Flashes, Sparks and Lights :Dec. 31, 2017

December 31, 2017

1 Christmas Year B                                                    
John 1: 1-18                                                                

            When my grandparents were still alive, they lived in a condo on the beach in Florida. They were high up and they had this gorgeous view of the ocean.  Every evening my grandfather would sit on the porch and watch the sunset.  He was waiting for the green flash. The green flash is a rare optical phenomenon. It generally occurs at sunset or sunrise and is usually seen over the ocean.  The flash is created by a refraction of light in the atmosphere.[1]On these rare occasions, when the sun is just about to disappear, there is a sudden flash of light.  It is so quick, that if you blink, you will miss it.  Most people have never seen it. It requires diligence, patience, and being in the right place at the right time. It also requires a little faith; to patiently wait for something that you have never seen and most people do not even know exists. 

            For the duration of Advent, we talked about waiting, anticipating, and preparing, for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For those of you who were here Christmas Eve, you were rewarded with the lovely story of Jesus’ birth.  You heard about the shepherds and the angels.  Finally the time of waiting was over, and the time of celebration had arrived. Today (one week after Christmas Eve) we hear the familiar, yet mysterious, words of John 1. 

Unlike Matthew and Luke, there is no traditional birth story, in that there is no Mary and no baby Jesus.  But Jesus becomes incarnate in this story.  Jesus becomes human, and that is a birth story in a sense.  Perhaps it would be more aptly described as a story of becoming.

            “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 uses a great deal of light and darkness imagery in his Gospel.  As you can see from this passage the light represents both life and Jesus Christ.  There are many theories about what darkness is and in this passage it is not clear. For our purposes, we will say that darkness represents death, or life apart from Jesus Christ.  It also represents hopelessness.

            Jesus became human and lived among us so that we could actually see and know God.  Before the birth of Jesus, people had faith.  Many had a great deal of faith. They believed in God.  But for many people God represented laws and rules.  God was inaccessible; the name of God could not even be spoken.  People could not communicate directly with God.   For many, God had become a religion, but not life.  So Jesus Christ came into the world to be God for us.  God was no longer an unpronounceable word, God was a living, breathing, being. 

            The Gospel reading ends with: “No one had ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”  It’s true, before Jesus was born, no one had ever seen God.  God had spoken to people.  God appeared in dreams.  But God was always a little elusive, a little out of reach.  With Jesus, this all changed. In a flash of light, he was here and he lived among us.  In a flash he was gone again. 

In the context of the history of the world, Jesus’ life on earth was so very brief.  If you blinked, you would miss it.   Consequently, some people did not believe.  Many still do not believe. If you look at the research, fewer and fewer people believe every year.  Yet there are those of us, who refuse to let go of the light. The light is oxygen…we cannot live without it.  We cannot imagine what life would look like without the light of Christ.

Despite that belief and that need, the darkness can be overwhelming at times.  Well, if I am honest, it can be overwhelming much of the time.  When that darkness is so prevalent, it makes it harder to seek the light.

It is as if we spend all our time staring into the darkness looking for signs of God’s light and love.  We grow weary.  Our eyes are strained, and sometimes we give up.  My grandfather only saw the green flash a couple of times, even after watching hundreds and hundreds of sunsets. That was enough for him.  Two seconds of brilliance was all he needed. 

            Jesus was with us for such a short time.  What he gave us was more than we needed. He gave us a fire that would never go out, a love that would always burn strong.  We could keep looking for God, keep hoping we will see God.  But God is more than a flash of light. God does not only come to us in miracles or answered prayers. You don’t have to look hard, you just have to change what you are looking for.  Not only do you have to change what you are looking for, when the darkness is all consuming, we must look at ourselves for the light.  We must be the light. Our opening prayer reads: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.  We do not have to look outside of ourselves for the light.  It is in us.  Our job is to release the light.

My grandfather only saw that flash a couple of times, but he saw the most amazing sunsets hundreds of times.   I never saw the green flash, but I saw something in my grandfather, that spark of light and love, that faith in a divine spark.  I see that in each of you as well.  That is so much better than a flash.  It is a light that lasts. A light that lasts forever.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_flash