Sermon by The Rev. Christopher Hogin, December 30, 2018
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The Gospel: John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The Reverend Christopher Hogin
Light Overwhelms the Darkness
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
December 30, 2018
Have you ever visited The Lost Sea? It’s a massive cave located off I-75 south in Sweetwater. It’s been occupied by pre-historic animals, Native American tribes, moonshiners, and confederate soldiers. In 1905, a 13 year old boy stumbled down a passageway and brought it to the attention of the modern world. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s America’s largest underground lake fully stocked with Rainbow trout.
My favorite part of the tour is when the guide stops midway, and asks the group to lean against the cave wall. Then, with the flip of a switch, the lights go out. Everyone sits in total darkness. It’s the kind of darkness you can’t replicate. In this darkness everything becomes a meaningless void that’s disconcerting and disorienting. You can feel nervousness in the group.
During one such visit, a man in the group couldn’t stand it any longer. He struck a match and held high. In that instant, all eyes gravitated towards that light. You could literally feel everyone moving toward its illuminating glow. Despite acres of darkness, a tiny, single match disrupted it all providing a ray of hope. All you had to do was just look at it. But it was also just as easy to turn away from that light, and instead, focus on the darkness. Choosing to look at the light, even just a small pin-prick, overwhelmed the darkness.
We are in the season of Christmas. Christmas is a season of light. Christmas emphasizes light amidst the darkness. It’s one of the reasons why we illuminate Christmas trees, light candles, and burn Yule logs. Those holiday traditions communicate how light prevails over darkness.
It’s a nice sentiment, but hard to believe sometimes. We live in a broken world where it seems darkness prevails. Every December we celebrate the birth of Christ. We read the gospel, and proclaims tidings of peace. Yet sin and suffering persist.
This was articulated to me a few years ago while living in Durham, North Carolina. I was in a sports bar watching a basketball game. During half-time, I went outside to make a phone call. On the bench was a guy smoking a cigarette. We struck up a conversation. He found out I was in Divinity school. He shared with me aspects of his faith, or rather, his lack of faith. His asked me a point-blank question, “So Christ came into the world to save us right? Well, what has changed? Has anything really changed that much?”
It’s a fair question. We live in a broken world. But our brokenness comes through three things: fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires. Fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires—all human suffering springs out of those dimensions. Think about it, all the horrible things we as humans do to one another, the wars, the cheating, the lying, the abuse—all spring from those three things: fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires.
Where we end up in life often results from a mysterious mix of forces both within and beyond our control. We can’t help sickness, death, natural disasters, or how others treat us. But we can choose how we react when confronted with fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires, all of which beckons darkness through cynicism and despair. Darkness thrives on our fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires, which creates suffering.
If you don’t believe me, recall the words coming from the wise sage Yoda from the Star Wars series ,who said, “Fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.”
I think Yoda was actually quoting from the Gospel of John. John boldly proclaims in, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And that is message today: light will always overwhelm the darkness, but we must choose to focus on it. Here’s the good news. God became incarnate through Christ. Christ came into this world to be that light for us, so that we have a light to focus on in the darkness through Christ.
We should all ask ourselves what are our fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires? Did our life turn out the way we hoped or expected? More importantly, how are we responding? Let me ask you, do you want a New Year’s resolution, here’s one. On a daily basis, ask yourself, what are my fears, disappointments, and unmet desires? How am I responding? Am I sitting in a cave of darkness refusing to gaze at the light, or am I turning my gaze towards the light of grace?
Yes, there is darkness all around us, both in the world and deep inside us. There always was, and always will be. But remember this: darkness will never overwhelm light. Even a small, pin-prick of light disrupts the darkness, throwing it off balance as I discovered at The Lost Sea. A single match pierced the cavernous darkness. All I had to do was look at it
Christ came into this world to be our light. Christ came into this world to give us hope amidst the darkness, to remind us that we have all that we need in this world.
So whatever fears, anger, and disappointment over unmet desires we have, may we lay them before God. May we willingly turn away from darkness and gaze ever deeper into God’s healing light embodied through Christ. Truly, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”Amen