Sunday, December 28, 2014

Darkness and Light

Darkness and Light
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 28,  2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Genesis 1: 1-5
John 1: 1-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.[1]

I know that we've read and heard this passage, this opening passage from the Gospel of John again and again this Christmas season. I chose it last week for the Gospel Passage, and then again I read it during the center piece of the Christmas Eve Service. I just love it, The Word, the Darkness, the Light, the poet in me is drawn to it, maybe it is the light from it drawing me like a moth to a flame, but as many times as I've read it, I don't think I have ever actually preached from it, never have I delved into its depths. Instead I've had it stand on its own, and then preached on Christmas in general, the Word made flesh, Immanuel, Jesus the Christ, the entire story, rather than details here. I chose it though this morning because I feel called next to preach from the Gospel of John for the next few months, and thought it important to start here, to really look at this passage, as it is prologue to the rest. It sits at the beginning to put the rest into some sort of perspective. Having just written and published my first book, I had to write my first "Preface" my first introduction, and I thought, what is it that I need my reader to know before they start reading this book? What frame of mind do I want them to have? How do I want to set the scene? What background information do I want to evoke? What do I want them to bring to the table? You know, thoughts wise, wisdom wise, ideas wise? What do I want my readers thinking about before they go forward? This is what I think Johns poetic prologue seeks to do. It seeks to connect Jesus, the story, the incarnation, in its place historically, theologically, and philosophically, because for John, it seems that Jesus is the coming together of cultures, the coming together of ideas, and the final result, the culmination of culture. And that is really what the Gospel writer John seems to be doing here.
To get at what I mean I want to take a look at two of the concepts that he brings together here. I want to take a look at the word we translate as Word, which is the Greek word, "Logos" and then I want to look at how that is related to the idea of "Light and Darkness," all culminating in a Theological conclusion about what John may be saying about Who God is and Who Jesus is going forward with the rest of the Gospel. It will give us an introduction to where we go from here.
So this Logos, idea has a ton of history by the time that it is used here by John. It has some baggage that comes with it, that is lost in the English translation of "Word." First off if we want to get a greater glimpse we can look at how the root, Logos, has entered into our language in other ways. . . words like biology, sociology, geology. . . the study of life, societies, and the Earth. Things like Logistics, how it all is ordered together to work. . . or logic, which is something like ordered thinking, or syllogisms, which is connected to logic, a rhetorical device often used for getting at general truths, things like Christmas is a Holiday, all Holidays are joyful, therefore Christmas is joyful. It is commonly used in Philosophical writing for getting at how ideas are interrelated. So in this way we get the idea that logos, which is the root for all of these terms is related to how we think, it is related to what we study, it is related to how we form arguments, how we get at the truth, and all of that. Perhaps it make sense that it would be translated as Word because the verb form of it "Logo" in its first person singular form means "I say." But it also has a great connection to Greek Philosophy. . . and I don't want to get too far into the weeds here, but I've always been one to see the story, the development of an idea, when I was in math class, I'd always understand the formula better if I saw it derived for me. . . so I want to give you a glimpse of some of it. Heraclitus, whom you probably haven't heard of, was first to use it extensively, and he used logos to describe "the principle order of things. . . the source of knowledge." Aristotle used the word to describe the process of an argument, he grouped it with ethos and pathos, which ethos was appealing to someone's reason to convince them, and pathos to their emotions, logos was the art of doing it with words themselves. But probably my favorite would be the Greek Stoics, who used the term to describe the persistent all pervasive order of the universe. . . to them the Logos was the deal that all people had to find to then become in line with. To the Stoics this Logos was nature itself, completely passionless, non-caring about things that are being, just the basic objective laws of the universe, that could be understood through logical contemplation. To the Stoic the world was a logical set of laws, all connected, and completely apathetic to the plight and endeavoring of human beings. . . and so life was then a struggle that is to be endured. Now the connection goes even further beyond this, but I don't want to bore you with all the Philosophical jargon, I probably already have enough, but keep in mind the Stoics, because there are real connections between a Stoic Philosophy, and some of the Theology that John is espousing, with one major distinction that I will get to in a bit.
But the other cultural aspect that John is trying to bring out and appeal to is not just the Greek, but the Jewish. Logos was an important word in the Greek influenced Jewish communities leading up to the time of Jesus, often called Hellenized Judaism. Remember that before the Romans came through and occupied Palestine, the Greeks had, and like the Persians before them, they had much influence on the culture, really both ways. One of the great achievements of the cross culturalization is the Septuagint, which is the earliest Hebrew, what we call the Old Testament, translation into Greek. As you can guess "Logos" has an important role in such a work. There are obviously the fact that God speaks things into existence, which takes all the uses of the word, Logos, that we have discussed and brings it all into focus. God setting the laws of the universe, like the Stoics believe, God beginning all argument, God putting out the very truth that wisdom seeking philosophers have dedicated their lives to finding. Probably the most prominent place where Logos is used is in Psalm 33. . . talking about the creating of the heavens. . . "by the word of the Lord the heavens were made." It is there "Logos" with all of its Greek meaning, like we've been talking about.
So I want all that going through your heads to some extent, while we talk about the next major point, which is "light" because light is very prominent in this text too. And of course they are connected in all those phases. Biblically and of the Hebrews it is connected because the first thing that God speaks into existence is light. He speaks it and it is, and it is good. But Light is also important in Philosophy and Understanding, because light is and always has been a symbol for knowledge, think about the picture of the human head with the lightbulb coming on, think about the phrase, "bring this to light" or "He's really bright",  think about the prayer for Illumination that we pray before we read scripture. . . Light is an important symbol for knowledge and wisdom, too, just like "Logos." It is very much the same with Greek culture again, the god Apollo, was the god of the Sun, but also the god of wisdom, poetry, philosophy, why because as the sun, he brings light to the world, and therefore understanding and knowledge to the world. He was the patron god of the Oracle at Delphi, because he was connected to this idea of seeing and wisdom and light,  the future is dark and unknowable, but he could bring it to light. Now I don't bring up this to look at the connections between Christian notions of God and some mythological character like Apollo, but instead to show the connection between "Logos" here and "Light" because the connection is strong and all pervasive.
Now I'm at that point, where like a story teller or a joke teller, I can say, I told you that story so I can tell you this one because the individual details of all this are not important but instead that they are being connected together, and that connection together being founded in the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the culmination of all these ideas at once, and that seems to be the claim that John is making. He is making the claim that Jesus is the answer to the Jews, that he is connected to the Creation, that he is the very words that God speaks, that he himself is the light that was spoken and declared good, and that he does for the world anew in our hearts, in our midst, like us in flesh, the same thing that he did on that very first day, bring light into the world. That as the Messiah, the Christ, he is more than just a historical figure, but one who transcends all of time being there at the beginning, and now, and even we believe in the future, Alpha and Omega. But, not just as light, but also as the Logos, the beginning of all argument, the primary argument, the beginning of all ideas, the first primary mover, and the truth that connects all things together. . . the stoic notion of truth, by which the world functions, but of course there is one major difference here, and it is huge, it is transcendent, and it speaks to the very nature and size of God. . . that it is bigger than any other notion, big enough to bridge the gap between Aristotle's arguments. He is at once the Logos, Ethos, and Pathos, and since he is such it says something different about the world than what the Stoics had believed. . . that it is caring, that it loves, that it is not indifferent. . . John's gospel is a gospel of Love, think of the famous parts like John 3:16, for God so loved, that the concept of all this is love. Love is also a major part of the three epistles of John. And so seeking to make an argument with the Philosophies of the time, as culmination, that Jesus shows us that this universe is connected by this notion of love. . . and that then Love is the light of the world, but this is the beauty, that love is also in the darkness. That God is big enough to encompass both, and will endure the darkness just to bring light from it because that is the amazing things that God does. Again and again, bringing light from the darkness. But why do people choose the darkness. . . because they don't realize that God is there too, completely in control of the darkness as much as in the light. We think we can hide, we think that our truth is our own if we hide it in the darkness, that the darkness can be our fig leaves of control, but Jesus shows that God is the God of the darkness, too. . . and that notions of the darkness being outside of God are merely illusions caused of our sin. There is no darkness at all the night and the day are both alike, and it's all here in this gospel.
So this is only the prologue, but what a set up. John has set up the idea that Jesus is the cause of everything in the universe, that Jesus is the culmination of every idea ever thought, every argument ever made, that Jesus confirms the very order of the universe, but shows that it is truly connected in love.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 1:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.