Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spreading the Light

John 1:1-14

The beginning of John’s Gospel is called the Prologue. It’s designed to set the theme for the entire Gospel. The message of John’s Gospel is simple but powerful: Jesus is God; and belief in Jesus brings us into a relationship with God, which John calls eternal life.
More specifically, our text make it clear that Jesus is God’s Word – through the Word God spoke everything into being; and Jesus’ presence brings powerful light to counter the darkness that is present in the world.
This is awe-inspiring poetry, and at the same time very different from the sweet stories that describe Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke. John is much more concerned about the reason for Jesus’ presence on earth than in giving Jesus’ biography.
John uses the image of Light to symbolize Jesus’ power. Light is very powerful; even one lit candle in a dark room breaks the power of the darkness. If we want absolute darkness, we have to work very hard to block all the light from getting into the room. Light seeps into the darkest spaces, just as God’s power and presence work their way into our world.
Through our ministry in Jesus’ name we spread God’s light into many places, especially into the darker corners of our world.  Consider the light we spread in these situations.
Betty – a generic name, not anyone in particular – is a single mother trying her best to raise several children, not all of them her own. Working poor families have little extra in the family budget to buy gifts and extra food for holiday celebrations. Betty struggles to make rent payments, and put gas in the car to get to work. She works hard to spread Food Stamps and Food Pantry allowances out to last all month to feed her family. Medical expenses, car repairs, growing children, and such put great stress on the family budget.
When churches like ours purchase Christmas gifts, we help Betty keep current on her bills as well as provide gifts for her children who were looking at a gift-less Christmas. Instead, knowing that there are one or two gifts under the tree for each child makes the light shine in Betty’s eyes. Just like children with a dozen gifts, her children want to hold, shake, peek, and try to guess what is in each package. Jesus’ light shines in the darkness of their poverty through our generosity.
Children all around the world have even less that the working poor in our country. In addition, they may never even have heard of Jesus!
Imagine the joy on Denny’s face as he unpacks his shoebox. There is stuff in it he needs – he really likes the feel of clean teeth so he is excited to find toothpaste and a toothbrush along with the stuffed bear. He cuddles the bear all day and sleeps with it every night for the next two years.
The simple gifts we send in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes shine Jesus’ light in places of extreme hardship and gives their families the opportunity to learn about Jesus from strangers thousands of miles away.
In modern Israel, those who are not Jewish find life a challenge. It’s difficult for Palestinian Christians; even harder for Palestinian Muslims. Unemployment is high, about 25%. Augusta Victoria Hospital in Bethlehem is a place that works hard to make life a little easier for Palestinians. They train nurses, office workers, custodians, kitchen help, and others, so out-of-work people can get job skills and find employment or even create their own small businesses. They use some of their land for soccer fields, so youth have a safe area and opportunities for recreation and exercise.
Miriam is a breast cancer patient who lives in the Gaza Strip, 50 miles and two unfriendly borders away, where medical care is limited and medications are in short supply. Miriam has learned that she can get inexpensive housing so she can stay in Bethlehem for the weeks or months of treatment without having to cross multiple barriers several times a week in order to get the medical care she needs.
Augusta Victoria Hospital is using a holistic approach to health care, and changing lives for thousands of people. The Hospital shines Jesus’ light on Miriam and on all who need care, no matter what their faith is. We here in Florida are part of their ministry, because the hospital is a ministry of the ELCA.
We hold our candles high on Christmas Eve and shine our light – Jesus’ light – into the darkened sanctuary. We don’t need candles to shine Jesus’ light far and wide every single day with the simple gifts we offer those in need in many ways. Jesus’ light shines through us into homes in our community, into homes in Haiti, Africa, Asia, and South America, and in Augusta Victoria Hospital in Bethlehem, in modern Israel.
Please pray with me. Light of the world, we pray with all the Bettys, Dennys, and Miriams in the world for your light to shine with holy power, and banish the darkness forever. Shine through us, that all may know you and your love for them. Amen