In the Dark

December 24, 2017

Series: December 2017

Speaker: Rob McClellan

John 1:1-5, 14

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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.

In the Dark

          Darkness.  Nobody likes being left in it.  Some/children fear it.  I slept with a light on for years (then my wife told me it was keeping her awake).  Many come to me in distress about what they describe as these dark times in which we are living.  I bring good news for those who dwell in darkness, “good news of great joy,” as they say, for today we celebrate the coming of the light.  All three passages speak of this.  Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” (Is. 9:2).  Luke recounts “there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, (Lk. 2:8-9). Finally, John says of Christ’s coming, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).  Today we light the candle of hope and the Christ candle because the coming of Christ is the coming of hope.  Today light wins. 

          Most of our Christmas recollections come from Luke where we get lost in the story of the shepherds and the fields, the mother and her baby, the swaddling clothes and the manger.  John instead offers us a poem, a poem to the light, and it should not be overshadowed, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.  The word was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through this one, 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.” (Jn. 1:1-4).  Oh, it’s too short; one wishes it could go on and on.  If Luke offers us a gripping tale of how the baby Jesus burst onto the scene in humble fashion, bringing us hope, John makes an even more stunning proclamation in verse—Christ has always been there, since the very beginning of time.  The light has always ruled the darkness.  We but have to wake up to it.

          I suppose on some level that’s what I always thought the Christmas message was.  And then I encountered Leonardo da Vinci.  I have been working my way through Walter Isaacson’s biography of this brilliant painter and brilliant mind.  It’s amazing to hear how da Vinci studied the world he would come to paint, hours upon hours of observation, of dissecting, of sketching, notetaking, returning to his works over time, sometimes over decades.  As one of the most famous painters ever to live, I assumed it was apt title to call da Vinci one of the all-time masters of light.

          I was wrong.  Da Vinci was a master of the darkness.  He believed what made a good painting or a good painter was not how one reflected the light, but how one managed the darkness.  Darkness gives the contour and context for light.  The shading, the shadows, these are what reveal, what give birth to form and life and light.

          Giving birth is what today is all about, for Mary is pregnant with God.  The light to which she gives birth emerges from the caring darkness of the womb, because that’s how all life emerges.  Seeds stay nestled in the dark earth, preparing, and they burst forth before light ever enters the picture.  We need the dark our whole lives long.  There have been links shown between the inability to dream or have R.E.M. sleep with certain mental illness.  People who work night shifts under artificial lights have higher incidents of cancer.  The darkness does not threaten our life, it is the womblike seedbed for it, for all growth and possibility. 

          The interesting thing/problem is that we have developed or slipped into a light bias.  We light up our cities, thinking it makes us safe, when the evidence of this is actually quite mixed.  Artificial lights may actually cause danger, as they create starker contrasts, deeper shadows, and thus more places to hide.  We favor light skin; think of what a strange reality that is.  We live in a society in which people feel compelled to put everything out there in the light for all to see.  To be sure there are things which are long overdue to be exposed, but other things might be better left to the sacred darkness.  Jesus, you’ll remember, remained in the darkness until the appointed time, constantly telling people not to tell who he was or what he was up to, because what he was up to needed time to germinate, take root, and finally flower. 

Light is the imagery of productivity, but darkness is where creativity emerges.

Light is where we make things, but darkness is where we make love.

Light is where we exert energy, darkness rest.

We need our darkness time.

          It is so tempting to rush out into the daylight because there’s work to do, but if we don’t do our darkness work first, then when we get out in the light we will simply flutter around lost and confused, filled with frustration yet without the internal resources to do anything constructive about it.  Ultimately our undeveloped dreams will never get off the ground.  You all know of that old story of someone seeing a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon, so they pry open the hole trying to help, only for the butterfly to emerge with a swollen body and tiny shriveled unusable wings.  The butterfly needs the process of squeezing through the hole to push the fluid from its body into its wings so it can fly.  We can come to trust in the struggle the darkness gives us, for it will bear life.  After the service this morning, a nurse in the congregation told me that when a baby is born, they too are filled with fluid which is pushed out when squeezed through the birth canal, the shoulders folder in open up and the breath naturally enters in as the arms spread open wide. 

          Darkness should not only be seen as constricting, though.  Darkness creates room for us to recognize other lights, previously outshone or overshadowed.  In Luke, when Zechariah is told his wife Elizabeth is to conceive and give birth to who would become John the Baptist, he responds, “How will I know that this is so?” (Lk. 1:18) looking for proof.  Mary on the other hand, when she is told she will conceive and give birth to Jesus says, “How will this be?” (Lk. 1:34) looking for how she can participate in what she trusts God is doing.  Do you hear the difference?  As a result, Zechariah is struck with silence for the rest of the pregnancy, a verbal darkness.  When Janie Spahr preached on this passage just a couple weeks ago over at the seminary, she wondered aloud what would happen if all the powerful people, if all the powerful men, had to likewise go several months where all they could do is listen, listen to the voices that are drowned out, forgotten, dismissed. 

Darkness is the time of listening if we let it be.

The darkness in our lives is an opportunity to make preparations for something new to be born—to pull in, to take care, and to keep watch for the coming light. What if that’s our only job right now, not to bring the light into the world, but simply to watch for it?  People who want to bring light always make me a little nervous because they tend to act as if they are the sun; they are the way, the truth, and the life.  Today especially is when we practice keeping watch by night for the real son to come, who is the way, the truth and the light who came for all people.  John is unequivocal about that; Jesus came for all people.  He came to bless the entire world and perhaps mainly by revealing what had been there all along.  Jesus doesn’t belong to us.  Jesus calls us to recognize that we belong to one another. 

          Have you seen this viral video of a Christmas pageant?  Like most pageants it starts out okay until one of the sheep, played by a young girl, decides she’d like to have the baby Jesus for herself, which, thankfully for what transpires next, is played by a doll.  What transpires next is Mary, played by a slightly older girl, lives into her protective mothering role (in a way that would make Daniel Day Lewis proud) so much so that she tries to wrench Jesus back from the sheep.  Essentially a full-on wrestling match ensues until Mary secures a headlock and scores a clean takedown.

          Haven’t we seen those in our midst fighting like children to take for themselves or give to a few what is rightfully meant to be shared by all?  Children are learning; adults should know better.  Jesus is the clearest picture we have that God seeks to bless all abundantly.  Jesus is a reminder that God starts at the bottom.  Jesus is God’s promise that even out of the seemingly darkest of circumstances, the light emerges, not in spite of the darkness, but because of it.  The darkness has not overcome the light; the darkness has given rise to it.  Friends, we are in womb time.  The light is coming sooner than you think.  Don’t worry about that.  Hope is on the way.  God promised.  Learn to trust in the darkness of this night.  Let us offer a poem to it, and not one that is too short…

 Ode to Darkness by the high school poet “Savannah and Beyond”

 You have existed 

since the beginning 

of time

and for too many years

and to too many minds

have been


 The wind sings

And the 

leaves beat

upon the ground.

My mind

is left numb,

the tears

upon my heart

are left


A vision of white,

the light at 

the end,

I struggle

to fight.


in the wind

and whispers

from the leaves

ring in my ears

and the tinging

in my fingers

and grabbing

at my ankles

lingers even longer.


surrounds me.

My senses are


But the darkness

is beautiful

truly beautiful.


Is the device

that devours

the euphoria

of the 


of the darkness.


is only

in our minds

loud and clear

from far

and near.


is a paradox,

an affliction 

of diction.

Its connotation:

a dark sensation.

But its origin,

of no solid


Fear is made 

from the wreckage

upon the heart,

and our fights

to reach the light

we believe

is at the end

of the darkness.

But darkness, 

Is beautiful,

for darkness

brings beauty 

from the 


on the pavement

and the whispers

of the leaves

and the beating

of the branches

and the singing 

of the wind.

 The air

is full

of music.

When I look

for this music

I hear it 

loud and clear

It brings my day


When others 

come upon this


they are frightened

not by what

they find

in the darkness

but by what 

they find

in themselves.


I love you

I admire you

and every night

I look forward

to you.

To your comfort

to your love

and to your


of bringing me 

a mind at ease

feelings at rest

and the way 

you heal

my aching heart.


Is not the 


it is not


it is not the 

broken window pane

in the dead 

of winter

nor the thunder

of a storm.


Is the sanctity

of life

a blessing

from the heavens

it is the sun

rising to shine 

light over fear.

When I 

find myself

in darkness,



any fear

and every



Is the calm

before the storm.

Darkness is

the beauty

of life.

 Merry Christmas.