Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Incarnation - The Conquering Light

Preached on the Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2016

Scripture readings: Psalm 8; John 1:3-5

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Riverside Community Church
Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
December 2016
There is a great war going on, in this world, between good and evil, between love and hate, between light and darkness. What we celebrate, at Christmas, is a victory of the light over the darkness. It’s a victory that the darkness cannot overcome.
But it’s a strange war. And there are two strange things about it.
One of the strange things is the way people respond to it. Some people respond by saying that there is no such war at all. They say there are no such things as light and darkness, only shades of gray.
They say there are no such things as an absolute right against an absolute wrong. When they say such things, do they only mean that absolute right and wrong simply don’t apply to them?
But we are all born into this world, and we all share the human nature that we see at work around us. In times like ours it should be easy to see the absolute wrongs of this world: vengeance, cruelty, injustice, oppression, lies; abuse, addiction, and the use of money and power to break down common people, and their communities, and their liberties.
These are like the tentacles of death reaching out to strangle life. These are like a cloud of darkness trying to snuff out the light.
John says that there is a life and light which are stronger than this death and darkness. He says that the Word (who is Christ, who is God) has life and light: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
Life and light, here in the gospel, are easy enough to understand. They are everything good. They are every good thing. They are kindness and devotion, faithfulness and humility, innocence and justice, peace and generosity, joy, truth, hope, work, rest, creativity, helpfulness. These are all part of something that is absolutely good. These things are all wrapped up in good passions. They are all part of love.
It is a strange war; the war between good and evil, light and darkness, love and hate. It is a strange war because God makes a strange choice of weapons, doesn’t he? And this confuses us.
In Psalm 8, David speaks of the war against the enemy, the foe, and the avenger. What weapon does God create, to resist and defeat his enemies? God’s chosen weapon is the praise on the lips of babies, and infants, and little children. The message of the baby cannot be overcome by the darkness.
Then David looks at human nature and asks: “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” How does God deal with human pitifulness, and lowness, and helplessness, and sin? God deals with human nature through compassion, mercy, and love. God deals with human nature through grace. “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor?”
In the New Testament, we read that the Father does this through his Son: by his Son becoming, for a little while, lower than the angels; by his Son becoming a human baby in a stable, a human among all the rest of us, and a man hanging in our place on the cross.
God is love, and he used himself (becoming human like us) to be his own weapon. In Jesus, God is the light that the darkness cannot overcome. Jesus the baby, Jesus the man, Jesus the crucified, is God’s weapon for the light of the world.
John says: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This tells us what the Lord loved, and came to save.
The praise on the lips of the baby in Bethlehem was his love for everything that he had made. There was nothing he did not make or love. He loved it all, and he came to claim it all by becoming the little bundle wondered at by Mary and Joseph. That is what the words mean.
There’s a novel by Wendell Berry, where the main character, named Jayber Crow, is converted by love, and he tells how he grew in his understanding of God’s love: “Could I not see how even divine omnipotence might, by the force of its love, be swayed down into the world? Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death?” (“Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry, chapter 32, p. 251)
Evil, death, darkness, has great power. In one sense, it always succeeds. It’s so easy to destroy what’s good.
All of us know how to destroy. Sad to say, surely, we have all taken our turn destroying something or someone. A hasty word can wound a child, or a grown-up. There are times when we want to hurt people, if only to share our own hurt with them. Another person’s peace or happiness can make us angry and destructive.
One spiteful word or action can destroy a day, or wound a human heart for life. And yet some people say there is no such thing as sin. Any caring person should see that the power of such a sin lives within them, within their own heart: that others have used this power against them, and that they have used this power against others.
And then there are the world-sized sins, hatreds, and evils. What an easy thing, to destroy a tribe, or a nation, or a way of life. And this is done, time after time, for someone else’s power, or wealth, or anger, or mere convenience.
The reason why evil, death, and hate seem so successful to us is that we live in the created world of time and space. The darkness that we fear comes from the rebellion of part of the creation against our creator.
God is love, and there were angels and souls who wanted freedom from God; and they could have no freedom from God without freedom from his love. They had to love God less, if they wanted freedom from God. They couldn’t be free from God, from whom all life comes, without being free from his life. They couldn’t be free from God who shines in the darkness, without being free from that light.
The enemy and the avenger have great power, but only in time and space. Their power is not eternal, but souls are eternal. We are living souls. We are made to live forever. We can live outside this world of time and space.
We can be set free. God’s love can change us in ways that will last forever. We can love others forever, and be changed by their love forever. We are made for loves that are too big for time. We are made for loves that are eternal. This is why grief hurts so much, when death interrupts our love.
Since God is love, his weapons, in this strange war, don’t look like weapons. God’s weapons are compassion, mercy, forgiveness, patience, grace, sacrifice, crucifixion: crucifixion beginning with incarnation; the cross and the baby. God gives battle to darkness and hate by becoming one baby, one vulnerable human being. This is how God so loves the world.
If we are children of God, then we are children of the baby of Bethlehem. In some strange way that baby is our father. We learn from the story of Christmas how to live, in practice, the light that the darkness cannot overcome.
What do we learn here about being God’s children in the world? What do we learn about the power of love?
God deals with us, and with our whole world, by means of a manger and a cross, and everything in between. This is not what we would have expected or deserved, but it was the only thing that could save us, the only thing that could reach inside us in order to change us, and make us new people, people of life and light.
The manger and the cross are mercy and grace. They are what we need, and not what we deserve. And that is part of what we need to bring to this world, ourselves: mercy and grace.
To be the children of God, we need to bring to the world what it needs, and not what it deserves. This is how we are to treat our neighbors, our friends, and our family. This is how we are to treat our enemies. This is how we are to treat our church, our community, our country, and the whole world. We are to think of what they need, and not of what they deserve.
Now it is true that what some people may need is the equivalent of a good kick in the behind. If the love of God tells you to give them that kick, then that is the kindest thing that love can do.
But, then, what comes next?  What if God gave us the good swift kick we deserved, and dusted himself off, and said, “Well, my work here is done!”?
In the kingdom of God, there is always a next thing that is needed. In our own lives, when we have given what was needed (even if it was that good kick), there is always the question of the next thing.
Our most important decisions every day come down to this: shall we give what is needed, or shall we give what is deserved? That is the light that the darkness cannot overcome.

That is what we have in Christ. That is what Christmas is about. If we belong to Jesus, then we are called to do our part in the victory of light and the conquering of the darkness. We are called to live out God’s light for others, trusting that, in Jesus Christ, we cannot be overcome by the darkness, because the darkness can never overcome him.


  1. The light shines, forever! Amen.

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