The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018
The thing about the Light is…
Meanwhile, Christmas is still going strong on this Sixth Day. It seems like so many love to sing “the Twelve Days of Christmas”—up until the first day, then it’s time to wrap this all up. While shopping for storage bins last Wednesday, Lisa overheard a young man say how tired he was after rushing to take down all the Christmas decorations—the day after Christmas Day.
In the commercial world, it is time to move on to the next thing, the next big advertising opportunity. I saw our neighbors across the street taking all the lights out of their new little tree. I am glad they took down the strange, giant blow-up animals, but I wish they had kept the lights up. I loved looking out the window at my desk to see that little tree all lit up. We could all use a little more light these days.
I have to say, I love this time of year. We find ourselves in this culturally post-Christmas time while also being deep into the richness of our faith tradition. It is a fascinating time. No longer can we turn to the commercial structure to reinforce what Christmas means. The culture has already turned its eye to make money elsewhere, with New Year’s and even Valentine’s Day. We are left, strangely, somewhat alone, in a space rich with potential as we continue our prayers.
As Thomas Merton said in 1968 during a conference in Bangkok hours before he died, we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot look to the culture to support us in our practice of faith. Quoting H.H. the Dalai Lama, now, he said, everyone must stand on their own two feet.
We participate with God’s grace and the flow of the Spirit as we reflect more deeply on what it means to follow Jesus, to welcome Jesus into our lives. This welcoming, this awareness, is the essence of Christmastide. So, you see, I love these days because they call us to be even more intentional. These days give us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the Light that comes into the world, as we see in today’s Gospel reading.
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 (John 1:1-4).
The opening image from St. John’s Gospel never ceases to grab hold of me. With its rich imagery of light coming to dispel the darkness. John, of course, intentionally chose this opening phrase “in the beginning” to connect our minds and hearts to where the story all began, in Genesis.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4).
The words, the images, are intentional, because we are meant to see the connection—or, I should say, the continuity—between that first creative act of God and the Incarnation of God, both in the person of Jesus as well as within all existence. The creative word of God as described in Genesis, the dabar, brought into being the light of all existence. The creative word of God, the Logos, entered into created existence in the person of Jesus.
The Trinitarian language of Source and Word, Creator and Light, Font of Being and Divine Logos, is poetic and imaginal. It evokes awe and mystery. It should invite us to ponder, like Blessed Mary, just what is at work here in our lives, because what is at work here in our lives has been at work for all time.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end.
Put another way, can we dare bring ourselves to consider that we—each and every one of us—is a present embodiment of the ongoing incarnation of this Divine Logos, the creative word of God. Each one of us is invited to share in the Divine life of Him who came to share our humanity, as one beautiful collect describes. As we have described before, each of us is called to hold our post.
Do we dare to live into the images from today’s Collect:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives…
You see, the Logos continues to be at work in the world, pouring upon us and being brought forth into the world through us—through every human being, through all existence. As Richard Rohr describes, we see “how a forgotten reality change everything we see, hope for, and believe.”
We see this reality in the text from John’s Gospel, yet perhaps we want to skim over this part:
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.
Perhaps we want to skim over this part because of what it asks of us: namely, to fix our gaze on the deeper questions of the meaning of our existence and, thusly, the way we are called to share in God’s own Trinitarian life. Our egos, that shallow part of ourselves, want to avoid these deeper, vulnerable, yielding spaces. Our shallow self would rather focus on areas we can control, ways we can exert our own power. This, friends, is the dynamic of spiritual practice in a nutshell: do we dare cultivate a deeper awareness of the deep truth of our own existence and, therefore, experience our lives as transformed? Or do we continue to give in to the urge to grasp and control?
Perhaps the part that may challenge us most is the image of how What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. All people. Notice that there are no qualifiers here, no boxes to check. There is no paperwork needed, no exam, no benchmark, no restrictions, no boundaries. No requirements to meet. All we have—ALL we have—is a description of human existence, a theological anthropology, that holds that every human being is filled with the Light of God. Every human being, as Howard Thurman would describe, is a “Beloved Child of God.”
I know we don’t like it when anything that seems even vaguely political makes an appearance on Sunday mornings—again, this is a piece of our egos wanting to exert themselves and assert some semblance of control when we feel vulnerable—but the theological claim we experience in today’s Gospel reading has a direct impact on how we live our lives. These are not the claims of any party platform (all party platforms fall far short); rather, they are the core claims of our practice of faith, where our true allegiance lies.
If, as we claim we believe, What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people, then we must act in accordance with this truth. We must realize that every single person we meet—indeed all of life, as this image is quite clear not to restrict this to only humans!—is a bearer of God. Every single human being, as St. Benedict reminded his monks fifteen centuries ago, must be welcomed as Christ. Let that soak in for a moment. Every person is to be welcome as Christ.
So, you see how the theological claims of our faith transform the way we live in the world, our ethic. This is how the practice of faith shapes the way we act, as the saying goes praying shapes the way we believe and thusly live in the world. This is the trajectory of our practice as Christians.
Our struggle persists in that we try to control, to grasp onto loopholes that we create in order to rationalize greed, arrogance, and warped power.
I believe, however, that our hearts know the truth. Underneath all the grasping and seeking to control, our hearts know the truth that we are not meant to control this reality, only celebrate it and share in it. How can you control something that infuses, fills, and transforms you? That transforms all of existence? It would be like a fish trying to control the sea, or a bird trying to control the air. Makes no sense. (But it doesn’t mean we won’t try).
So you see, this is why I love this Christmas season. We are challenged to see the deeper call of our faith, to lift our eyes to behold the Light that is coming into the world, and to open our hearts to share in it. Because the world around us needs the Light, needs to be reminded of the Light. There has always been darkness to contend with. That is a part of life, but the darkness is not what defines us. I want to walk as a child of the Light, the song goes.
So do it. Be a child of the Light. Carry the Light into the world—and be ready to recognize that same Light when you meet another person and they offer you their light!
I ran across this quote that speaks well to our common vocation:
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
 See this remarkable video of Thomas Merton, recorded hours before his death. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywE6bhApcSk.
 Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas (which we seldom have a chance to experience).
 See Universal Christ, by Richard Rohr.
 L. R. Knost. I am not sure who she is, exactly, and I tried to ‘google her.’ She seems to offer parenting classes and such, with reflections. Anyway, the quote is spot on I think.
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