From darkness into light

From darkness into light

St John the Evangelist

Readings: 1 John 1; John 21. 19b-24 (view all)

Our daughter Evie was born just a few days before Christmas on the 21st. It’s a mixed bag having your birthday so near to Christmas, and although Evie has never seemed to mind it at all, we did worry at first that her birthday might be eclipsed by the larger celebration of Christmas.

As I began preparing today’s sermon, I wondered whether, perhaps somewhere in heaven, St John the Evangelist feels similarly — not about his birthday, but about his Saint’s Day, being on December 27th.

But then I read today’s readings, which reflect the heart of John’s character and, in particular, his intimate experience of Jesus as Lord, teacher and friend. And I reflected that, actually, it couldn’t be more apt for the feast of ‘the beloved disciple’ to fall so close to the feast of Christ’s birth.

So, on this, the third day of Christmas, I wonder what insight Saint John can bring us, this year in particular?

In the first chapter of his letter to his followers, John emphasises the same great theme of light and darkness that is so prominent in the first chapter of the gospel that bears his name.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it,’ John teaches us, ‘so therefore walk in the light.’ The light John describes is a light which illuminates. In the light, we are forced to be honest, with ourselves and with God.

Many of us, including myself at times, can find the light painful, even unbearable. The light illuminates the parts of us that we don’t like others to see, the parts of us we are scared to confront ourselves. We are scared we might be left exposed in front of others, ashamed as our weakness is laid bare.

Incidentally, people often struggle with silence for the same reason — in the silence, the only person to talk to is ourselves and, if we’re honest, we often don’t like ourselves very much.

The point of the light is not to embarrass us, or leave us ashamed and exposed, but instead to set us free. In the light, we must accept our fallen, broken humanity, and our need for God’s forgiveness.

But the light of God doesn’t just illuminate. The light cleanses and purifies us, setting us free from the darkness within us and around us, to receive a new light — the light of Christ within us. The light of life and hope.

Christ longs to place his light within us. A power source, a well of life, which can never be diminished or run dry. It is this light that keeps us going even when we are in our darkest moments. It is this light that spills over to illuminate those around us, enabling us to also offer comfort, hope and freedom to others.

Perhaps your Christmas celebrations this year have left you feeling inadequate or exposed. Perhaps there have been moments of darkness and despair alongside the brief glimpses of joy and happiness.

Receive the light of Christ, to heal and soothe your soul.

Perhaps your Christmas has left you feeling tired and exhausted. Perhaps you have had no energy to celebrate between busy work shifts. Perhaps you are just done after all that 2020 has thrown at you.

Receive the light of Christ, to renew and restore your being.

Perhaps as we stand at ‘the gate of the year’ you find yourself looking ahead to 2021, and a rush of anxiety wells up within you. Perhaps you find yourself checking the news compulsively, fearful of what the near future will hold.

Receive the light of Christ, a light which, even in dark times, can never be overcome.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”’

From the poem: God knows, Minnie Louise Haskins.