sermon archive


The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.

Quite a few years ago when I first came here to be the rector, Polly and I went down to New York for a visit of a few days.  It was just after Christmas.  I needed some time off to relax and get over the business of the holidays, and so we drove down from Boston to hang out in the Big Apple and have some fun.

At one point during our stay I was standing on a subway platform waiting for a train when there was a blackout.  As often happens in New York, something in the Bronx exploded, and the power was cut off.  And there I was, there we all were, below ground in total darkness.

There are those who will tell you that the New York subway is no place ever to be.  I don’t agree.  I love the subway.  I love the jumble, the clatter, the chaos and the raw adventure of it.  I like to watch the people, eavesdrop, and be jostled about as the train lurches down the track.

Even so.  The subway in the dark is indeed no place to be.  No place to be ever.  It’s scary, really scary.  People gasped when the lights went out.  Someone screamed.  Then there was quiet.  We were all just too frightened to say much.  Quite quickly I decided to make my way to the stairs which one could just make out in the gloom.  All around me were the faint outlines of human figures - people probably just as alarmed as I was - but one didn’t know, one couldn’t see.  Up the stairs quickly all of us - as quickly as could be - and outside into the light.

Our ancestors, you know, were much more acquainted with the darkness than we are.  Just after my adventure in the subway, I stopped in a restaurant for a cup of coffee.  I was in the front - next to a window.  Candles had been lit all around, but without electricity, even in the early afternoon, it was almost too dark to read the menu.  Think of the centuries - no, think of the thousands of years - during which people lived in that kind of darkness all the time and tried to read or write or work or play in the dark.  And so, it has always seemed to me that the identification of light with life which is made again and again in Holy Scripture - particularly in the Gospel of John - is in the first place little more than a matter of practicality.  You’ve got to have light to live;  you’ve got to have light to do anything, to be anything.  Without light life is hardly possible.

How powerful, then, is the symbolism of light.  It’s common to all religions, but it may well be that the religion of the Bible makes more of it than other faiths.  God’s creating of the light was, according to the Book of Genesis, the very first thing he did.  And it was the light, it seems, which made the rest of creation possible.  And when that same God entered into covenant with His people, He assigned to them a particular spiritual task:  they were to be a light to the Gentiles - a light to spread the knowledge of God to all mankind.  And later in the New Testament, the symbolism and theology of light becomes even more important.  God is light, like light.  In Him there is no darkness. And His Son, Jesus our Lord is His light, His effulgence, His shining out.  He is God’s light coming into the world, and He - that light - is the life of men.

It’s scary in the dark, you know.  We don’t know where we are, and we don’t always know what we are . . . in the dark.  We’re unaware of the good things around us.  And we don’t always see the evil which may threaten us.  In the dark good and evil often look alike.  It’s scary in the dark, and it’s dangerous.  Life in the dark is no life at all.

But, dear Christians, good people, God sends His light into the world to dispel the darkness.  God sends his light into the world to show us who we are and how to find our way.  And that light is Jesus, our brother, God’s Son – the One whose birth we celebrate today.

In Him was light, and the light was the life of men.

Thanks be to God !