christ.
When John says that the Word was with God and the Word was God, he presents us with a paradox. The Word in this context is Christ, but how can Christ both be with God and BE God? There is no other concept that can truly relate to the idea of the Trinity, that our God should be a unique Creator, a Christ, and an Advocate, and yet all three should be the same being – God manifested in three different representations.
But here we run into one of the most divisive elements within Christian belief – the Trinity itself, and how it works. So much of the Church’s history has involved the debate over Trinitarianism, and whether or not it’s either A) a reasonable explanation of the unique and divine nature of God, or B) heresy. Indeed, it can be such an inflammatory topic that it has led to full-on schisms within the Church.
However, such debate and schism in no uncertain terms miss the point. John doesn’t give us this statement of Christ’s presence with and in God to promote understanding of the divine nature of God. John gives us this statement to promote understanding that the One who came to earth as the person of Jesus had been always present. Even though we are made in the image of God, we are NOT OURSELVES God – we are but reflections of God. It is not given to us to understand the full nature and being of God, for such understanding would require us to ourselves be God.
Instead, we are given this mystery to be a part of our faith. Faith is not a matter of fully understanding the nature and being of God; instead, faith is a matter of believing in spite of mystery. Christ was in the beginning with God – we should embrace this mystery as we engage our own belief.
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
About a decade ago, the Christian rock band Third Day released an album entitled “Christmas Offerings”. Obviously a Christmas record, it contained nine classic carols and four original songs. One of the original songs was entitled “Jesus, Light of the World”, with the words to the chorus being “Jesus, light of the world, shine through the darkness, bright as the day; shine in our hearts, show us the way tonight.” Jesus has long been regarded as the light of the world, and that concept is given to us time and time again by John and the writers who he inspired, both in the Gospel and in the letters attributed to him.
And yet, if we look to the fifth chapter of Matthew, during the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus himself say that WE are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the city on the hill. It is another curious contradiction, another mystery, in that the One who is so frequently referred to as the light of the world turns around and Himself calls US, those who follow Him, the light of the world. If Jesus is the one who gives light to all people, how then are we also the light of the world?
Again, we must look to Genesis, to the creation story – in the beginning. When God made the first human beings, they were created to be in God’s image. Then the breath of God was breathed into them – the divine spark, giving them their souls. A few months ago, when discussing this with Alexis Livingston during her preparation for baptism, I told her to think of us, human beings, as mirrors. No mirror is perfectly made – every sheet of glass that forms a mirror has imperfections, however tiny. And so, no matter how seemingly perfectly they reflect an image, it will never be exact. So too is it with us – we reflect the image and being of God, but because we are ourselves imperfect, we can never perfectly reflect God’s being.
However, if you shine a light on a mirror, it will shine it back and magnify it, making it even brighter than it was before. And so, we, the imperfect mirrors who reflect God’s image, also reflect the brilliant light of Christ, receiving it and magnifying it ten, a hundred, a thousand-fold upon the world. Thus, though Christ, God come to earth, is indeed the true light that was sent into the world, we who were made in God’s own image reflect God’s light and are ourselves the light of the world.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon on how the dying church needs to find its way back to its roots if it is to survive, to remember the events of Luke 2:7 – “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.” In that moment, the Word became flesh and lived among us, fulfilling the prophecies of Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, among others.
A couple of years ago, the Christian rock band Switchfoot put out a song called “Back to the Beginning Again”. When the song came out, they had been going for nearly twenty years, had become a major commercial success, had gone to a major record label and left again, and had decided to return their music to its surf-rock roots. The song itself talks about how we get lost in the concerns of life and need, sometimes, to go back to the beginning again.
And so it is that sometimes, when we look at the concerns of life, we need to set them aside. There’s going to be a lot on our plates over the next year – for me, personally, it’ll be a matter of a new car, of working on the progression of my military career, of beginning the application process for my doctorate, a degree which each and every one of you will end up playing a significant role in. For this congregation, we’ll be looking forward to paying off the AFC, but then figuring out what do we do next? What do we, as a congregation, do to continue to move forward the mission of Christ and serve as the light of the world to the Gower community?
In all that, even as we look forward, we still have to remember to look back, ALWAYS look back – back to the beginning again. The Word became flesh and lived among us on the day that we now call Christmas, and in everything we do, we must remember that we do it BECAUSE the Word became flesh and lived among us.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
So, as we begin 2016, I issue a challenge to each of you: in everything you do, look back to the beginning. Remember the birth of Christ, and be the reflection of the true light come into the world, that we might be the light of the world. As theologian Howard Thurman said in 1973,
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”
Christmas may be over, and our trees may be down (or, at least, will be soon), but the Word has become flesh and lives among us. Let us remember always when our church began, and be the light of the world to all God’s people.


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