by the Rev. Margaret Thor
First Sunday After Christmas
December 29, 2019
Darkness is Always Overcome by Light
During another rainy day in the warmer months of summer, we experienced loss of electricity in our neighborhood. Of course, this loss did not happen during the day when we could easily find candles and matches or even a flashlight so that we could be prepared for the night. No, the outage occurred when it was dark and we stumbled through the house searching for anything that would help us see in the dark. Being of a certain age, it did not occur to me until I had bumped into various objects in the house that there was a light on my phone. This light, along with the flashlights I finally found (and the new batteries I put in them) and candles, brightened up the dark allowing us to find our way around the house with little difficulty. I’m sure over the years, many of you have had the same experiences when the electricity goes out – stumbling and bumbling along, until you find what you need to be able to see in the dark, hoping that you don’t trip and fall, that you don’t break something or hurt yourself. Even inside your home, darkness can be very scary.
Recently I read a passage written by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister about the effects of literal darkness. She writes “Psychologists tell us that one of the most difficult conditions a person can be forced to bear is light deprivation.” She goes on to describe how enforced darkness is used by the military to break down a person to make them more pliable and less resistant to directions. She notes that “in the end, the [dimness] undermines the average [sighted] person’s self-confidence, affects their vision, leaves them totally vulnerable to the environment and out of touch with the people around them.” In my words, a broken and complete wreck.
Often figurative darkness feels the same way. We may feel vulnerable, overwhelmed or anxious. Stealing from Jered’s past sermon, we may be feeling this way as we may be suffering under debilitating debt, struggling with depression or addiction, reeling with grief, estranged or lonely, or are afraid and feel lost. And if our personal distress is not enough, we are inundated with news of dreadful events in our cities, state, country, world. During the year we have seen children in cages at the US-Mexico border, impeachment of the President, mass shootings, an opioid epidemic, and more. Yes, for many of us there is a darkness that appears to be swallowing us up.
And that may have been true for the followers of Jesus when John’s gospel was written. Many scholars have suggested that the Jews who believed in Jesus and to whom this gospel is written were tossed out of their synagogues for not being sufficiently Jewish. Some scholars theorize that the negative connotations of the Jews in John’s gospel are based on ex-communication of the Johannine community of believers by the traditional Jewish synagogues. John’s gospel in part assures these followers that they are truly Jewish. Yet, I imagine, a sense of darkness enveloped them.
It is hard to have faith when we are slogging around in this quagmire. And yet we are promised in John’s gospel – no, I would say guaranteed – that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” That is Jesus Christ incarnate. And “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” As author Richard Rohr wrote, “all the saints and mystics assure us that the darkness will never have the last word.”
I believe it. The darkness will never have the last word. The light which is Christ is all around us. I see it in the generosity of people who responded quickly to those left homeless after the fire in the Drake where many of the marginalized in society lived with the bare minimum. I see it in our work here at St John’s in our partnership with Hallie Q Brown, Project Home, and the YWCA feeding, clothing and building relationship with those on the margins. I see it in the youth who are willing to stand up against climate change and want to help those experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. I recently read an article on the Opinion Exchange in the Star Tribune about an organization called Better Angel which holds meetings with those on both sides of the political divide to listen to each other and find common ground. In a world that is full of “me,” I see a great deal of people serving each other, helping – not because it is good for them, but because it is good for the other.
As much as I love spending time at St. John’s, I do take time to volunteer at the elementary school that my kids attended. I helped out during the literacy hour in a 4th grade class. During this time, the kids are learning about different writing styles such as fiction and non-fiction. Recently they have been working on summarizing a non-fiction article. The teacher asked the students if one of them would be willing to share their summary with the class. One student took his report and shared for all to read on the board. He then read it aloud. When he was finished, the teacher asked the rest of the class to provide feedback to him. He received many thoughtful words of encouragement. Even if it was an area that needed an improvement, the feedback was kind and non-judgmental. I was invited one afternoon to be part of an outside activity and saw the same encouraging behavior and kindness. Witnessing these interactions gives me hope for a bright future.
Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is the light of Christ. And through this light, we have received grace upon grace – that is unconditional love – that will always keep darkness at bay. For “light is to darkness what love is to fear; in the presence of one the other disappears.” (Marianne Williamson)