Is there anything worse than plugging in Christmas lights in and nothing happening? Obviously there are, that’s a pretty good example of a first world problem, but still, as far as problems that are really inconveniences more than actual problems go that’s pretty high up there. And perhaps this is a sign that I’m too much of a pessimist, but I always assume my Christmas lights aren’t going to work, so I’m tense through the entire decorating process just waiting for that moment when we realize the lights aren’t going to work. And then you have to decide whether its worth trying to fix it right? Is it worth going through and trying to find the bad bulb or do you just go by new lights, and then the ones you buy are yellow not white so they’re worthless and you have to go back, it is almost enough to make me go full Grinch and try to end Christmas.
Light is important. That’s a pretty obvious statement to make, some of you are thinking “really, I got out of bed this morning to come here and let you tell me light matters,” but sometimes obvious things need to be said. The United Nations thought so, in 2015 they declared it “the year of light” and tried to raise appreciation for and attention to how important light is. So they got a physicist from the Indian Institute of Technology to write an essay about it and he said this: “We cannot imagine our life without light. From the first ray of Sun in the morning to the lamp in the night, light accompany us in all the activities.” He then identified important ways light impacts us. He talked about the sun, and not only how it allows us to live and plants to survive but how solar energy is revolutionizing how we produce power. He talked about LED lights and how those power our televisions and smartphones and computers. He talked about lasers and how they are used in manufacturing and medicine and communication. He, someone very smart, said what I said, light is important.
Light is important in our lives, it is also one of the most important images used in scripture. Light and darkness, sight and blindness, those are present throughout the Old and New Testaments, from the very beginning, and that’s where we’re looking today.
Both our texts this morning take us back to the beginning. Genesis says that God created the heavens and the earth and that initially the earth was covered in darkness. This would be a great time for a story about going into a cave and experiencing total darkness, but I don’t have one of those. I don’t know what causes people to want to go down into caves, I’m not about that life. I have one darkness related story: I think I’ve mentioned before that I spent a month in China after my Freshman year of college. When we came home, we flew direct from Shanghai to Atlanta. 12 Hours on a plane. Three airline meals. I watched all three Godfather movies. Finally we land in Atlanta, after five weeks we’re back on American soil, but I wasn’t home yet. About half of the group had someone come get them in Atlanta, the rest of us were going to take a connecting flight to Greenville. So I had to get on another plane. It was night by this point, so it was easy to see the lights of towns and cities. And you’d go from seeing light to just huge swaths of darkness, and then there would be light again. And every time I saw the light of a city I had hope that this time the lights were Greenville and I was finally gonna be home. Light is important. Light gives us hope in the midst of darkness.
God realized right from the start how important light was going to be for us, the first thing that happens in the process of creation is that light is made, it is the first thing that God recognizes is going to be necessary for the ultimate goal of creating humanity in his image, we’re going to need light. And not only that, we’re going to need light to be separate from the dark. So one of the first things that God does is create light and then separate the light and darkness. One of the first things that God does is put darkness in its place.
Don’t miss that, don’t overlook that, God has the power to put the darkness in its place. John takes that idea and runs with it, he says that Jesus is the light and that the light shines in the darkness, and darkness cannot overcome it.
Light is important. Darkness is important too, although its importance is more on the negative end of things. 11% of American adults are reportedly afraid of the dark. One out of ten people, afraid of the dark, that’s more than are afraid of flying, more than are afraid of heights, more than are afraid of enclosed spaces, its one of the five most common fears among American adults. And with good reason right? The dark is where the unexpected happens. Darkness impairs our vision so we can’t see what’s happening around us. We’re more vulnerable in the dark, we’re less protected, less aware of potential threats, in the dark. That’s why light and darkness have always been such powerful images. Light represents order – remember, it’s the first step of creation – darkness is a sign of chaos. Cities were safe for folks throughout history because they had light. You could see there, you were safe from the unknown there. The farther out of the city and in to the wilderness you got the less light there was and the more at risk you found yourself because of the darkness.
The bible takes that image one step further. Light and darkness aren’t just symbols of order and chaos, they are symbols of good and evil. Darkness is the power of evil in our world and that makes these two ideas so powerful: God puts the darkness in its place, and God provides the light that the darkness cannot overcome.
There are times when darkness seems incredibly powerful. There are moments in our lives where disease takes away people we love and darkness seems incredibly powerful. There are times when people we thought we knew do horrible things that hurt us and darkness seems incredibly powerful. There are moments when we turn on the news and see what’s going on in our world whether its about threats of nuclear war or harassment and assault or any number of things and the darkness seems incredibly powerful. In the face of all of that we find this promise, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
We’re given a couple of reasons in John to trust that the darkness can’t overcome the light, they come from working backwards from verse five there. “In him was life, and that life was the light.” The light overcomes the darkness because it is alive. It has energy and purpose. It spreads and moves. It isn’t static, it isn’t trapped in one place like a lighthouse or a lamppost, the light moves and works throughout the world and throughout our lives because it is the life of God’s son.
The second thing we see is in verse 3 “through him all things were made, without him nothing was made.” We can trust that the light will shine in the darkness because in that light is the power that created the world. The same power that initially puts the darkness in its place at creation is the same power at work today. When Jesus deals with folks who are possessed in scripture those forces of darkness are always afraid of him because the creator is always more powerful than the creation. The darkness cannot overcome the light because in the light is the power of creation.
The last point that gives us confidence in the power of the light comes from verse one: the light is God. The light is God, and God cannot be overcome. There is no darkness too great for God to overcome it. There is no issue or uncertainty or threat that we face that is more powerful than the God we serve. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and spoke light into existence and separated the light and the darkness and put darkness in its place. In the beginning God knew what we’d need and provided it. God knows our needs today as well and God is there to provide. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. The world became flesh and dwelt among us. The light came into the world and overcame the darkness. The light is here for us now, offering us the chance to get away from the darkness, reminding us that no matter how powerful the darkness seems that light cannot be overcome.