Sermon for Christmas Day: Light shines in the darkness (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White
I used to be afraid of the dark. I actually had a night light until my first year of college – at which point my roommate put a stop to it with some tough love: “Get over it! There’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t there with the lights on. Anyway, I can’t sleep with that glaring in my face.”
Although her caring intervention enabled me to learn to sleep without having a light on, it did not cure me of my fear of the dark – and, especially, what scary things might be hiding in it, waiting to sneak up and hurt me. Fear of the dark – called, in its extreme form “nycotophobia” - is relatively common, affecting three out of four children and about ten percent of adults. Since most sighted people rely on vision more than any other sense, being unable to see frightens us, leading us to lose confidence in our ability to negotiate our surroundings.
This is an excellent example of the way human beings, in seeking to dominate our environment, instead limit ourselves. We rely on our vision at the expense of learning to hear better. We are overly impressed with physical attributes like beauty and strength, losing opportunities to develop spiritual and intellectual connections with one another. We seek wealth and power because we believe that having them will make us more confident, safer, and less afraid, forgetting that power isolates as much as it insulates.
Which is what makes being a Christian so hard because following Jesus means turning our lives over to him. Our perceived need to be in control of our lives is, I believe, the root of all sin -the human desire that originally and continues to separate us from God. Whatever you believe about original sin, it is clear that early in our relationship with God human beings decided that we wanted to control our own lives – believing that we knew better than God. Well, we got what we wanted, and with it came many things that give us joy – like romantic love, creativity, and fulfilling work – as well as those which terrify us most – disease, war, and death. These are the fruits of our rebellion, and it is up to us to deal with them.
The good news is that instead of turning away from her wayward creation, God walks with us in our struggles, repeatedly offering us the opportunity to choose good over evil. And, unlike us, God is not limited by the blinders of human envy and fear. Helen Keller, who could neither see nor hear, nonetheless perceived that the true difference between darkness and light was not about seeing or not seeing. It is about rejecting the limitations that bind us to ignorance and fear. It is about being open to the power of God. "Once,” she wrote, “I knew only darkness and stillness. My life was without past or future. But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.” Helen discovered that she need not fear the dark, for God was there with her, waiting to bathe her in light.
We need to let go of our fear as well. “Sing to the Lord a new song,” the psalmist urges, for God has done marvelous things. Yet, we continue to cling to the old songs – the old ways. God’s light is too bright, too strange, toonew. In the brightness of God’s steady gaze, we cannot hide or faults and fears. Reflected in the light of Christ we see ourselves as we are – and we don’t like it. But we forget that God already knows us. God sees the darkness within us and loves us anyway. God can make light out of anything, even us.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… What has come into being in him is life, and the life was the light of all people.” This majestic opening of John’s gospel reminds us that we have never been and will never be alone. Like Helen Keller, we find that apart from God we are easily lost in darkness but, simply by opening our hands and our hearts to others, we find light – and new life. This gift of light is given in community – through and with one another. We find it by imitating the very essence of God - that of one great musician singing in many parts- each voice singing with itself and to itself in a symphony that creates a new, braver, and better humanity. Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” God’s music is a song of love – exquisite, endless, and light-bringing. Each time we choose to look into another person’s face and expect to encounter God, we drive away a portion of the darkness of human fear. My friends, let us together step into the brightness of God’s renewing and life-giving light that we may, like the child whose birth we celebrate today, be filled with grace and truth, reflecting the glory of God. AMEN.
Austin, Daryl, (March 1, 2022), “More Americans than ever are afraid of the dark, experts say. Here's why,” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2022/03/01/are-you-afraid-dark-why-pandemic/6782349001/ 2Yasinski, Emma (November 13, 2020), “Which sense do humans rely on most,” Discover, https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/which-sense-do-humans-rely-on-the-most Quoted in Helen Keller Quotes, https://www.thoughtco.com/helen-keller-quotes-2832699#:~:text=The%20Importance%20of%20Faith,and%20things%20unseen%20are%20eternal.%22