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Sermon and Reflections For For The Second Sunday After Christmas - Year A
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
"That Advancing Light of Love"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
2nd After Christmas - Year A
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
"That Advancing Light of Love"

          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.

"It's Cindy," whimpered the voice on the other end of the phone.  "I can't
stop crying.  Do you have some time to talk to me?"

"Of course," I said.  "What's up?" Cindy was a middle-aged woman who had
just ended a 12 year-long relationship with her husband.  Three attempts at
couple counselling had failed to make a dent in Bill's defensive, angry
shell.  He had been raised by a very religious and extremely abusive "old
Dutch" mother and had had huge problems trusting women ever since.  Cindy
had given it her best; but now it was the end of the road.  She and the
children could not take any more of his abuse.

As she had indicated a month earlier, Bill had agreed to move out.  They
had followed the plan with a minimum of conflict.  Then, just recently,
Cindy found him dating a younger woman and confronted him angrily.  Bill
had told her that his new girlfriend meant nothing, but that he hadn't
loved Cindy in a long time.

"I feel so betrayed," she said.  "It's the cruelest thing anyone has ever
done to me! How could anyone put me through so much grief!?"

I had spent time earlier explaining the problem of co-dependency to Cindy
and had predicted that she would have trouble letting go.  You don't just
assume a mothering role for a grown man for most of twelve years and then
give it up overnight.  "You'll let go when you no longer feel the need to
be responsible for him," I had said.  But it was more than just a
co-dependent relationship.  A part of her had truly loved him just as a
part of him had truly loved Cindy.  It was this that was tearing her apart. 

"Why couldn't he let me help him?" she wept.

"Because part of him is too afraid," I said.  "For the first time in his
life he came across a woman he could trust and who demanded the same trust
from him.  The thought of being exposed, of having to come out and actually
stand in the light of such a love was too much for him to bear."


Well, I resist as much as I can getting all 'psychological' on you; but
we're back to John's gospel for this second Sunday of Christmastide because
the authors of the Lectionary argue that fair is fair.  Matthew and Luke
have had their turn at it.  Finally John gets to tell his story of
Christmas.  The problem with John is, well, John.  He doesn't tell stories. 
He gives speeches.  He doesn't preach three-point sermons.  He preaches
fifty-three-point sermons.  John never does anything small.  And as for
psychological? John is the most psychological treatise of all four gospels.

John, quite simply, likes to write things large.  Mark goes back to Isaiah
and Malachi to begin his gospel.  Matthew goes back to Abraham.  Luke - not
to be outdone - goes all the way back to Adam.  But John is in a class by
himself.  When he tells the story of how Jesus came into the world, he goes
back to the dawn of time.

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
          God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning
          with God.

Do you see what I mean? In John, Jesus doesn't just come into the world
because of two people, Mary and Joseph.  He isn't just the Messiah Israel
has been longing for and for which the prophets held out hope.  He is the
logos, the Word of God himself.  He is that very part of God that reveals,
that very part of God that speaks, that very part of God that makes himself

          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.

It is an oft-repeated and stark contrast in John, this metaphor of light
and darkness.  This light that Jesus was, John says, turned out to be a
threat to many, so threatening, in fact, that the forces of darkness tried
to overcome it.  Behind this pattern, of course, we hear the struggle that
was going on in John's church, a Jewish church, many of whom would not
accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Throughout John we will hear about not only
how Jesus was persecuted by his own people but how his followers were
equally mistreated.  What we have in such stories is a lens through which
we can view the struggle that went on in the emerging church, a time in
which followers of Jesus were experiencing a severe estrangement from their
religious and cultural roots.

Why did this happen? That is the question.  If you read John carefully, you
will find clues dropped here and there about why people found Jesus so
threatening.  But, in the end, he simply doesn't come out and explain why. 
All he says is

          He came to what was his own, and his own people did not
          accept him.

It is left to us to explain why the self-professed children of light were
closed to the light of God's truth when it shone.  How do we answer such a
question without becoming guilty of the very same kind of
self-righteousness that Jesus' opponents embodied? The only way that makes
sense to me is 'psychological', that is to say, by looking deep into that
placed called 'soul' that is the deepest place inside you and me.  What is
it that happened when the light that was Jesus came into the world that is
still happening today whenever the light that is Christ begins to shine?

     Light is not only the revelation of the logos; it reveals the
     nature of all who come in contact with it, and the judgment upon
     each person is determined by his or her response to it.  Light
     shines in darkness.  It reveals.  It also exposes,

says Alan Culpepper (Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel).

The way I think it works is this.  Light comes into the world and it's as
if everyone and everything is seen in a new and penetrating way.  Suddenly
we are connected with each other and the source of divine love precisely
because this light comes as an invitation to grow in connectedness.  Just
as suddenly, however, we are also alienated because of everything about us
that insists on remaining entrenched in isolation.  This is the contrast
John is talking about.  It is the contrast we, no doubt witness, every
passing day.


Like Cindy and her husband Bill, we are, all of us, a mixture of light and
darkness.  There is much that has happened to us since we came into the
world that encouraged trust in us or damaged it deeply.  It is that sense
of trust that allows us to put our ignorance and fear into the larger
context of struggle and growth.  When we trust, we risk, moving toward the
light, letting it draw us out of the darkness of ego and fear into the
warmth of self and love.  It is as if we know that the light is where we
belong.  That is why we journey toward it.  It is why Bill fell in love
with Cindy.  For the first time in his life he saw where he belonged.

But there are those of us who love darkness more than we love light.  Like
those who love the light more, they are also a mixture of good and evil. 
The problem is that they have begun to identify with their own darkness, to
love their own evil more than their own good.  The light that shines on
them, then, from another human being, appears harsh and glaring.  It
exposes their mistakes and inadequacies.  In terror they flee from it and
scheme to keep themselves covered - even from their own goodness.  

     Lying to themselves and to others is the only strategy they can
     envision.  They cling to their own darkness out of fear.  In this
     perverted sense they love it.  it allows them not to be seen. 
     Eventually they realize the only way to secure the darkness is to
     kill the advancing light.  They think this will protect them, but
     it proves to be their undoing.  - John Shea, Gospel Light: Jesus
     Stories for Spiritual Consciousness

It is how judgment works.  It is not about going before a Judge who will
weigh our good deeds and bad.  It is about the choice we make every single
day about whether or not to step into the light or retreat into the

          And this is the judgment: the light has come into the
          world and human beings loved the darkness rather than
          the light because their deeds were evil.  - John 3:19

In the end Bill felt the need to retreat into his angry, abusive shell
because he simply would not trust the invitation of love.  It is the kind
of story that gets repeated in countless places, in countless places every
single day.

          The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has
          not overcome it.

That was John's Christmas message to his own church, a people who were
tempted to despair before this awful struggle going on in their own church
and their own hearts.  It is the message that there is something about this
light that has come that will not be stopped even by the human refusal to
accept it.  Even in a world like ours.  Even people like us.  Eventually,
all those of us who insist on living in the dark will have to give in to
that advancing light of love.


Jeremiah 31:7-14  - The text has few direct links with the other lessons
for this week, but it is appropriate because it expresses the mood and
spirit of the celebration of Christmas.  Like the news of Christ's birth it
is an announcement of salvation.  The Lord has saved, gathered, consoled
and ransomed a people from sorrow to joy.  It is, of course, a prophetic
announcement concerning the return of exiles.  It is the answer to last
week's lament by Rachel for her children (31.15).

1.   The passage uses the metaphor of redeeming someone who has been left
in pledge for a debt or from slavery.  Why is this metaphor
appropriate/inappropriate for people like us?
2.   The redemption announced is a very corporate vision, involving all
people? Why must this be so?
3.   In what ways does your community announce such a vision? In what ways
do you embody it?

Ephesians 1:3-14 - This week's gospel and epistle agree in one respect: the
story of Christ began before the world began.  The author links our own
adoption by God with Christ's vocation.  So the story of our salvation
begins before the world began as well.  God is regarded as the source of
true wisdom, revelation and knowledge.  Wisdom is precisely that which
enables us to know that our true wealth consists in the inheritance we
share as saints.

1.   What does the first part of the passage (verses 1-10) emphasize?
2.   What does the second part (verses 11-14) emphasize?
3.   How can you tell if someone has "heard the word of truth, the gospel
of salvation"?

John 1:1-18 - It is a passage that has central importance to Christian
history, Christian doctrine and Christian understanding of the life of
faith.  It is John's attempt to give meaning to the coming of Christ.  he
does so by comparing Christ to a divine light that has begun to shine in
the world.  The problem is the darkness in which this light shines and its
resistance to the light.  The tragic question that is emphasized in this
week's reflection is: why do we close ourselves to the revelation of God's

1.   As the self-professed children of the light, Jesus' people were closed
to the light of God's truth.  As the self-professed children of the light,
how are we closed to it?
2.   What is it about the light of love that is inviting? that is
3.   When have you seen this struggle of resistance to the light played out
in your own life, in your own community?     

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "Since they will do almost anything to avoid the
particular pain that comes from self-examination, under ordinary
circumstances the evil are the last people who would ever come to
psychotherapy.  The evil hate the light - the light of goodness that shows
them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that
penetrates their deception.  Psychotherapy is a light-shedding process par
excellence." - F.  Scott Peck, People of the Lie

HYMN:  O Lord, How Shall I Meet You  (Voices United 31)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551

copyright - Barry Robinson 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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