Shine the Light
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 1:1–1:14
The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day
December 25, 2020
“Shine the Light”
The opening words of John’s Gospel that we hear in the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day mirror the opening words from the first book of Scripture, the book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (John 1:1). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John would have us understand that Jesus is the Incarnate Word; God himself. In Jesus, the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14), God is bringing about a new creation. The first act of God was the creation of light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). And with that new creation, we read: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). From light to Light; it’s all about the Light. Based on the Gospel lesson, the sermon on this Christmas morning is entitled “Shine the Light.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The liturgy for Christmas Eve focuses on Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. It is unique to Luke, and beloved with shepherds and angels. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus gives us a very human perspective on this with names of rulers and places. We see ourselves in the shepherds’ and their reaction of fear toward the angel messenger. In contrast, the liturgy for Christmas Day focuses on John’s account of this sacred mystery. It is about the eternal Word of God becoming flesh and taking on human form. Instead of hearing about Jesus’ humanity, we are told about his divinity; that besides being true man, he is also true God. When all is said and done, we cannot grasp the mystery of the Incarnation if we do not grasp that tiny baby, that newborn Child lying in the manger. It is both/and, not either/or.
Everything looks different in the light of day, doesn’t it? The soft, warm glow of candlelight on Christmas Eve gives way to the intense, cold light of Christmas morning. In the clear light of day, the birth in a stable is revealed for what it truly is: poverty, humble circumstances, and need. To shine the light means exposing these harsh realities, and the truth of our sin that is beneath them. Beneath the shining light of the Word made flesh, where all of our iniquities are laid bare – the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do – we may cringe in dread and fear. But this Light shines into the dark recesses of our lives not to make us fearful and afraid, but to rescue and redeem us. We can choose to continue living in darkness, dread, and fear, as John tells us: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive” (John 1:10-11). But why? Why would we reject this gift? As John tells us, there is a better way: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). In Jesus, there is a new creation. There is a new birth for us all. The noted poet, Robert Frost (1874-1963), wrote on the Incarnation these brief lines:
But God’s own descent
Into flesh was meant
As a demonstration
That the supreme merit
Lay in risking spirit
(Robert Frost, “Kitty Hawk,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery. Lathem, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, p. 433).
God has substantiated himself – taken on human form and substance; flesh and blood like our own. Whenever we celebrate God’s gift of regenerating grace in Holy Baptism, these words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount are proclaimed to the newly baptized: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Through the forgiveness of sins that takes place in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, we are called to shine the light. And the light we shine is not our light, but Christ’s light. Like the moon, we can only reflect light – not the light of the s-u-n, but the light of the S-o-n. As we daily die to sin and rise to new life in Jesus, the Son of God, his light and love shine through what we say and do. We become his light-bearers.
Here is a story of bearing that light. Lois Kimberly was a semi-retired teacher living in New York City. One day she received a call from the principal of a nearby school, asking if she could substitute for one of his 12th grade classes. She met with the principal and he handed her a list of the students. She looked at each of the names and noticed next to each name a number: 125, 130, 160, 158. She said to the principal, “These look like brilliant students. It would be an honor to teach them.” The principal just gave her a funny look. What Lois didn’t know was that each of those students was an at-risk young person with a police record. She was the seventh teacher that year to work with them. She naively took the job and was their teacher for the rest of the year. At the end of the year, every one of those students graduated with honors. Lois went on to receive the most valuable teacher award. Though flattered, she said to the principal, “You know, there was no way I could lose. My students were brilliant young men and women. There was absolutely no way that I could’ve failed teaching kids with IQs of 120 and above. You showed me the IQ scores yourself.” Puzzled, the principal said, “Lois, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. We don’t give IQ tests in this school.” “But the scores were right there next to their names,” she said. The principal was stunned. “Those weren’t their IQ scores,” he said. “Those were their locker numbers!” The students succeeded because Lois believed they could. She believed their light really could shine.
God also believes that our light really can shine. The question is, do we believe this about ourselves? How will the light and love of Jesus the Word-made-flesh shine through us, not just on this Christmas Day, but every day? That is the great possibility that is before us. May our words and actions, our whole life, shine the light – Christ’s light – to all. Amen.