By Paul Koch –
When the power went out around 10:00 on Monday evening, my wife and I decided to go ahead and just call it a day. The kids were all tucked in bed, or at least were in their appropriate rooms, and we went through the usual bedtime routine by flashlight. As my wife went to draw the shade, she couldn’t help but see the red glow that filled the night sky. We went outside and tried to guess how far away the fire was. It was close, that’s for sure, and it was fast. Within an hour, the blaze took up the whole skyline as I looked toward the hills from our front porch. My wife was afraid, and I didn’t know how to reassure her. Shoot, I was afraid and tried to think through our next steps. One thing was for sure: This fire was going to change this great city of ours, and all I could do was watch. Well, I could protect my family, but I couldn’t alter the course of that fire.
Such an event demonstrates the limits to our control of the forces around us. Oh, the firefighters and the first responders took to their task with insane precision and skill, and without their tireless effort, the result would have been far more damaging. Yet, throughout the night, the reports that came in were of their inability to do much of anything because the winds were in control. As they kept saying, “Mother nature is driving this fire!” It was as if creation itself was acting against itself, and we couldn’t do anything about it. Wind driving a fire that consumed a landscape. It is a humbling thing to be reduced to a spectator, not in control. We long to rise above it, to have something carry us from outside our low estate.
The Gospel according to St. John begins with just such an assumption. It speaks not to the goodness of our efforts or the quality of our control but to our complete dependence on something outside of ourselves. “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word was before all other things. Thee Word is the most powerful force in the world. God’s Word called Abraham from Ur in the land of the Chaldeans, spoke to Moses from a burning bush, gave manna and quail in the wilderness, thundered from Sinai, and spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice. God’s Word even made dry bones come to life and stand on their feet. But this Word is more than just and utterance or an idea or a combination of letters. For the Word is God, the Word is Jesus himself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
And this creative and powerful Word, this Word that spoke into being all that there is, it didn’t remain some distant or abstract thing. No, this Word has come into your life, come to do what you could never do on your own as another spectator before the terrors of this world. For we read at the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This Word of God works in your life as a light. And the need for a light is common to all mankind. From our earliest years, we have wanted light. All my children slept with a night light on in their room. The light is a sense of reassurance. It helps us navigate through the darkness. It is the reminder of something beyond the darkness, the hope of something greater.
For we all know how dark it can get. We know the darkness that comes in the midst of the fires of this world, the sense of despair and helplessness, the fear that runs throughout our bodies as we feebly try to make plans to get through on our own. But the darkness doesn’t have to be a fire that consumes our homes; it can be an internal struggle. It can be the darkness that comes with depression, shame, or guilt. It can be the crippling darkness of loneliness and emptiness. It can be the darkness felt when we are consumed by anger or the darkness of battles against cancer or the threat of death. In them all, we are at a loss. We are the spectator unable to change the outcome. And right there, right into that darkness comes the Prince of Darkness himself. He shows up pointing his accusing finger at you, mocking your feeble discipleship and failed relationships. And there in the darkness the weight of it all crushes down upon you.
But you do not remain in the darkness alone. No, you have a light. You have the Word of God, the Word that is God, the Word made flesh that dwelt among us, for the “Light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” Note that the verb “shines” is in the present tense. John doesn’t write, “The light shone” or “the light will shine.” No, the Light shines in the darkness. In your darkness, in your deep darkness, this light shines.
The promise given to you this day is that the darkness cannot overcome the light. Think of that great and powerful day of darkness, Good Friday. A day marked and remembered by its darkness. A day of nails and blood, sweat and tears. A day when it turned dark in the middle of the day for three hours. And then death. Death of the Son of God, death of the Word that spoke all things into being, death as the creation tried to destroy its Creator. And then, on the third day—light.
The Light shines my friends. The light of life and salvation shines for you! For he has given you his Word, a Word that has done what you could not, a Word that has found you, loved you, and leads you through the darkness. A Word that speaks yet again to you this very day and says, “The darkness will not win. You are mine. You are the baptized, the cleansed, the forgiven.”