The Light of Life
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday
John 1: 1-5 (CEB)
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2The Word was with God in the beginning. 3Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
Darkness is a funny thing, isn’t it? We have to have darkness; it helps us get better sleep. Sometimes in the midst of a headache or an especially sunny day, we long for a few moments of darkness. Darkness is good for a movie or a haunted house. But then again, too much darkness can be a bad thing as well. In the long, dark days of winter, we yearn for the Spring and more hours of daylight. Darkness can be scary, and oppressive, and depressing. And it can hold great power over us as well.
Have you ever experienced total darkness? I’m not talking about our “modern darkness,” which means that the light is coming from something other than the sun. I’m talking about complete blackness. Once, when I was in elementary school, I spent the night in a cave with my Girl Scout Troop. We did lots of fun stuff that night, but one of the most memorable experiences was turning out our flashlights in the deep, dark recesses of the cave. That was complete darkness. I could sense my eyes trying to adjust and find light by which to make my surroundings visible, but it was impossible; there was no light. Part of the reason this experience was so memorable was because it was also a bit scary. I knew my eyes were working, and yet I could see nothing; not even the faintest glimmer of light.
The people of Jesus’ day did not have the modern conveniences that you and I have; no electric lamps, street lights, spot lights, or bright stadium lighting. They could not flip a switch in a dark house or turn a flashlight on in a dark cave. They used oil lamps in their homes and businesses, which produced meager light at best. In fact, so lacking were the lighting options of Jesus’ day (even up to the invention of electricity barely more than a century ago) that people’s schedules revolved around the rising and setting of the sun; people were up with the sun in the morning, and often when night fell they would go straight to bed. And as I’m sure many of us know, when people are drowned in darkness, they long for the light. In fact, people in Jesus’ day so valued light that they had special celebrations centering around light.
As a part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews celebrated a ceremony called “The Illumination of the Temple.” It took place in the court of the women. The court was very dark, surrounded by deep galleries; in the center stood four great candelabras. When darkness descended, each of the candelabras was lit, which in turn lit up the courtyard. During the night, the priest and the people danced and sang songs of joy for the light in the midst of darkness. It is with this understanding that John introduces us to Jesus, and it is in this context that Jesus later says, “I am the light of the world.” In essence, John’s message says to us, “The earthly light can only brighten up a single room, or a courtyard, but Jesus brings light to the whole world.” And that is what we celebrate on Easter morning, the light of the world dawning in our midst.
Easter Sunday is the day we remember Christ’s resurrection, the dawning of the light of life that came through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and ultimately, his resurrection. As we see the sun filling the world with light this Easter morning, we are reminded of Jesus, who is the light of the world. And more than just the sun that rises in the morning, filling the earth with light, Jesus is also the Son that rises in our lives, dispelling the darkness that so often overshadows and engulfs us, the darkness that keeps us from true peace.
We’ve all experienced such darkness and shadows; maybe we are drowning in darkness right now—the darkness of fear, depression, or addiction; the darkness of unemployment or financial difficulty or failure; the darkness of broken relationships or death. It is such darkness in our lives that cause us anxiety, that keeps us from experiencing peace. And yet with the hope of the risen Christ dawning in our hearts, the light of life begins to dispel such darkness. All of these issues somehow look different when held to the light of Christ, and we gain new perspective in the eternal hope that all will be well and that nothing is too great for God in Christ Jesus to overcome! This is the source of our greatest peace, the peace for which we are all longing and searching!
When light shines, darkness is no more. We could be in the darkest of dark places, and lighting one single match would make it dark no more. This is a simple fact of physics. And when the light of Jesus Christ shines in the world, goodness begins to overtake evil, hope dispels despair, and even life overcomes death. Another preacher once made this observation: “In all this amazing world is there a more amazing thing that the invincibility of goodness? Everything seems against it, yet it refuses to be killed…The night falls and grows ever blacker; and then comes the dawn.” And how is this done? Because this fight is not our fight, but God’s; and God is in it with us. No matter what darknesses might overshadow our lives – and there are many, are there not? — in everything God is with us; forever. And that is the promise of the resurrection! On that first Christmas day, God came to be with us; and on that first Easter day, God showed us that he will be with us forever (if we will stick with Christ); through thick and thin, no matter what. And the great promise of the resurrection is that God in Christ Jesus has won; evil has been defeated, peace overcomes anxiety, and life will win in the end. Even death does not have the final word!
Yet, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning is not just about the darkness that is dispelled now; it is about Christ’s life-giving light dawning in our hearts once and for all. This is about having peace in our lives forever! What we celebrate on Easter is Christ coming to stand against the darkness for all time, such that even when the shadows seem to creep into our lives once again, Christ is still there to stand against it. There is an excerpt from John Bunyan’s novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which illustrates this quite well. It goes something like this (adapted):
“Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where there was a fire burning against a wall, and a person standing by it, always casting water on it, to quench it; yet the fire was always burning higher and hotter.
Then Christian asked, ‘What does this mean?’
The Interpreter answered, ‘This fire is the work of grace that is formed in the heart. The one that casts water upon it, to extinguish it and put it out, is the Devil; but as you see, the fire still burns higher and hotter, and you shall also see the reason for that.’ So the Interpreter took Christian to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a bowl of oil in his hand, which he also threw continuously, but secretly, into the fire.
Then Christian asked, ‘What does this mean?’
The Interpreter answered him, ‘This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart, against which the Devil’s work can do nothing, and the souls of Christ’s people prove gracious still.”
The joy of Easter morning is that darkness is overcome, anxiety has been defeated, death is overcome. Christ has risen to rule in our hearts and lives for all time. Christ’s peace will reign once and for all. And if we give Christ a place in our hearts, his light will shine in us, even against all the greatest trials of evil; even in the most difficult times. When we truly believe this, Christ’s light will not only begin to dispel the darkness, but his life will transform our lives as well as we grow in Christ’s peace!
A Hindu trader in India once asked a missionary, “What do you put on your face to make it shine?” With surprise the man of God answered, “I don’t put anything on it!” His questioner began to lose patience and said emphatically, “Yes, you do!” All of you who believe in Jesus seem to have it. I’ve seen it in the towns of Agra and Surat, and even in the city of Bombay.” Suddenly the Christian understood, and his face glowed even more as he said, “Now I know what you mean, and I will tell you the secret. It’s not something we put on from the outside but something that comes from within. It’s the reflection of the light of Christ in our hearts.”
You see, when the light of Christ dawns in our lives, it’s not just that the darkness goes away, but that a new life is born with new hope and new opportunities. And if we make room for Christ in our lives, his light begins to shine even through us! My prayer this Easter morning is that as the sun shines on this day; it’s not just about the end of the night. I pray that as we celebrate the resurrection this morning, it’s not just about something that Christ did a long time ago. I pray that this Easter day, we celebrate what Christ is doing in our lives each and every day; shining his light of life, dispelling the darkness and anxiety of our troubled world, and transforming even us into beacons of love and light. And may our faces, too, glow radiantly as we share the message of Christ’s life with all people!