01.03.2016 Preaching Text: “What has 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.” (John 1:3b-5)
We’ve all seen the iconic cartoon of the elderly man welcoming the newborn child as the old year passes into the new. In the Christian tradition, of course, the image is more that of a newborn child bringing fresh possibilities for us and our world.
In this I’m reminded of Matthew 18, where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” But why is this so?
The biblical narrative, now largely deemed irrelevant, maintains that something is wrong with our world. Creation has lost its focus. Instead of reflecting its God-given natural goodness, a distorted, displaced spirit takes what is good and misuses it, darkness being the inevitable result.
John’s gospel repeatedly highlights the spiritual contrast between light and dark, as seen in its Prologue. We’re told the “true light,” Jesus, came into the world “yet the world did not know him.”
If every aspect of life is created marvelously and of godly design, how is it that the light is so obscured?
As with all else in Judeo-Christian belief, it boils down to relationships. If, for instance, we are in close contact with another human being, our understanding of that other person is contemporaneous. We are up-to-speed, so to speak, with what he or she is thinking, saying, and doing.
When we lose touch with that same person, we lose that moment-to-moment awareness, knowledge. We could hazard a guess, of course, but we’ll never be quite sure. More likely, over time, we will lose touch almost entirely with that person’s everyday actions and behaviors.
Also lost are the secrets love alone imparts, such being barred to us. Love’s intimate joys and profound insights now elude us, such that life takes on a darker cast. The light grows dim and the world seems starker, more mundane. Lost is love’s mystery and wonder and light.
The opposite of communion (with others as well as God) is separation, and its shadowy companion, alienation. With respect to the people and things of the world we become as outsiders looking in.
Here the essential integrity of creation is torn apart, its resident lights now veiled and obscured. We are left to scramble alone in the dark trying to make sense of it all. What’s left is a futile humanistic search for meaning, unaided by the light. The use of the things of creation becomes subservient to a blinkered human discretion. Thus is the human predicament born of the Fall, that so skillfully told in the Book of Genesis.
Once Adam and Eve’s personal connection to their Creator is fractured, the floodgates are opened. They now are subject to alternate principalities and powers. Darkness unknown at creation floods the landscape. God has been banished.
Until, that is, Jesus, the light, enters into our self-imposed, twilight-lit exile, urging us to become as children, embracing a life both fresh and new, as it was at inception. In this light we are shown the love that is the source and meaning of life, guided and directed now by God’s luminous revelation.
Without the light of Christ we are held captive to perceptions of reality not of God, though they mimic His ways cunningly and deceptively. In the light of Christ we are freed from that which passes for wisdom, but which ultimately only confuses and destroys.
Which brings me to my main point. I’m continually amazed at how, even in the church, many look to our fallen world for salvation, for truth, for light.
Take politics, for instance. How is it that some in the church today actually think politicians will lead us to the Promised Land?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines politics as “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government).” In other words, it’s about using power to advance a given aim. It’s not about discernment, spiritual or otherwise, nor is its focus truth. It’s merely a vehicle for advancing an agenda.
Mixed in with this is any number of motives and aspirations, power and money being perhaps the most obvious. Its goal is to defeat the opposing group or party, often for reasons altogether unrelated to the subject at hand. Winning, maintaining office, holding positions of influence, access to money, these are but a few of the often unstated objectives. At worst it’s the Hatfields and the McCoys writ large.
Why the church insists on looking to this debased world to effect godly truth is, as I say, beyond me. No law, even a good one, can eradicate its potential for abuse. An unscrupulous lawyer, if so motivated, surely will find ways around even the loftiest and most seemingly obvious of laws.
This is not to say that laws are superfluous or unnecessary. They’re not. But it is to say that they have only a limited sphere of influence. Just as science, properly, can only describe and categorize what is, meaning it cannot answer the larger questions about the meaning of life or its ultimate goal, politics can only establish rules with forces, both good and bad, but cannot ensure their merit much less their compliance.
Only God’s truth can address the ultimate questions. Contra science, the gospel does answer the question as to the meaning and direction of life. And contra law and politics, the gospel focuses the heart on love, a love no force of law can legislate.
As we embark on this New Year, it is essential that we refocus our hearts and minds on the light of Christ. Like children we are invited to see the world afresh, not through the dim shady motives of worldly power and influence.
The only true solution to the problems of this world finds its source in God’s profound love for us. Only in this can we hope to see, with the innocent eyes of a child, the world as God intends it to be seen. Amid this ever-burgeoning light we rightly discern creation’s inherent integrity and goodness, along with the exuberant interrelatedness of all that is. Amen.