Happy New year, everyone. Is it me, or does it seem that every year the New Year seems to get here just a little faster than the one before? I am amazed that we are already in a new year. 2016. And of course whenever we switch over to a New Year I almost always hear people saying – or thinking or feeling – two things. Either one or both of two things.
• Number 1 – folks are saying, “I’m glad 2015 is over.”
• And number 2 – “I sure hope 2016 is going to be a better year than the one we just had.”
I hear that almost every year at this time. Not everybody is saying it. But I suspect – for the most part – that there are a lot of people hoping for a better year than the year just past. And that’s not to say that the past year – or any past year for that matter – really was all that bad.
But here’s the thing. What we tend to focus on – what we tend to remember – are the not so pleasant things that happen in any given year.
That’s not to say that we are living miserable lives. We’re not. I mean, for the most part, we’re not. However, since it is a New Year, many of us – many of us – associate the start of a new year with something different and hopefully better. And quite frankly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for – for praying for – and working for a New Year that is what you really are hoping it will be.
But I gotta tell ya, I don’t believe there is anything magical about turning the page on a calendar and thinking, “Aha! Ok! Things are going to be better now.”
That said, even though there is nothing magical about turning that page on your calendar, I do want to talk to you today about someone – someone who can make a difference in your life. Let me invite you to watch this short video.
When I said I wanted to talk to you today about someone who can make a difference in your life, you already knew I was talking about Jesus even before I showed that video.
And I want to tell you that today’s Gospel reading – our reading from John’s Gospel – chapter 1 – is among my favorites in the Scriptures. Especially the first 5 verses along with verse 14. Listen to them again. And when you hear the word “Word” I want you to think of Jesus – because that’s who John is talking about when he uses the word, “Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 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.”
Verse 14. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
As we look back over 2015 it’s easy to pick out some dark moments of the past year. There’s the ongoing struggle between ISIS and, well, anybody who isn’t ISIS. Or the same thing with Boko Haram in Africa. These organizations have caused thousans of deaths and millions of refugees who simply want to escape the darkness – unbearable living conditions – to find places of refuge and safety. In 2015, we heard about – we read about – atrocious mass shootings in our own country. These I think are just some of the headlines that certainly would fit our definition of what it means to experience darkness.
You see, here’s the problem with these news stories of death and destruction – of refugees – and all the other things that are wrong with the world. Here’s the problem. Although we might not be affected by these things directly – what they do is cause many of us to live in fear. Or it might be a personal situation – something that’s going on in your life right now that’s causing you to live in fear. I don’t know.
But let me tell you – I don’t want to live in fear. I refuse to live in fear. And here’s the point. Because Jesus is the light of the world, we don’t have to live in fear.
And because Jesus is the light of the world, and the darkness does not overcome it, I have developed a deeper appreciation for one of our favorite Christmas carols. We’re going to sing it in just a few minutes, and when we do, I want you to pay close attention to the verse that says, “Light and life to all he brings.” Light and life. To all. He brings.
Into your darkness – whatever that darkness might be – whatever it is that may be causing you to be afraid – whatever that means for you right now – I’m here to tell you right now – that Jesus is the light in your life – in your darkness – right now. Whether you feel it or not. Whether you believe it or not – Jesus came not only to bring light – but to be light in your darkness.
It’s what we celebrate during this season of Christmas. A new year CAN mean a new beginning. A new birth. Why? Because, “Christ the Savior is born.”
And here’s some more wonderful good news. Again from John’s Gospel. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Did you hear that? By the grace of God – God’s undeserved love and favor – you are given the power to be a son – to be a daughter of God.
Made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world not just because he says so. But he is the One who brings with him grace and truth. That’s a promise I believe in. It’s a promise that all of us can believe in. And this is the reason why Jesus CAN make a difference in your life.
And yet – there is something that puzzles me. I know that some have a hard time believing this message. I get that. Some say that they’ve had enough, that they are done with church. And then there are others who for whatever reasons prefer darkness to light – I don’t get that. And they resist coming to the light. Maybe they’re afraid to come to the light for fear that the light might expose whatever darkness in their lives it is that they are trying to hide. So – let me share with you a story.
A man named Tom tells about a night when he was a teenager. He and his friends were walking around the neighborhood. It was a warm night and very dark. Suddenly one of them saw a police car. They hadn’t done anything wrong, but they didn’t want to be seen, either. So they began to run. The police car saw them and watched them turn down an alley. Tom tripped and knocked over some trashcans. The police officers got out of the car and began to go after them. One of the officers turned on a searchlight. Tom looked around for his friends, but didn’t see them. All he saw was that burning, searing searchlight, looking for him.
Tom jumped behind those trashcans, only to find his friends huddled there. With frantic energy they tried to hide, pulling trash over their heads and hoping to blend in. The spotlight fell on Tom. “Come out where we can see you,” said the voice behind the light. Tom stood up where he was, covered in garbage.
“What are you doing?” said the voice.
Tom stammered, “Nothing.”
The voice said, “I can’t hear you. What are you doing?”
Tom said, “Officer, I wasn’t doing anything wrong; I saw the light, I ran, I knocked over these garbage cans. I’m sorry about the disturbance.” The searchlight was beaming into his eyes, blinding him. He stood there in the light with nowhere to hide.
Then the voice said, “I think I recognize you. Don’t you live around the corner?”
“Yes,” he stammered. His heart was racing, and he thought to himself, “My life is ruined. If I don’t get arrested for disturbing the peace, something worse will happen: this officer is going to tell my parents.”
But then the voice behind the light said something unexpected. “Son, I’m not here to punish you; I’m here to protect you.” As he stood before that searchlight, Tom says he caught a glimpse of what it means to stand before Jesus, who is the Light of the World. There he was, fully exposed yet completely protected. He was fully revealed, yet free from unnecessary punishment. He stood hip-deep in garbage, yet cleaner than he had ever felt, somehow cleansed by a light that cast no shadow. In that moment, he saw something of what it means to stand in the presence of Jesus Christ, who is full of truth and full of grace.
“I am the light of the world,” says Jesus. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12). No matter how much garbage you or I are covered in – ankle deep – hip deep – neck deep – or in over our heads – Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness of your life.
So today – as we start a new year – in a few moments – Pastor Becca and I will invite you to come forward for a blessing. Come forward as a family. If you’re here by yourself today – don’t be afraid to come forward with the person next to you. And folks – DON’T EVEN HESITATE to ask that person who might have come here by themselves to come forward with you.
Because – in this place? – we are ALL family. God’s daughters. God’s sons. And therefore – in Jesus Christ – we are a new creation. He is the One who makes a difference in your life. He is Jesus – the Word made flesh – AND He is indeed the light of the world.
May the miraculous gift of Christ fill your home with faith, your heart with hope, and your life with love.