January 10, 2021, Moons of Jesus, Mark 1:1-8 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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We’re in the season of Epiphany, which is all about light. The word “epiphany” means a sudden appearance or realization or illumination – an “aha!” moment. We use expressions like “it dawned on me” or “I see the light” because it’s light, literal or metaphorical, that gives us understanding. Epiphany begins with the light of an astronomical event that caught the attention of some star-gazers in Persia, a thousand miles or more from little Bethlehem. And today we imagine the light that poured forth when the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down like a white bird on Jesus after he was baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Light. It’s who Jesus is.
God the Father spoke to God the Son through Isaiah the prophet, saying “I am giving you as a light to the nations.” John wrote of Jesus, “The light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And Jesus proclaimed it himself to the crowds, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus is the light of the world. We’ve heard it and we’ve read it and we’ve sung it so many times, that we might forget to stop and think about what it really means to us.
When human beings invent their own gods, like the Greeks and Romans, they tend to imagine razzle-dazzle-star-power kind of gods: gods that hurl lightning bolts and intimidate mere mortals with the sheer brilliance of their power. But that’s nothing like the real Jesus we know from the gospels. One of the reasons people didn’t recognize Jesus when he showed up is that they expected the Messiah to appear as the ultimate superhero, who would ride in on a white charger in a blinding flash of glory that would obliterate everything in its path. But then, John wrote what really happened. “The true light came into the world, and his own people didn’t know him.” God gave Jesus as a light to the world – but they didn’t recognize him, because he wasn’t anything like what they had imagined.
One true thing about light is that it is something essential, something we need. Without light very few living things can thrive, whether they are plants or animals or human beings. In our North Country winters a lot of people suffer from a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, which is a good name for it because the main sympton is that people become depressed. They don’t have much energy. They might get cranky and have a hard time getting along with people. Or they might just feel sad and sleep the day away. In extreme cases, especially in the really far north where the darkness lasts for weeks or months at a time, some people even begin to feel suicidal. But the cause is the absence of light – because the days are so short and there is so little daylight in the winter months that even with electric lights and warm houses our minds and our bodies are starving for a bit of sunlight long before winter is over. Light is something we need. Light is so central to the whole Creation that the very first thing God did when he made the world was to say, “Let there be light.” And God saw that the thing he had spoken into being was good.
When Jesus traveled the roads and taught, healing the sick and casting out demons, people flocked to him by the hundreds and by the thousands. Sometimes so many people surrounded him that he was in danger of being trampled. They were desperate to be near enough to reach out and touch him, or even just to be able to hear his voice. The poor and the sick and the outcast, they sought Jesus out like a plant in a dark place stretches itself out to find the nearest source of light. The Scribes and teachers of the Law provided them with rules and traditions and religion. But Jesus was what they really needed. He offered love and kindness, wisdom and healing: the power to overcome the darkness in their own lives. He was light and life to them, and they knew it right away.
It is a modern concept – or rather, a popular misconception – that light and darkness are just two opposing forces, like in the Star Wars movies. I have often heard people say something to the effect that light isn’t really able to be completely light without a little darkness to set it off. And what they are saying is that the goodness in the world really needs a little badness so we can recognize and appreciate it.
In fact, if you watch too many horror movies you might be tempted to think that even though light is a very nice thing, it’s actually darkness that has the real power. If I am ever tempted to believe that, my favorite picture is to imagine two rooms, one completely dark, not a glimmer of light shining in it, and one room flooded with light. If you open a door between those rooms, what happens? You know what happens. The light wins every time, pouring in to light up every corner of the dark room, Darkness can never pour out to obliterate the light. Because the second truth about light is that darkness has no real existence. Darkness is only the absence of light – light is the real thing. The only power darkness wields over us is in deceiving us and confusing us and making us afraid. “Light shines in the darkness,” John wrote, “but the darkness has not overcome it.” And it never will.
And the third true thing about light is that it is contagious. Just before Christmas there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. It was really hyped-up by the media, because the two planets were going to appear so close to one another in the sky that they would look like one very bright star. (Unfortunately it was cloudy around here on the night of the conjunction, so we didn’t get to see it.) But those two planets don’t really shine, not on their own; the brightness we can see is just the reflection of the light of our sun, shining on them from millions and millions of miles away. In the same way, we know that the moon is nothing but a big, cold, lumpy, dusty rock. It has no power of its own to produce light; what we call moonlight is just a reflection of the sun’s light, shining on it from 93,000,000 miles away. And yet the full moon, reflecting that distant glow, is bright enough to cast a shadow on the earth, a quarter of a million miles below it. Light is not only powerful; it is contagious; light enlightens. “Walk as children of light,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”
We have been living through some very dark times. Our lives have been shadowed by the threat of Covid-19 for almost a year now. Most of us have grown accustomed to a new normal of separation and isolation. We stay at home most of the time and venture out only for groceries and doctor’s appointments. We wear our masks when we go out and wash our hands carefully when we return home. Generations of families ate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year in their separate homes instead of gathering together. Hospitals and nursing homes don’t allow visitors for their residents or patients. When we see one another we keep our distance. We don’t do hugs.
The past week has seemed particularly dark. As the Congress came together on Tuesday to certify the results of the presidential election, thousands of rioters marched on the Capitol building and broke in. Five people died. One of the rioters was shot. A policeman who had served in the Capitol for twelve years was hurt trying to keep order, and died of his injuries the next day. The darkness has seemed more than usually powerful in the last few days.
Now is the time to remember that the Light of the World has come to dwell among us. Now is the time to remind ourselves that the Light shines into the darkness and that the darkness will never ever be able to shine into the light – to remember that darkness can not overcome light. Now is the time to walk in this dark world as children of light. Most of us probably don’t feel like we have much power in and of ourselves to do anything about the huge darknesses all around us, and we’re not wrong – I know I feel pretty useless a lot of the time. But the truth is that we have been baptized into the name of the one who is the Light of the world, which means that we reflect the light of Jesus Christ as if we were little moons, not by the power of our own goodness, but by the infinitely bright power of his goodness. And that means that we are illuminated at all times by the brightness of his love and grace and gentleness and mercy and forgiveness.
When our big kids were little kids we taught them to sing the song about “This little light of mine.” They would hold up one finger – which is not so easy when you have fat little baby hands – and they would sing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. All around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Don’t let Satan blow it out. I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.” And I think maybe those words, in all their simplicity, come as close as anyone can come, to saying what it means to know that Jesus is the light of the world. Because he is light, we become light ourselves. Because we reflect his light, we become sharers of his mission of healing and redemption and renewal, shining brightly in a world that is desperately in need of light.