by Rev. Laura Barclay
John: 1-5, 12: 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 had 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…But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (NRSV).
What really strikes me in this lectionary New Year’s text is John’s vision of Jesus as a light against the darkness who enlightens his children, whom the author says are given power to be “children of God.” Such language conjures up images of Lord of the Ring, with Frodo facing the dreadful gates of Mordor, or the movie Gladiator, with Maximus alone having the courage to challenge a corrupt emperor. It brings to mind epic sagas of far off and exotic places. But let’s examine the world and context in which our author was writing.
According to scholars, the community of John’s followers had recently undergone a split. Theological differences arose between those who believed that Jesus was both human and deity, and those who believed he was all-deity. This community splintered and separated, and those left behind were wounded, broken, and left nursing their wounds from the fracture in the body of Christ. These people in John’s community, the legacy of the beloved disciple, saw themselves as inheritors of the legacy of Christ. It was up to them to teach who Jesus really was and share the hope that came from Jesus’ incarnation.
The pain of John’s community at the bickering and separation of their own seeps onto the paper but it doesn’t define them. They share the love of God who became human in Jesus and experienced the pain of rejection like John’s community. And, I believe they found salvation in embracing that hopeful love that reorients them facing ever outward in a broken world.
Because of the importance of the task at hand, this monumental story they have to tell, they speak of the light and the darkness—loaded metaphors for good and evil, being in the presence of God and outside of it. The darkness is a vast and seemingly formless void, just like what God witnessed at the beginning of everything. Yet the light of hope we see in Christ shines through the ages and guides us into community and toward one another. We are the presence of Christ and hope in the world, because Jesus gave us the power to be God’s children.
And that is the power of community. Like John’s community, we’ve experienced fractures. Whether denominationally, ideologically, or economically, these last few years have not been easy. But that’s the great thing about a new year. We look to God and know that no matter how much we’ve been bogged down in recessions, unemployment, war, health care debates, and the unseemly partisan rhetoric of the world around us, we have the power as the children of God to set a new tone. We can’t keep bad things from happening, but we can react with love. Together, we can be an unfailing light that fights back the darkness of despair. We can exit our church walls after the 11:00 o’clock sermon is over and vow to continually help our neighbors and share our love with them.
We must bring hope, peace, love and joy beyond the walls of the churches and religious buildings to which our faith too often remains confined. John Chapter 1 is an encouraging reminder to go forth—we have an example to follow! That example is a poor Jewish baby born 2,000 years ago who had the courage to love. That blessed child walked with God and exhibited love to everyone. It wasn’t a polite, meek love, regardless of his humble beginnings. It was a love that challenged the times, threatened the status quo, and overturned (sometimes literally) the position and power of those in religious and political authority. It was a love that called him to heal, embrace, lift up, and teach. He crossed social boundaries to show that love. What a powerful teacher we have in that child, who gave hope to a world wrought with suffering, oppression, slavery, and death. Let us remember to shine our light in the darkness, no matter how overwhelming. Let us remember that together, our lights shine brighter to overcome the darkness of brokenness, exclusion, hunger, injustice and poverty. Let us have the courage to love as Jesus loved and loves us still. Let us be open to the love of others. Let that be our resolution.