Light from Darkness
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, January 9, 2022
“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
WHAT CAME FIRST: light or darkness? Think a minute. There was God and there was an infinite black void. The opening words of Scripture tell us that “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” This poetry says there was no earth, that deep space was featureless, and where God’s Spirit flowed was deep and dark as the sea at night. What is darkness? We’re told that it’s the absence of light. If it’s the absence of light, does it precede light? Was darkness our first state of being, the mother of the universe, the womb of existence? “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light”? Gn 1:3
It’s a serious question because a world of nothing else but light is unthinkable to us. If all was light, you would be as blind as a man in a cavern, for in total light you couldn’t see anything either. Your retina would overload, fuse and go blind. We need dark colors to see the brighter tints. Was this always so?
At the foot of the tree, the serpent tempted Eve with a knowledge gotten by her disobedience. He said: She could only be like a god if she knew both good and evil, light and dark. She couldn’t resist. Was the dark already a part of her that responded to this beguiling call?
All that you or I know is a world of mixed light and dark colors. And we understand a world that allows for selfishness, ignorance, violence, injustice, greed, lust and oppression as part of the human character. You can’t have an economy without accommodating this nature. Communism tried a selfless utopia and killed 100 million people for the good of the collective.
Much of the Church’s mission deals with sin. We spend a lot of time on darkness. And darkness seems to be growing.
In our perspective, darkness was invaded by God with light, His first creature. Existence is preceded by non-existence, and darkness lies always at the edge of our universe calling to us, tempting us to return to oblivion. To be or not to be: is that really the question, the only question?
The alternate petals of the daisy—he loves me, he loves me not; yin-yang light and dark swirls of eastern philosophy, Luke Skywalker’s light or dark sides of The Force: does God contain both light and dark too, like Shiva—the Hindu god of both creation and destruction? Surely God will end this universe, as He created it. We are both to fear and love Him.
It’s an important question. Back to the Bible’s first words: in the beginning, God. Full stop there. It does not say, in the beginning Nothing or in the beginning Dark vacuum. No: God first. The Scriptures are consistent about God first, and that He is light.
“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”John 1:3-5 St. John was transfixed by the subject of light.
God showed Himself in Jesus as light. John remembers the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. He sees Him in the heavenly vision, with a face like lightning. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 For John, our ultimate heavenly city has “no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” Rev 21:23
Thus, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 John reports Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12 “While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” John 12:36
Now, you and I can’t imagine a state of being where only light exists and there is no darkness. The cool shadows of evening invite us. Considerable adjustment will be needed for us to both see and enjoy a land of light, but we shall be changed. Out of the darkness of our alienation from God, we are called at the rising of a new star…
Eastern sages watched the skies, charted every movement, considered paths of the planets, and thought of God’s artistry and the Morse code of constellations, orbits, comets and convergences. They entered a fury of calculations as month-by-month, planets passed close to one another, turned back and repeated the pattern. It was 7, then 6 B.C. Again it happened, and they watched until, in March of the year that we number 5 B.C., a small nova appeared, an exploding star. Today the only concurrent records of this event are found in Chinese astronomy and Matthew’s Gospel.
The nearest star to us is our Sun, 8 minutes away at the speed of light. Next is Alpha Centauri, 4 light-years away. The center of the Milky Way is 26,000 light-years distant, its light taking 26,000 years to reach us. One huge red supergiant star visible with the unaided eye, the most distant object we can see without a telescope, broods 5,000 light-years distant. If a nova, the explosion of a star, were to occur 5,000 light-years from earth, it would have to start exploding in 4,995 B.C. for its light to be visible to Chinese astronomers, the Magi, and a few curious Hebrews in 5 B.C. God plans perfectly. The light shines in the darkness and only a few recognize what it means. The magi saw and responded, coming to the place they were sure would house a new Jewish king: Jerusalem.
That nova was recorded as lasting 70 days. That’s the exact time needed to travel from the far side of the Tigress and Euphrates around the fertile crescent to Palestine and Herod’s palace, only to find that Israel’s royal house knew nothing of stars or infant kings. The darkness comprehended it not.
They were sent to the prophesied town 5 miles south, where they discovered a few-month-old boy living in poverty with his amazed parents. The magi bestowed their gifts and left, going the long way around Jerusalem, not to alert Herod of the location of his rival. And the nova burned out as Joseph packed his family for another long ride, this time to Egypt. Out of Egypt have I called my son.
God could make everything light, at once, and dispel the darkness. He showed that capability to the bounty hunter, Saul, and it blinded him for three days. It also made him a great missionary saint. What he had previously called ‘light’ he now found to be darkness. That’s the paradox for us earthmen. Turn on the TV and douse the lamps and a blue screen illuminates your living room, but what dark things it plays to your eyes and minds and hearts. True light is of a different order from what we may see as enlightenment. Saul, known to us as St. Paul, wrote, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor 4:6 and “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” 1 Thess 5:5 We don’t feel like children of light all the time, but our story is not finished.
Jesus was born, fled to Egypt, returned to Nazareth and grew. Little do we know of his early years, but one family story comes from His mother, remembering when 12-year-old Messiah Jesus traveled with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for a feast. They trusted Him so much by then, they didn’t have to ask or make commands or watch Him. He was always exactly where He should be. He should have been with the travelers on their way back North. But at evening, when they looked for Him among their many relatives, He was nowhere to be found. No one had seen Him.
Panic! We’ve assumed too much! We’ve lost God’s Son! What could have become of Him? They raced through the night, arriving back at the holy city late the next morning. Exhausted, they raced through crowded streets, calling “Jesus!” to no avail. All that day no results, until they cried themselves to sleep.
Next morning, they dragged their sorrows into the Temple to pray for their lost son. And there He was, seated in the middle of priests and scribes, talking excitedly, exchanging ideas and interpretations with the scholars. Their admiration of the young man’s wisdom was matched only by their curiosity about who His parents might be. A carpenter from where? Light had invaded the Temple, and the Son of God was about His true Father’s business.
We are but torches. Most souls in this world are damp, dark, unlit wet matches. Our words darken our world instead of providing light for others’ feet to walk the path to Jesus. If we attempt to glow in our own power, such dim corpse lights of our fallen human nature can’t illuminate anything. But St. Paul wrote the Christians at Rome a startling word: “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Rom 12:1-2
We are God’s torches. Our purpose is to burn with the light of God. If lit, we become living sacrifices, now holy, now acceptable to God. That dark stick that was only good for a club, now lights the way to God’s Son, and we ourselves are transformed in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives. Instead of stumbling blocks we become paths, places of safe passage through the darkness of our world.
Be not conformed to this world. It is dark and it is passing. Light is ahead of us, the darkness fades away behind. A new star is born in the heavens and we follow its light to the king of our race.
Come worship Him now. And be lit with the light of God, never to be extinguished, and ever to burn with the love of Jesus Christ.