From the Manger into the Light

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
January 4, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                                From the Manger into the Light

Gospel Reading: John 1:1-5

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.

Today is the Sunday before the Christian holiday of Epiphany, which is always celebrated on January 6. Epiphany, meaning “shining forth,” officially ends the Twelve Days of Christmas, so on Tuesday, it will be time to put all those partridges in pear trees and turtle doves and French hens and calling birds and golden rings and geese a-laying and swans a-swimming and maids a-milking and ladies dancing and lords a-leaping and pipers piping and drummers drumming—away for the year. … Here at church, we’re going to do it next Saturday. We left them up today so we would all be in the mood for Jo Wasson’s Epiphany Open House this afternoon.

Now, some humbuggers would say it’s not soon enough; let’s be done with Christmas and get on with the year. After all, there are closets to clean and resolutions to keep and business plans to revise and bills to pay and taxes to file. Enough of the frivolities of Christmas! Others would say let’s hang onto it a bit longer. Let’s enjoy the decorations and the lights for a few more days. Let’s let the themes of hope, peace, joy and love resonate in our hearts for a while. I am in the second camp. I say, “Why rush it?” It took so long to pull all of those things out of their boxes; let’s wait a while before putting them back in. How many are in my camp?

Yes, in fact, if you drive by our house almost any evening of the year, you’ll see not only a string of white lights on the street side of the house and a string of rope lights on the alley side, but white lights on a little tree shining brightly in the living room window. Almost any evening of the year. … No, of course it’s not a Christmas tree all year. Soon it will morph into a winter tree, then a Valentine’s tree, then a springtime tree, then an Easter tree, then a Memorial Day/Fourth of July/Labor Day tree, then an autumn tree, and then, once again a Christmas tree. I’m not crazy; I’m just a little obsessed. J

But really, why take down the lights right away? This is, after all, the darkest season of the year. Granted, we have moved a whole two weeks past the shortest day of the year, so we have gained roughly six minutes of sunlight since then—from 9 hours and 21 minutes to a whopping 9 hours and 27 minutes of sunlight each day.

So I leave my lights out and I leave them on, and why do I do this? Because I happen to be a very big fan of light! And I’m not alone. Studies have shown that exposure to reduced amounts of sunlight can have a profound impact on a human’s circadian rhythms and can lead to a variety of health issues including depression and bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, metabolic disorders leading to obesity and diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease and substance abuse.[1] Almost all forms of life require light… So yes, those are very good reasons to be a big fan of light.

And the writer of the Gospel of John says Jesus is the light! That’s just one more reason to be a big fan of Jesus, amen? John says Jesus is the Word—meaning pure truth—and he is God—co-creator of the universe and all that is good—including life. John says Jesus is life—the kind of life that lights up people—all people—the kind of life that shines in the darkness—the kind of life that overcomes darkness.

All the more reason to be a big fan of Jesus, amen?

I love all of these images because they rise above the physical—they are metaphysical in that sense—and they show Jesus to be something (someone) who can help us do the same. Jesus can help us rise above the physical.

Think about that list of health issues I read a minute ago—things that can be caused (or at least worsened) by a lack of light. Think about other health issues that weaken our bodies and burden our spirits—especially at this time of year: all sorts of flu bugs and respiratory issues and new diagnoses we did not anticipate. Think about relationship issues, family issues, financial issues—well, I don’t have to name any more, do I? You already know where I’m going with this, and chances are you’ve already thought of several things you would be delighted to have the light of Jesus help you overcome. And he can.

That manger where Jesus was born was a pretty dark place. Candles or lanterns don’t put off a lot of light. The star led the visitors to the stable door on that dark night, but I doubt that it provided much light inside. That manger was full of darkness and fear and anxiety and exhaustion and pain and turmoil and unsavory sounds and smells—and then came the Light! Jesus was born, and everything changed! And John says, “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[/will not/shall not/cannot] overcome it.”

I love the fact that Epiphany comes so soon after Christmas, during the darkest season of the year, to remind us that because Jesus came into the world, there is light here. Because Jesus came into the world, there is life here—abundant life of the kind that transcends the troubles of this physical world. Jesus is truth, holiness, creativity, life and light—and that is just what we need to get us through to Easter! Amen? Amen!

I have chosen once again this week as our closing hymn the song Auld Lang Syne, to which I have added new lyrics to Robert Burns’ original ones. The phrase “auld lang syne,” in Burns’ original Scottish dialect, means “old long since” or “old long time ago”—or, simply, “days now in the past.” Burns himself wrote several variations of the lyrics, so it did not feel too disrepectful to add my own thoughts to the song. Note as we sing it the poignant blend of looking back and looking forward, learning from the past to create a brighter present and future. And let us make this our prayer for the new year, with the Light of Jesus to guide us!

Auld Lang Syne

Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And in the love of God, we’ll grow in wisdom through the years.*

Both friend and foe will find in us a respite from their tears.*

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Should centuries of lessons learned be never brought to mind?*

The future rests on wisdom’s gift from auld lang syne.*

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

(Lines marked with * written by Diane Martin, 2003)