Jesus Christ, our true light, makes God’s home among us, leads us out of our darkness, and enlightens us to testify to his saving light.
Vicar Emily Beckering, The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day; text: John 1:1-14
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Not long ago, two of my friends went on a spontaneous hiking trip in the remote wilderness of Colorado. Things began well: the sun was shining, it was a balmy 50 degrees, they had snacks packed, and plans for an enjoyable hike. As they climbed higher, however, they lost track of time. Night began to fall, and their situation changed drastically.
It began to snow unexpectedly, and with the disappearance of the sun over the horizon, the temperature dropped 25 degrees. They found themselves unprepared with clothes ill-fit for this sudden winter onset. What is more, they had forgotten their flashlight in the car at the base of the trail. It was a night without a moon, and without a flashlight, it was soon impossible to see where they were going. The snow began to cover up the hiking paths so that they could neither go forward, nor follow their tracks back down the mountain. The two lit a fire, but the snow was coming down so fast, it soon snuffed out the flame.
Shivering in the cold, wet from the snow, and nothing but darkness all around them, the direness of their situation soon set in. They were lost, tired of wandering through the darkness, and with the threat of hypothermia looming, they were afraid that they might not make it out of the woods.
Lost and afraid: these are feelings familiar to us. We, too, are a people who insist on walking in darkness. Intent on going our own way, living life as we please, how quickly we, too, become lost. We are unable to find our way home and incapable of loving the God who has created us. We are unable to leave the darkness of our fear and our doubt and our despair, and so instead cling tightly to these things in attempt to have some control.
In response to our dire predicament, God, out of the fierce love with which God loves us, decided that enough was enough. Enough of darkness, of fear, and of a world that did not and could not know the God who loved them. We needed a new beginning: a beginning that only God could bring.
We were in darkness, so light came down.
We were trapped in death, so life came down.
We did not know God, so God came to us.
God came: not in fire or in an earthquake or in some other mighty display of power, as we might have expected, but came as a baby, in human flesh, into all of our weakness and limitations. As we heard last night, by coming to live and to die among us, God became vulnerable. This, however, is a risk that God was willing to take because of what was at stake: us. God refused to be separated from us. God refused to lose us or to leave us in any form of darkness. Jesus came for us and for all people, in order that we might know the depth of God’s love for us and be children of God who have life in Jesus’ name.
Now that God in the person of Jesus Christ has come, and died, and risen again, there is no darkness too deep where God cannot reach us. God is not far off in heaven, but here, among us. The Word became flesh and lived among us, literally, God dwelled, set up camp, tented with, made God’s home among us.
If you have ever been to summer camp, lived on campus in college, or had a roommate, then you know all about setting up a home with someone. You know that you never really get to know someone like you do when you live with them. You know that people who do not know one another before living together are not strangers for long, and those who thought that they knew each other before moving in together are often surprised to see one another in a whole new light.
Living together makes us know one another in a deeper way than we could before. When you live with someone else, there is no more hiding because everything is out there in the open to see: our habits, personality, even our flaws. We expose ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t have to if we chose to live by ourselves. If we have any say in the matter, then those whom we choose to live with, whom we make our home with and call are own, are the ones whom we long to be with and love.
The same is true for God.
For God so loved the world and longed to be with us all in a relationship, that God came to live with us. When God in Jesus Christ came to dwell, to set up tent among us, we came to know God in a way that was not possible before. But unlike us, God makes a home with those who reject him and deny him. In order to make God and God’s love known, Jesus exposed himself to ridicule, to rejection, and to death on a cross at the hands of those to whom he had come. That was the risk that our Lord was willing to take to reach us, to give us life, and to reveal his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection all reveal that glory: the splendor and the radiance of the love of the One true God.
By coming this way, God fulfilled the promises spoken through the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah: that God’s dwelling place would be with people, that God would be their God, and that the people would belong to God. As we hear in Revelation: “The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Jesus in the flesh is God for you! Here is our God! Today! With us, for us, among us, in us.
In this presence of God, something happens to us.
When Jesus comes to us, he, “the true light, which enlightens everyone” enlightens us. We are brought from darkness into light, for we are made to know our God and the depth of the love that God has for us.
But “being enlightened” does not just mean that we are given knowledge or understanding. To be “enlightened” is literally to be filled with light, to be lit up. When the resurrected Jesus enlightens us, he bathes us in his light, lights us up, illuminates us. Like a lantern, we are illuminated in order that we might reflect that light, and testify to it. We become witnesses who point to the true light, Jesus Christ, who offers this light and a life to live as a Child of God to all people.
This “being enlightened” is not always something we are aware of or even feel because we do not become enlightened by our own will—the will of the flesh or of the will of people—but by the will of God. We are made into witnesses because that is the will and work of God: that is what happens when the Triune God encounters us.
And what happened to my friends on the hiking trip? They were brought from near death into life again by the light of the next morning, which led them safely from the woods to the path back home.
They were saved by light, and so are we.
Jesus Christ, the true light, who enlightens all people, has come into the world. God’s answer to our darkness is to bring light. God’s answer to our being lost is to come in flesh and blood and find us, to set up camp with us, to remain with us through the night until we are no longer afraid, and then be the light who leads us out of the woods.
Arise! Shine! For our light has come and made a home with us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.