The Gospel of John, you’ll notice, doesn’t bother with any kind of birth story for Jesus. It launches right into a kind of philosophical treatise on Jesus as the Word, and the light, come in the flesh. Now the Word has all kinds of connections to God’s word that spoke on the first day of Creation, as well as to the Greek philosophical tradition of the Logos, and to wisdom as the personification of God. But today - this whole winter, actually - I’ve been thinking about the light. The light that shines in the darkness. Because it’s been a particularly dark winter, metaphorically speaking, and it looks to be a particularly dark beginning to 2017. So the image I want to explore with you is that of the light coming into the world, that became flesh.
This coming in the flesh is key to the Christian faith. In particular, it’s important that the Light comes in the flesh. Because light is insubstantial. We can see it, but that’s it. We can’t hear it, or taste it, or touch it. And we humans, in fact all of God’s creation, are beings of touch. It’s our sense of touch that determines our world. We have to touch something to know whether it is hot or cold. When our vision is gone, we touch the thing we’re reaching for, or the face of the person in front of us, to know it’s shape. When we walk, it’s the touch of our feet on the ground that tell us how to step. And in this day of texting and video-calling, we know that an in-person hug with our family far better than a virtual one. (In fact, if you’ve ever had a cold and refrained from shaking hands during the sharing of the peace, you’ll know how unsatisfactory it feels to only smile at someone instead of feeling their hand in yours as you shake.)
And so the light became flesh. And lived among us. And Jesus’ family, and his disciples, experienced this light in the flesh. Those who were healed by him were, literally, touched by light as he laid hands on them. Those who were fed by him at the Last Supper were, literally fed by light as he gave them bread and wine, body and blood. And Doubting Thomas, who needed to put his hand in Jesus’ side, touched light, a light that could not be extinguished.
The pressing problem for us, though, is that we are two thousand years away from that flesh. The farther away we get from that moment in time - from that flesh in that person - the harder it gets to feel the light. It is so hard to believe in something that you can’t touch. (And in fact, I am never surprised that there are so few Christians these days. In fact, I consider it the profound work of God that there are Christians at all - it is only by the grace of God that we are able to believe in someone whom we can’t touch.)
And I know that we have the Sacraments - we have the physical things of Communion, that we can touch and taste, and we have the water of Baptism, that we can feel. These are profound gifts to us - these are what we can touch in the absence of a body. But they are also only a poor substitute for being able to feel Jesus’ hand on our arm, or feeling him hug us, or sit next to us. We need to touch the light of Christ.
God does not leave us in the midst of this struggle. Instead, God sends us one another. You see, Christ is not the only light of God made flesh. Christ is the light, to be sure. The brightest, the most direct, the purest. But we are a light of God, insofar as we are brothers and sisters of Christ, and also children of God. We are a paler version of the light that is Christ, not quite so bright, but just as real. God, who desires that the darkness shall not overcome the light, has made us to be a thousand little lights, a million little lights, all in the flesh.
Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those who are sick or in prison that we are feeding and clothing and visiting him. Jesus makes it clear that his incarnation is more than God coming into one man. It is God coming into flesh - it is God making flesh holy, making flesh a vehicle for God’s light. All flesh.
This means that each of us here is a light shining in the darkness. We are to be the light of Christ for others, in their darkness, and we are to receive the light of Christ in our encounter with others, when we are in darkness.
In these times of darkness, we really need to remember this. One of the reasons that things are so dark right now is because in the world in general we have stopped turning to one another as fellow creatures of light. Instead, we have started looking at one another as if the other is a creature of darkness. We look at strangers with suspicion. We doubt the intentions of those we’ve never met. We worry that immigrants and refugees are going to take what we think belongs to us.
This makes our world darker than it needs to be. If you’re in a dark room, with a lamp on the table in front of you, facing the light, things are not so dark. But if you turn around so that you are facing the opposite direction, if you turn your back to the light, as it were, things get darker. Because your own body blocks the light and casts a very big shadow, and that’s all you can see. The darkness of your own shadow caused by turning away from the light.
This is what is happening in our world right now. We are turning our backs on one another, on the strangers in our light, strangers whose flesh carries within it a light from God, and so all we can see is our own shadow looming large. All we see is a world getting darker and darker.
But God offers us a remedy. God invites us instead to turn towards one another. To turn towards the flesh that contains the light of Christ. When times get dark, we are not called to turn our backs on strangers. We are called to face them, and to let their light shine on us, and our light to shine on them. To be the hand on their arm, to hug them, to be the one sitting next to them.
In this way, God makes our flesh to be a light in the darkness. And the more people we face, the more light we receive and the more light we share, the more light there is in the darkness. Millions and millions of points of light in the world, light in the flesh, that the darkness can never overcome.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays to God that, “the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.” Just as the light of God became flesh in Jesus, the light of Jesus Christ becomes flesh in us. The miracle of Christmas is that the light of God became flesh in a tiny baby born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. And it is also that the light of God became flesh, period. In becoming flesh in that particular baby, God made it possible for light to become flesh in any and every particular baby. In each one of us. And so, although the world does indeed look dark, God sends us as light in the flesh to one another, lights reflecting the light of Christ, light to shine the darkness. Thanks be to God. Amen.