Light in the Darkness
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2023
“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: the light or the darkness? Think about it. There was God and there was an infinite colorless emptiness. 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 the vastness of deep space was featureless, and where God’s Spirit flowed was as dark as the sea. What is darkness? If it’s the absence of light, does it precede light? Was darkness our first state of being, 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 the deepest cavern, for in only light you could not discern anything either. Your retina would fuse and burn up. Photoshop has settings for both brightness and contrast in order to bring the details out in a photo. Set it all on brightness, and the picture disappears, same if you choose all darkness. We need dark colors to see the bright tints. Was this always so? At the foot of the tree, the serpent tempted Eve with knowledge through disobedience. She would 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 mixed with light and dark colors. We understand a world that allows for selfishness, ignorance, violence, injustice, greed, lust and abuse as part human character. You can’t have an economy without making room for these features of real life. 20th century Communists tried for a selfless utopia and killed 100 million people for the common good. Much of the Christian Church’s mission is to deal with sin by preaching, using sacraments, and ritual forgiveness. We spend as much or more time on darkness as we claim to spend on light. And the darkness seems to be growing.
In our perspective, darkness was invaded by God with created light. Darkness always exists at the edge of our universe frightening us with a return to oblivion. To be or not to be: is that really the question, the only question? The alternate petals of a daisy—he loves me, he loves me not—or the yin-yang light and dark swirls of eastern philosophy suggest a balance of equal forces, Skywalker’s experiencing the light or dark sides of The Force. Does God also contain both light and dark in equal measure, like Shiva—the Hindu goddess of both creation and destruction? Surely God will end this universe He created. We are both to fear and love Him. Is our dual nature a reflection of His light and dark sides? It’s a question we must answer.
Back to the Bible’s first words: In the beginning, God. Full stop. It does not say, in the beginning Nothing or in the beginning Dark vacuum. God first. The Scriptures are consistent about God, and that He is all about 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 on the subject of light and that God showed Himself in Jesus as light. John remembers the mountaintop where Jesus was transfigured. He sees Him again in the heavenly vision, with a face like lightning. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 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 cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that follows 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, we can’t imagine a world where only light exists and no darkness. The cool shadows of evening invite us to close our eyes and welcome rest. 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 the paths of planets and thought of God’s artistry and the Morse code of constellations, orbits, comets and convergences. Then they were put into a fury of calculations as month-by-month three 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 written records of this event is found in Chinese astronomers’ records, and in St. Matthew’s Gospel. But think on this. 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 visible with the naked eye, the most distant we can see without a telescope, broods 5,000 light-years away. If an exploding star was that far from earth, it would have to start exploding in 4,995 B.C. for its light to become visible to Chinese astronomers, the Magi, and a few curious Hebrews in 5 B.C. God plans with precision. The light shines in the darkness and only a few recognize its significance. The magi saw and responded, coming to the place they were sure would house a new Jewish king: Jerusalem.
That nova was recorded lasting 70 days. It was 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, and there they discovered a baby boy living in poverty with his amazed parents. They bestowed their gifts, worshiped and left, avoiding Jerusalem in order not to tell Herod the whereabouts 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 completely. He showed that power to bounty hunter, Saul, once, and it blinded him for three days. It also made him a great missionary saint. What he had called ‘light’ he now found to be darkness. That’s the paradox for us earthbound creatures. Our TV blue screens illuminate our living rooms, but what dark things it plays for our eyes and minds and hearts. True light is different from what we may call enlightenment, or entertainment. Saul, known to us as St. Paul, wrote, “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 many times, but our story’s not finished.
Jesus was born, fled to Egypt, then to Nazareth, and He grew. Little do we know of his early years, but one family story comes from His mother, remembering when the 12-year-old Messiah traveled with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for a feast. They trusted Him so much by then, they didn’t have to ask Him things or make commands or watch Him. He was always exactly where He should be. So, He should have been with the travelers on their way back North. But at evening, when they looked for Him among their relatives, He was not to be found. 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 next morning. Exhausted, they raced through crowded streets, calling “Jesus!” to no avail. All that day with 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 queries with the scholars. Their admiration of the young man’s wisdom was matched only by their curiosity about who His parents might be. Light had invaded the Temple, and the Son of God was on His true Father’s business.
We are but torches. Most of us in this world are damp and dark, unlit and useless as lights. 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 light, those dim corpse lights of fallen human nature can’t illuminate anything of real value. 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 torches. Our purpose is to burn with the light of God. If lit, we become living sacrifices, now holy, now acceptable to God. The 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 pathways, places of safe passage through the darkness of our world. Pointing the way to Jesus.
Be not conformed to this world. It is dark and it is passing. Light is ahead of us, the darkness fades away behind us. A new star is born in the heavens and we follow its light to the king of our race. Let us come and worship Him.