Worship ~ 28 January

Last week, we heard briefly about Nicodemus who comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He holds on for nine verses in a bewildering conversation with Jesus before he fades again into the night from whence he came. This week narrates the next encounter with Jesus. He is in Samaria. The reading tells us it was necessary for him to pass through Samaria. It wasn’t, actually. He could easily have skirted this territory of Samaritans. But, it was “necessary” for the insights it gives into the nature of God’s love.

Nicodemus comes as a person of authority and standing. He is a man, and a Pharisee – a leader of the Jews. He has a name. Nicodemus is a person inside (and integral to) the religious loop; one who represents the community’s best judgment. But, he comes to Jesus at night.

By comparison, this woman comes not to Jesus, but to the well. She’s on about her daily business. Jesus has positioned himself there – walking through Samaria for some purpose of his own design – it was more direct, but also more dangerous. Anyway, the Woman arrives without a name; her identity is obscured by descriptions of her exclusion. As a Samaritan, her people are marginalized by Jews for their lack of ethnic purity and for their worship tradition of believing Mt Gerazim to be sacred ground. 

As a woman, she lives her daily life in the shadows of her own marginalized status: work that goes nowhere, and relationships much like her work. One marriage dissolves into the next, without much to show for it, like drawing water from an old well, only to return the next day out of need and emptiness. But she has terrific qualities like curiosity and confidence: she speaks to Jesus under the sweltering heat of a midday sun and she holds her own.

Unlike Nicodemus, who sneaks through the streets of Jerusalem in shadows, this dialogue dances in broad daylight, raising eyebrows almost immediately: “How is it that you, a Jew, asks a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” she asks. The disciples seem to be just as shocked by this conversation when they stumble into it midway.

The contrasts between these stories illustrate John’s themes of darkness and light, seeing and faith, secrecy and truth telling.

My hometown Methodist pastor, Ray Robinson, used to end each service saying: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!” 

It might be a good practice— or now, as preparation and as context for what we are about to hear: “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.” 

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

We begin today at a well. It’s not just any old well; we are told it’s Jacob’s old well. 

Every detail, every symbol in John, is crafted intentionally.  Jacob’s well was the assurance of God’s provision for ancient Israel. It is still in existence today, some 4000 years after Jacob acquired the land, nearly 2000 years after this gospel was written. The well has not run dry.  It lies within an Orthodox monastery in the West Bank. It is a symbol even now of living water, that fills to the brim and runneth over.

Jesus is sitting there, by the well, while the disciples go into the town for food. 

A woman approaches. A conversation ensues. 

If these readings weren’t separated by weeks between Sundays, we would still be hearing echoes of that boisterous wedding in Cana where water drawn from a well transfigured into amazingly fine wine. These two stories are the only times the terms for ‘water jar’ and ‘drawing from a well’ are used in the whole of the New Testament. John’s repetition is not by accident.

The storyteller’s fun begins with Jesus sitting at this well asking for a drink. The woman doesn’t know what we know about Cana. She just knows that it’s odd for a man to ask a woman for a drink, and he’s a Jewish man besides, and so would never touch a Samaritan’s ladle or water jug or personage, and what is he doing sitting alone by our well in the first place, she wonders?

Jesus’ reference to living water is a play on words in Greek, continuing the baffling trend of his conversation with Nicodemus. Living water can mean water that is flowing (a stream or creek or spring rather than a pond or pool or puddle). It can mean fresh water rather than salt (the Sea of Galilee rather than the salty Dead Sea), and, it also can mean “alive.”  The woman first understands Jesus to be referring to water from the well – and asks how he plans to give her this interesting gushing, living water without a bucket. Clearly he would need to pull off some kind of miracle — implying that he couldn’t possibly pull off some kind of miracle.  And, as though the answer is devastatingly obvious, she then asks if he is greater than their ancestor Jacob, who gave them the well in the first place. 

Jesus misdirects, leaving the well behind, changing the imagery to a gushing spring, eternal, life giving, glorious water.

And unlike Nicodemus, who wasn’t able to shift categories that quickly, the woman tracks along with him.  She quickly realizes that this is not ordinary water Jesus is talking about – and impulsively? intuitively? asks for it, not waiting to understand.

And that is a key feature — of this story, and in the contrast with Nicodemus, and is the thrust of the gospel of John. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Jesus says this at the very end, when Thomas has touched Jesus’ crucifixion wounds and finally confesses his belief. “I’m glad for you, Thomas,” Jesus says, “but Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

Because, that’s what gospels are supposed to do — create faith in those who were not there, who did not see, who could not come around at night and ask questions, who have only this word, this living Word to go by, and yet, who come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God, and that God raised him from death, and will do so for all believers when time is completed.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about the gospel of John (I should probably stop saying that about the Bible), but even so, this is the gospel that gets to me, whose characters and stories resonate and seem to dwell within me. This is the gospel that doesn’t quite let me go. It has created faith in me. I’m curious about how that goes for you – if it is this or another gospel, or something from Paul’s writing, or… What is it that creates and sustains faith in you? I would love to have that conversation. *

As soon as the woman asks for living water, the conversation shifts to her living, and Jesus tells her everything she has ever done, as she later tells her townspeople.  

Although Jesus seems to know everything about her sequential marriages, he offers not one word of judgment. He asks for no repentance; no confession of sin. He doesn’t ask her to explain herself, to justify her existence. None of that…. His knowledge of her is about something other than condemnation. Perhaps it is compassion, perhaps it’s recognizing the abuse and secret shame too many women harbor and would rather hide than confess or be confronted with at midday, in the town’s center, by a stranger. Whatever Jesus’ motivation, what he gives her is pure invitation.

If we bear in mind that “seeing,” in John, is both belief and vision, then the story itself becomes a word play. When the woman says, “I see you are a prophet,” she is not awkwardly deflecting her embarrassment and shame, nor is she making a joke; she’s making an insightful confession of faith.

Jesus has “seen” her.  He has recognized her, spoken to her, offered her something of incomparable worth. She exists for him, has value and significance. This is not how men and women, strangers, Jews and Samaritans interact! And so when he speaks of her past without malice or a come-on, she is startled into seeing him differently, and the conversation is allowed to take another turn.  

 She risks asking the central question that had divided Samaritans and Jews for centuries: where is the proper place of worship? Where does the presence of God abide – on Mt. Gerazim or in the temple in Jerusalem? This is no awkward dodge or diversion. It’s a heartfelt question that gets to the core of what separates her from Jesus.

The hour is coming, and is now here”, he says, “when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”  I love that line. the Father seeks such as these

She leaves her water jar behind and runs to tell her neighbors about this man.

What is life-changing for the woman – according to her – is that she has been entirely known by him. Jesus performed no miracle, he didn’t produce the living water. He talked to her. He looked her in the eyes. He saw her. I think, at some level, this is what we all long for. To be known and accepted. Perhaps you can understand how this would transform “the woman.” She doesn’t tell her people, “I have met someone who said “I am God, I am the Lord!’” (even though he did, and that would have caused some kind of stir). She says, “He has told me everything about my life – he has seen me.” That’s what impressed her, being known, being seen through, with no judgment, no criticism, no pity, no blame. And this being known, this way of loving, enabled her to know him. This is the first time, the first person, to whom Jesus says, “Ego eimi, I am” – the name of God.

The extraordinary twist of this story is not simply that Jesus is kind to her – a mis-married Samaritan woman at a well – the twist is that she becomes a witness for him.    She’s not certain that Jesus is the Christ, but she doesn’t let that stop her. She moves beyond her doubt and surprise to questions, to figuring-this-out engagement, to intuition that might be called inspiration.   The woman at the well is a better disciple than the whole lot of them at this point; and a better example for us to follow. 

She shows us that faith is about conversation not conversion, it’s a communal, organic, drawing-in from where ever someone stands. It’s about growth and change. It is not about having all the answers. If we think we have the answers, if we are content with our old images and formulations, if we believe more in our own convictions about Jesus or God than in the possibility of new information and inspiration, then we will be left trying to defend those stagnant beliefs, to bolster them up, to protect our faith from life and change. We will take after Nicodemus.

Life doesn’t stand still: neither can faith. Not even when we want it to.

While Nicodemus’s last questioning words to Jesus expose his disbelief, “How can this be?” the last words of the woman, also posed as a question, lead her people to find out for themselves, to discover, to encounter, to invite Jesus to stay/abide and dwell with them as God stays/abides and dwells in him.  “Come see,” she says, echoing what Jesus said to his brand new disciples. “He cannot be the Messiah, the Christ, the coming one…. can he?”

In the presence of the “light of the world,” she leaves behind her “ordinary” to share in the extraordinary news of the one who sees us truly and deeply, who loves us as we are, and who commissions us to have the courage and the wherewithal to drop anything that isn’t that extraordinary, and go share this good news, this vision of love, with others who stand in need.

The light shines in the darkness…

Sermon ~ 21 January

The gospel according to John, chapter 3

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ 

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— 24John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ 27John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” 29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.’

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.


I have to say I identify with Nicodemus. I totally understand one who would choose to come after dark, trying to catch Jesus alone and in a more relaxed, conversational mode. Nothing of who Jesus is or what he says is straightforward. Nicodemus came so he could ask questions and try to get things clear in his own head. A public speech is better than a book or searching scripture, but sometimes you need to have a conversation. 

I want to be able to sit across the table from a financial retirement advisor, or medical insurance policy broker, or  accountant, or an architect or electrician or plumber. There aren’t many things I understand thoroughly in my own being, and if I have to make a big decision, a life consequence decision, I want to look in someone’s eyes and read their body language and catch the nuances in their tone of voice and draw things out on paper and take notes and have the details held up to scrutiny. I want to feel I can trust, not only the information, but the person who is relaying the information; one to one. 

It was not obvious from outward appearances that Jesus was God in the flesh. That assurance or realization had to happen in person.

I have a lot of sympathy for Nicodemus and I hope it turned out well for him in the end. I feel like I have something at stake in his story.

This is my problem with the gospel of John: I am not a black and white, yes or no, make a decision and never look back kind of person. I doubt and second guess and wonder and come up with a stack of possibilities and contingencies and alternatives to consider. Decisions are often made because my options have timed out, not because I’ve chosen one. It’s not a great way of navigating life. It’s mushy and uncertain and involves passive, fearful inactivity. There’s more hope than assurance.

The gospel of John doesn’t allow for any of that. It’s all words with double meanings and misdirection and urgency to say yes or no. It makes me anxious. Existentially anxious. And I have 2000 years between me and the urgency. The book of Revelation also says something disparaging about lukewarm Christians, but, again, they were expecting the return of Jesus and the end of time to happen any day, within their lifetimes. We’ve had 2000 years of waiting, and, looking around the room, a life of privilege, to dull that sharp gospel edge.

Modern American Christianity has nothing in common with Christianity in first century Palestine. We don’t know what we’re reading when we read the gospels. We trust that the Holy Spirit works some kind of miracle in making connections and bridges, but honestly, we are fully enmeshed in white privileged, comfortable spirituality. We, most of us, don’t take these words seriously. We are good enough, faithful enough. We are peaceful, fairly low on the commercialization and exploitation continuum. We are good people making our way the best we can. 

In this status, in our situation, what is it that faith means, or does, or necessitates?

What does it mean to claim belief that Jesus is the son of God? What are we looking for? What are the consequences of that statement?  For us, the consequences are likely minimal. There is no risk. Possibly some embarrassment, but no risk. For Nicodemus, it would turn his world upside-down. Everything he knew (or thought he knew), every relationship, every future avenue would be altered or closed or challenged.   What is our role in God’s design, I wonder? Are we okay, or are we missing something, like Nicodemus, and don’t know to be startled or disoriented?

Tucked in-between the story of Nicodemus in his night encounter and the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at a well at mid-day, is this little episode of John the Baptist. This is the last time we hear from John. It’s an odd little passage in that it seems unnecessary. We aren’t given new information — John reminds his followers of what he has already said — except for the center sentences. And maybe there is something in here for us.

“The friend of the bridegroom (John), who stands and hears him (Jesus), rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice,” John says. “For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 
30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John played the same role as the Bethlehem star of Matthew’s gospel. The star rose and shone over the place where Jesus was, drawing magi from the east (strangers, gentiles), to come see and worship Christ with gifts fitting for his death. The magi returned to their own land, and the star that had shone for three years faded back into the night sky. In this gospel, it is John who prepares the way, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John,” the prologue says. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”  

Here, it is John who draws people to the place where Jesus is, announces him, points him out. And now, like the star diminishing in the night sky, he fades. But the words he uses are packed. John is a prophet and the Hebrew prophets frequently use marriage and bridegroom imagery to describe God’s desired relationship with the beloved people, and there was that wedding in Cana, Jesus’ first sign. So being the best man is telling.  But more than that is the word “must.” Dei in Greek. It’s used only 8 times in John. It can mean “ought to” or “should” as it does in other places in scripture. But this gospel gives it a kind of cosmic superpower. The only way that time can roll on is under the conditions set by the word “must”.

3:13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.     We just read that.

The lead-in to the Samaritan woman’s story says Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee, 4but it was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria. (It’s the same Greek word, dei)

Jesus himself uses it,4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

And after Jesus is not found in the empty tomb:

8The other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” 

So, my point is to show that this word John uses has the weight of God’s eternal plan infused in it. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Not ‘should’ or ought to’ – it is necessary; necessary for the implementation of God’s strategy. 

John had a role — a big role — in the history of salvation. He rose to the moment and then, by necessity, he faded from the story. He performed his God-given task and went on to live the rest of his short life, not diminished, but with the task completed. “It is finished” are Jesus’ final words from the cross in John’s gospel. It is necessarily completed.

The image on the bulletin cover shows lights coming on as evening’s darkness falls across the earth. We can imagine how many households, how many businesses, how many streetlights are represented in the spots of light making them bright enough to appear. So now, imagine that they are the lights of Christ, the light of ordinary Christians doing their necessary bit in the salvation story that continues to play on and on as the light and darkness roll continuously over the face of the earth. It may be that they are not even aware of their shining. It may be that it is a great burden or sacrifice. It may be a one time light a flash in the night, or one that shines on and on always there to guide the way in their location, their community.

As demanding of belief as this gospel is, there are also these ebbs and flows, fading away and coming back into view. Nicodemus makes two more appearances – one in subtle defense of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and the last in assisting Joseph of Arimathea in laying Jesus’ body in the tomb. We aren’t told about his faith, but he shows up again. And if it is by necessity that Jesus dies, the necessity is so that God’s mercy may flow to all who are not worthy or ready or decided in their righteousness and faith. The gospel makes demands, but the point of the good news is so that grace may abound, so that our joy may be complete. So that our part is taken up into the whole, unafraid.

Sermon ~ 14 January

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.                                                       

     In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”     

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”   Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 

 But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.            John 2:13-24

There are differences between the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, of course — a lot of them — but they are more similar to each other than they are different, and they are based on a similar sequence of events. John is not. John is quite different. 

John was written late in the New Testament period, and, if we might imagine the others to be snapshots of the events of Jesus’ life, John would be a stained glass window. It’s stylized, it has a different way of telling the story. John is not a historical look at Jesus. It is a theological mosaic. The difference being, it is more clearly about God revealed in Jesus, the divine Word that has become flesh and dwells among us, and it is less about Jesus, the child of Mary, through whom the power of God is at work. I don’t know if you get that distinction, but the author of John took the characters and stories that he had heard, that he found to witness to the experience of the resurrected Christ, and arranged them to tell the story. It’s a step removed from Luke’s orderly recounting of Jesus’ life – like a stained glass window is a step removed from photography.

This temple clearing episode, for example, shows up at the end of the other gospels, just a few days before Jesus’ death. It’s his last Passover. He goes to the temple and clears out the moneychangers saying they have made his father’s house a den of thieves. 

In John, though, this appears as the second story of the gospel. It is told way at the beginning because it defines his ministry and his identity. The sequence of events in John is that Jesus is baptized in the Jordan (but we just hear about it from John, we don’t see it), he calls his first disciples, they attend a wedding in the town of Cana, and then they go to Jerusalem for Passover. All faithful Jews who could manage it, came to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover. 

The mention of Passover is a little tip-up flag. John the Baptist (just a few paragraphs earlier) called Jesus the Lamb of God. The first passover was in Egypt, when the blood of a firstborn lamb without mark or blemish was to be painted on the lintel and doorframe of the Israelite’s homes. Because of that blood, the final plague passed over them. The blood of the slaughtered lamb saved them from death. 

Jesus, the Lamb of God, comes to the temple for Passover. Spoiler alert! This event is paired back to back with an extraordinary outpouring of grace in water turned to wine at a marriage feast.  John pairs stories this way and overlaps layers of imagery from Hebrew scriptures to give us a full, thick, rich picture in such a way that we know what’s coming at the end of the gospel long before any word is directly spoken about it. He uses imagery and allusions the way a film maker uses the soundtrack and flashbacks to tell a story beneath the visual story appearing on the screen.

Back to the temple. It was huge. Within the stone walls, besides the temple itself, were marble courtyards for women, and a courtyard for gentiles – because neither of those groups could go into the sanctuary. It had various pools for ritual washing and healing using the Roman aqueduct system to bring in fresh water and fountains. It had gathering places for the elders to discuss and argue scripture, and a courtyard for rabbinical teaching to boys. It had stalls for buying food and the items that would be offered as sacrifices – so that people didn’t have to walk their lamb or bull, or carry their doves and olive oil all the way from Galilee and points beyond.  The market stalls were there as a convenience for pilgrims coming to worship; a necessity, really. Money changers exchanged the Roman and Greek coins of normal commerce for special coins that were acceptable within the temple for offerings. This was standard practice. The gospel of Matthew implies that the moneychangers and animal sellers made undue profits.  We can easily picture the venders at the state fair or a professional ball game and have an idea of the price gouging going on. But, in John, Jesus doesn’t call it a den of thieves. The motivation is different.

“Making a whip of cords, he drove them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. (I want to stress that detail, he did not drive out the people or use the whip on anyone, despite the clipart you may have seen). He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

It shouldn’t be a marketplace – the goods of God aren’t for sale or trade; the mercy, the love of God doesn’t have a price  (although Jesus’ life will be traded for 30 pieces of silver.)  The wrangling over the price of a sacrifice for the forgiveness of a sin, or a blessing of grain and oil – all of this transaction stops now. Not because it’s unjust, but because it is unnecessary… because Jesus is the new temple. Jesus is the dwelling place, the meeting place of God among people.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is dismantling institutional atonement. When they said, “What justification or authority, what sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  They said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” Of course they are confused, but we’re catching on to something – and this is the second time we’ve heard about three days.

The first temple, the one Solomon built that was covered in gold, was destroyed and looted in 587 BC during the Babylonian exile. It was rebuilt, though not as grandly, beginning 71 years later. It is this second 500 year old temple that Herod the Great began rebuilding 20 years before Jesus was born. Herod enlarged the temple mount, added fortifications to expand it’s footprint on the top of Mount Moriah and rebuilt the entire temple. Work continued after Herod the Great’s death and was completed by Herod Aggripa just 6 years before the Romans destroyed the whole works in 70 AD. It was a monumental building project, under construction for the whole of Jesus life and beyond. And Jesus said, “destroy it and I’ll raise it up in three days.” And then the narrator gives it away: 

“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus is the temple. And this is the beginning of his ministry. The Temple, the indwelling presence and place of God on earth is he, himself. John the Baptist twice called him the Lamb of God, and where Jesus is present, the temple is no longer necessary. If his questioners had been quick enough to understand that that was his meaning, the gospel would have been a lot shorter. He would not have lived another three years. Think of what it means for the commerce of Jerusalem if the Temple is no longer necessary. If all you need is a relationship with Jesus. 

After Passover and their escape from Egypt, the presence of God travelled with the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire. In the wilderness, God’s presence remained with them in a tent called the tabernacle, and then later in the arc of the covenant as David moved it to Jerusalem (still in the tent) and eventually his son Solomon housed the arc in the gilded temple. The scriptures say the temple is where God – or God’s name – chooses to dwell.  

In the temple in Jerusalem, a chosen priest entered the holy of holies – an inner chamber – only once a year on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals offered as ransom for the people. The temple is recognition that people need places to meet, places to be when they are seeking God’s presence in worship and prayer.

The prologue to John says Jesus is the Word of God that has become flesh and is dwelling among us (the word in Greek is tabernacling); just like the presence of God was with us in exile, so it is with us in Jesus. Dwelling in a simple tent. Not marble, not stone, but flesh like ours. No courtyards keeping women and outsiders at a distance, no more healing pools to lay beside hoping to be the first one into the water after it’s surface has been ruffled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, no more transactions and sacrifices to pay for God’s blessing or mercy. Jesus is the temple. Where Jesus is, God is.

That’s why John places this story at the beginning of the gospel. We are supposed to hold all of this imagery and background information — Lamb of God, Passover, exile, the Temple and it’s sacrificial exchange for the expiation of sin, with the memory of finest wine filling giant stone jars to the brim, the wedding feast — all of that gets packed in together at the beginning to tell us who this Jesus is, and why we should keep reading, keep leaning in to see where the story goes. John is trying to tell an irresistible story, so that we become irresistible witnesses to what happens when God comes to earth and dwells among us.

It does suggest a question as we sit in this beautiful little church where we perform the duties and rituals and sacraments of our particular faith tradition. Does it help— this church?  Where do we meet God? Where do you encounter God’s presence, in what ways are you awakened to God’s spirit? If Jesus is the temple, the final transaction in the commerce of God’s grace, then meeting Jesus is what the gospel of John is trying to help us accomplish. That might happen here, now and then.

One of the classic insights from the medieval mystics is that God is in all things and all things in God. So, if you’re looking for a relationship with the God who made you, you might encounter God – everywhere, anywhere. 

Perhaps, though, at some point that in-the-world generality isn’t enough, doesn’t satisfy the communal part of our natures. Perhaps we also need a way to be with others who are also seeking the reality of God’s presence. 

Where have you experienced the meeting place of heaven and earth in your life? Have you felt compassion, inclusive hospitality, healing, real welcome and nurturing? Have you found acceptance from others when you can’t even love yourself? Have you experienced that? In our church? At work? In a relationship or conversation? In a crisis? In the midst of some kind of service done for others? In a chance moment? 

Where, when have you known the transformative power of the risen Christ – forgiveness for all the crap you carry around, all the hurt, all the guilt, the suppression of your spirit…

Where have you felt  redeeming love beyond reason, deep joy, and peace? Maybe through music or nature or a shared love… 

Have you felt that, experienced any of that? And if so, did you, could you, share it with someone – tell your story, act out of your story? Living a new life and inviting someone else to share in it, is to say “This is what I found, come and see.” 

God’s love calls each of us to be engaged and engaging. And, God’s love for all makes that a  challenge.  It might— probably does — call us into a new relationship with ourselves, our maker, and with our world.

So in the quiet space following the sermon, try to recall your experience of dwelling in God’s love, of feeling yourself to be changed. — Retell it to yourself, remember when it was and what it felt like… hold it in mind, abide within that wonderful Word of God tenting among us. And afterward, with a bracing cup of coffee in hand, ask someone about their story. 

Sermon ~ 7 January

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

One thing you should know about the gospel of John is that it’s a bit like an onion: It is dense; it is intense; and the gospel flavors all of Christian worship – hymns, liturgy – the imagery and language of John is everywhere. But, more to the point, like an onion, John peels off in layers …

If you’re holding an onion, you can examine one layer at a time, or you can cut it in half and see the layers in cross section. It might help to keep that imagery in mind as we make our way through John because at any point in the story or in a conversation with Jesus, what started out on the surface, like a layer you can read and peel off, suddenly becomes a cross-section and you realize that you’re way down deep in this onion. You’re on a different ring altogether than where you started. Jesus is forever talking past people. Someone introduces a topic of conversation and Jesus responds, but after two or three exchanges they don’t know what the topic is anymore …. and we barely do.  John gives his readers insider information, but it can still be confusing. 

We are handed an onion today. “On the third day there was a wedding…” Within the narrative, it is the third day after Jesus invited a small flock of disciples to follow him from Jerusalem to Galilee. But we who know the story can’t hear, “on the third day” without hearing echoes of that other third day when, just at daybreak, in another way and toward another end, Jesus came and changed despair into rejoicing.   So the very first sentence of the very first story that is told to reveal God’s glory in and through Jesus, brings us to the very thing the whole gospel points us toward – which is the ending – his crucifixion and resurrection – which is Jesus’ hour – and the full revelation of the glory and power of God.

But back to the story. It’s a nice setting: Jesus, his mother, and the disciples have somehow all gotten invited to a wedding in a little town in Galilee. In the ancient world wedding celebrations could last for several days – up to a week. I don’t know what they did all that time. I’ve always heard that traditional Polish weddings last for three days, and I do think I know what they do: Eat, drink, and polka. Not necessarily in that order. It’s a party! I’m not sure I can picture anyone at our family weddings still standing on the third day. But, back to the Bible before I get myself in trouble!

As we enter this scene in Cana, we hear distressing news: the wine is gone. Jesus’ mother announces that fact the way mothers do. “The sink’s full of dirty dishes.”  “The laundry needs to be folded.” “The speed limit is 55.” “The wine is gone.” It’s not a request, exactly, but it is said in such a way that implies action is expected on your part. It’s a statement of fact not really intended to share information so much as it is to share labor – or to initiate the guilt of inactivity.

“They have no wine,” she says…and probably gives him that look, because Jesus responds, “Woman, what does that have to do with you or me?”

Now, I can’t tell you how much paper has been used interpreting this one sentence. I’ll cut to the chase and say it is not a statement of hostility or disrespect toward his mom. But it is interesting. Jesus’ mother is only mentioned twice in the gospel of John. You will remember that there is no birth story in John – we meet Jesus for the first time when John the Baptist points him out to the Pharisees and scribes on the banks of the Jordan River during the baptism stuff. And this is the first mention of his mother, who is never even named in the gospel of John. The only other time we hear of her is at the foot of the cross in chapter 19. “Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.28After this, knowing that all was now finished, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

The only two times Jesus’ mother is identified he calls her “Woman.” It may be odd, but it’s not uncaring. And more interesting is the fact that she is at the beginning and the end. It is beautifully written that she brackets his life, surrounds his earthly ministry. The Madonna and Pieta. She initiates his ministry now by telling him there is no wine and she is his last thought before he drinks the sour wine offered to him on a sponge on the cross. Perhaps this treatment of Mary is a reminder that whenever Jesus reveals his divinity, he is simultaneously revealing something about his humanity. We are intended to remember that he is a human son of God. Both.

So how many layers of this onion have we cut through? And we haven’t even begun the story!

The Woman says, “They have no wine.” Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.” The Woman says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

She doesn’t know what he will do, she doesn’t know what hour he’s talking about, but she knows that he will do something. She has faith ahead of the fact. The disciples have faith once they see what happens. This knowing /seeing dynamic shows up fairly often in the gospel – notably, in the upper room at the end of the gospel after Jesus’ hour has come. He appears to the disciples again for the sake of Thomas and says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Blessed is his mother.

Now, standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

Six stone jars. How long would it have taken to draw 150 gallons of water from a well, carrying it bucket by bucket to the jars, pouring it in, returning and repeating this until the jars are spilling over? Just think of it! I’m struck by the compliance of these servants, based on the word of a woman, one of the guests, not even someone from the household with authority, but a woman without a name, telling them to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they did it even when it turned out to be this laborious job! How many trips did they make? But they filled the jars to the brim. In a courtyard of an un-noteable family, in a nothing-much little town somewhere in Galilee, the glory of God, the over-flowing, out-pouring, unfathomable abundance of the finest wine appeared in stone jars – – unknown to everyone at the party except Jesus, his mother, his disciples …  and the servants. 

When, in Mary’s magnificent Magnificat, she says that the poor are raised and the mighty made low –  maybe this is what she’s talking about— this kind of sneaky thing— where it doesn’t happen by violence, by overthrowing the powerful with greater power, by out-blustering the bullies. But more like a mustard seed.  The wealthy, the mighty at the wedding don’t know they are made low. The “first” don’t realize they’re suddenly left out and “last” and clueless. In fact, the likely confused wine steward compliments the bridegroom on his unconventional distribution of wine in saving the best for last instead of using the general state of inebriation as occasion to bring out the box of Franzia. The steward doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. The bridegroom doesn’t know why he’s being complimented. The invited guests don’t see. Based on Rozumalski weddings, the guests wouldn’t even have noticed! 

But the servants know. The slaves see. The lowest are suddenly ushered into the kingdom of God, suddenly they are raised off their feet in wonder —made to be insiders to the power of God in great stone jars of wine. 

If we are to find ourselves in this story, I think we are the stone jars. I’d like to think we are the servants: those who take the word we are given, and do the task placed upon us, no matter how hard, how time consuming, how vexing; those who help reveal the miracle of God’s word as a reality in the world. 

But… I think really, we are more often the jars. Big, old stone jars standing along the wall in the shade, self-contained – that is to say – empty. Until we are filled, and the wonder happens within. 

That’s not a terrible thing. The stone jars filled with simple water become the medium of a miracle. Water, wine, the wedding feast, brimming vessels poured out. We are the ones from whom others may dip to find refreshment and joy and new life. 

In this story, the wine’s the thing that reveals God’s glory, that reveals the power of God’s transformative, creative work through Jesus. The jars are an inanimate, passive part of the scenery until they are filled. But stone jars filled to overflowing with good wine ushers in the wedding feast at which Christ is the true bridegroom. Being the vessels holding this wine is not an insignificant role to play: a whole lot of water becomes a whole lot of wine.

The amount of wine that Jesus produces may seem like a fabled exaggeration, but this exaggerated amount is precisely why John introduces Jesus with this story. God’s presence now fills the world up to the brim, spilling over, running down. The extravagance of water to wine symbolizes the “fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” that was promised in the prologue.  Jesus told the disciples to follow him and they would see greater things than his  mysterious ability to identify Nathanael from under a fig tree. Greater things have just come into view.

Another part of this story that is significant and often overlooked is that it an occasion of joy. In the gospel of John, Jesus comes of age in an everyday, regular kind of special occasion. It’s a wedding. It’s not a miraculous healing of some awful disease, or the exorcism of a terrible demon, or a sermon preached from the scroll of Isaiah… Jesus is the conduit of God’s power at a happy, slightly raucous, very human event. A party. 

The Christian community has not historically been good at joy. It was pointed out by one commentator that the Sad Danes actually believed that joy was incompatible with the life of Christ. That is sad. But this first act, the first signpost of the glory of God is placed at a joyful, robust, slightly out of control wedding. On the surface layer of this onion, it is a story about a regular occasion of life.  “Come and see,” Jesus had told them – this is what they saw. A wedding party and, almost in secret, water turned into wine to help the celebration continue. In the story the wine serves no further purpose, but in the process we see Jesus’ glory, the weighty splendor of God, and the one sent by God to bring redemption to the world. This is the inaugural story pointing us to how God is in the world, how God works: sneakily, invisibly, powerfully, and where we don’t even know to look, so that, perhaps, we will look everywhere.

“That my joy may be in you,” Jesus says later in the story, “so that your joy may be complete.”

Pretty cool.

Sermon ~ 31 December

John 1:1-27 

1 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. 

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 

14 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. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”  And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”  Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,  the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Back in the day, Creation was God’s delight. God was seen in the words that God spoke into Being in light and darkness, water and dry land, plants and flowers and creatures of all kinds. Eden, in it’s perfection, was to be the way in and through which humans came to know the nature of God, to be in relationship with God, to dwell with God. God walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve… until the forbidden fruit thing happened. 

Then lots of time passed in which God attempted to find new ways of relating, of capturing the hearts of these strange and wonderful human beings. Trial and error on God’s part – God admitted to Noah that the flood was a mistake. Along the way, God’s Word encouraged and chided, God’s Word was revealed in the 10 commandments given to Moses, God’s Word was given to prophets to speak. But there remained an unbridgeable distance between God and human responsiveness.  Something new was called for.  A re-configuration, a re-orientation was needed. So God spoke again. 

One definition of the word “word” is “that by which the inward thought is expressed.” Jesus is that inward thought of God, expressed in human form, the Word that became flesh. 

In this gospel, more than in the others, Jesus’ birth – Jesus coming – as light into the darkness is a new creation: it is God’s reboot of the earthly enterprise. We are starting again, not with creation of new stuff as in the very beginning, but within the very DNA of what already is. 

If Jesus signifies this new creation – if Jesus is the new Word that God spoke into being – through which God’s way and will and nature are revealed – then John signifies the new Adam, the new Noah, the new Moses.  John is the new template of human interaction and response,  he becomes our quintessential guide. 

In this Gospel, John is not portrayed as a fiery prophet out in the desert wearing camel hair, eating grasshoppers and honey, preaching a message of repentance, and baptizing awestruck crowds into the kingdom of God. That’s not this John. He is here because he is us, because he is our model for what we are to do. This is John the Witness. The Orthodox Church calls him John the Forerunner. A man sent from God, to go before Jesus and to go in front of us as a guide.

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’Make straight the way of the Lord,'” …I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing for this reason, that he might be revealed.”“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. “I did not know, but I have seen, and have come to believe, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The rest of the gospel will play with this dynamic of sight, word, truth, light, darkness and speech. 

We are introduced to the disciples who say to each other, “Come and See.” We’ll soon meet Nicodemus who comes to see Jesus under cover of darkness, and – in reversal – the Samaritan woman who sees Jesus ‘at the village well’ at mid-day. She runs to tell her people, many of whom come to believe through her testimony. If, at the end of the gospel, you repeat this phrase, “I did not know, but I have seen, and have come to believe,” then the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the Word of God that dwells among us, will have accomplished its goal.    At least one of them.

Because – as evidenced by John the baptizing Witness –  enlightenment isn’t simply for our own sake or our own benefit. The gospels do not teach the privatization of faith. 

They teach testimony. I know that is not a comfortable concept for most of us, but still, it’s true. It’s also why we appreciate Saint Francis as one who championed living the word of testimony, speaking it only when necessary. We like that better. And that’s fine.

Because it’s not only what we say when we come to see who Christ is in our lives that matters to the author of this gospel – it’s alsowhat the Word compels us to do. It is an enlightening word that can’t be contained, or damped down, or kept to one’s self.

In this gospel, we don’t hear much of what John said or preached. We don’t learn what he looked like or wore or ate. That’s all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). In iconography, John is often pointing with his forefinger. That was his calling. He pointed Jesus out to others. He showed them the one to follow. 

Words without relationship are kind of pointless in our day. There are too many words and too many of them are questionable. But, if our actions can speak for us, if our life patterns and purposes are pointers, sign posts, indicators that we have something life-giving and beautiful to share, some source of living water, some light to shine, then we, too, are using our “voice” to speak of God’s Word among us.

The first disciples run after Jesus and chatter in excited ways about him (once John points him out). He is the Son of God, the Lamb of God, he is Rabbi (which means teacher). He the Messiah (which means the anointed or chosen one), he is the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, he is the son of Joseph from Nazareth (can anything good come out of Nazareth?), he is the friend, the bridegroom, the light, the vine, the good shepherd, he is the King of Israel, he is the Son of Man.

Why so many descriptors? 

Each disciple sees something different and bears witness in his or her own way. Each disciple comes with his or her own expectations and needs – one needed a teacher, another the messiah, another the fulfillment of scripture – and in their relationship each need was met. Who is Jesus? The disciples’ descriptors are only the beginning – Jesus promises that they will see greater things than these. And so shall we.

In this diversity of names we are prompted to expand our own perspectives of Jesus beyond preconceived categories and expectations; to stay open to surprises, and to other people’s – even other traditions’ – views as they help become revelatory of God’s identity, mission, and presence.

However, the image of God, the truth of Jesus is not totally subjective, either. It’s not simply up for grabs. It requires a community to configure it. It requires the joint effort to experience, to share and relate the revelation, the truth we individually have come to know. In telling and sharing and living, in the need that Christ fulfills and transcends for us, we – as a community – begin to know and to believe the fullness of grace.

We come to see the God we need, and a God who meets us in our neighbor; a life and light and truth that the world is very much in need of.

It is so appropriate that the reading comes to us on the last day of the year. A new year is coming.

In the midst of darkest and the shortest days of the year, we celebrate light. In faith, we bear witness to that light even when darkness would prevail. In the Word made flesh, there is the promise that in spite of all of the darkness of human enterprise, Christ’s light will shine, and the darkness will not overcome it.