In the beginning when God createdthe heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
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.
The title given by Maggi Dawn to today’s readings and thoughts reminds me, as I’m sure it is intended to, of the song Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music.
Beginnings matter – and as Maggi points out, where we begin a story very much affects the ensuing path of that story.
I’ve always been a great lover of John’s gospel as it speaks to me at a level deeper than mind and words and logic. And the symbol of a light shining in the darkness is such a powerful one…
In our 21st century Western world we very rarely experience true darkness. Even on a moonless night when the sky is overcast there is still light, reflected off the underside of the clouds, from street lights, house lights, vehicle lights… and a dark room is rarely pitch-dark.
Even so – lack of light goes hand-in-hand with chaos. Yesterday evening I walked down the garden to pick a chilli pepper from the plant in my greenhouse. I didn’t take a torch, thinking I could find my way. Without realising I strayed onto the edge of the flowerbed and tripped over a plant in its pot which is awaiting planting. Now that will have created a tiny amount of chaos which I’ll need to sort out this morning. Even a single candle would have made a difference.
Equally, darkness can hide, cover up chaos. When I go into my (home) office first thing in the morning, which for me, as a natural “lark”, is often around 5am, it’s pretty dark and I can imagine that the top of my desk is clear, everything neatly filed away, no jumble of papers. Then I sit down and strike a match to light the candle set out in readiness the evening before. The match blazes out with light enough to illumine the candle for me. Then I light the candle, praying “Lord Jesus, Light of the world, shine Your light into my darkness”. And even that single candle produces enough light for me to see the shadowy outline of the jumbled piles of papers on my desk… the light shows us the truth of our lives, the chaos which so often underlies the facade we present to one another and even, dare I say, to ourselves.
So for John to start his gospel – his proclamation of Good News – with the advent of Light, paralleling the Creation story which also starts with the separation of light from darkness, thus beginning the bringing of order to chaos, is for him to speak to our deepest need in our deepest darkness. For surely a light to lighten our darkness is indeed our deepest need, both individually and corportately.
There is much darkness in this world. Just 3 days ago, here in Gosport, the funeral took place of Jasmine Allsop, one of the two teenagers mown down in the early hours of 3rd November just a milke up the road from my house. The funeral of Olivia Lewry, the other teenager killed, will take place tomorrow morning. And this morning we hear that the death toll from the Glasgo helicopter crash is still rising. And that’s before we consider the myriad private darknesses which haunt all of us, or look wider to the national and international darknesses which continue to disrupt and damage lives.
And yet… and yet… in this season of Advent, we wait for the coming of the Light of the World – that Light which shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome. Ultimately this is something to be apprehended rather than comprehended, experienced rather than understood. And paradoxically that Light shone brightest from the cross – for that Light didn’t, doesn’t just shine from the outside – it shines within our darkness, entering into it fully, living our agony and experiencing with us our sense of alienation, of hopelessness.
And then… and then… Light triumphs over darkness as the empty tomb on Easter day declares that the darkness shall not win.
So whatever darkness we are currently experiencing, and whatever darkness awaits us in the hours, days and weeks to come, let us pray together “Light of the World, shine Your light in our darkness and as you illuminate us, grant us to so shine with Your light that our very presence shines your Light upon all whom we meet”.