The sermon for week January 03, 2016
The Paradox of LightMy name is Luke. Luke means “light” or “light giving.” And I was born on Epiphany, the day the wise men follow the light from the star and reach the infant Jesus.
The traditional text for Epiphany is the visit of the magi and the text from John. The Gospel of John starts with “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it.” That line stands out to me, a man named after light born on the celebration of light, for obvious reasons. It’s a great poetic image. Yet light is a funny thing. We think we know all about it, but it’s funny.
It’s funny because it changes as we study it. Early scientists debated if light was a particle or a wave. Turns out it’s both. It seems to change to fit what we’re looking for. If you’re looking for light to act as a particle, it will. If you test to see if it will act like a wave, it will. This caused Einstein to write "It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do." (Harrison)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is fully God and fully human. “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is a thunderclap. The theology of the day was “God is not here, God is perfect and pure and can’t be around the profane.” That’s why we need to beat ourselves silly, lay prostrate and pray our confessions and unworthiness, and have priests sacrifice animals on our behalf. God is wholly other. Yet John says that God became human and lived among us.
Two contradictory pictures of reality, two competing theologies. Is God wholly other and “out there” or is God infused in everything, closer to us than our next breath? How can we reconcile this? How can Jesus be fully divine and fully human?
We’ve had a mixed track record in trying to think of this paradox.
You've seen the shiny Christmas cards of the idyllic and serene depictions of the birth of Christ by Rembrandt and other great masters; all flowing robes and glowing halos. There’s the divinity. But you and I don’t glow from within, we’re gritty and real. Barns are dirty and smelly. Where’s the humanity?
John is playing a dangerous game here, mixing two things that traditionally don’t go together. The Jews and Muslims will both tell you that God cannot become a person and walk around. God is wholly other.
Many Christians have then gone the other way. Jesus was just human. Not God. This has been present throughout Christianity, especially in the Deists of the 1600s and the Unitarians of the 1700s. Many of us may believe that too. Jesus was just a great teacher who pointed to God, but wasn’t God. Scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan agree with this. But where’s the divinity? There are far better teachers whom I can follow and choose from instead of a 2,000-year-old Palestinian from some backwater town with a questionable birth. Why bother then?
John sees something more. The early Christians saw something more. John places Jesus in the same realm as God, co-creator, the incarnate God. I used to hate the Gospel of John. It repeats itself, it blames the Jews at every chance it gets, it repeats itself, and it didn’t follow the other gospels. But after wrestling with it, I changed how I look at John. I now read John as an invitation. John is both a love letter to Jesus and an invitation to become like Jesus.
John is telling us to join the Trinity. The early church picked up on this and had a concept called “theosis” or God-becoming. Richard Rohr explained this concept by saying, “The Eastern fathers of the Church believed that we could experience real and transformative union with God. This is in fact the supreme goal of human life and the very meaning of salvation--not only later, but now and later.” 'Theosis' accoding to UCC Pastor Mary Luti “is the idea that God emptied out to take humanity in. That God stooped down to raise us up. God accepted limits to dissolve the limits that made it seem as if God and humans are opposites.” (1)
Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373): "The Son of God became man that we might become god.... [It is] becoming by grace what God is by nature." Athanasius is almost directly quoting St. Irenaeus (125-203) who taught the same. Enter the dance of the Trinity, become one with the ground of your being, your creator and sustainer and be redeemed! This is the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Not that you’re a worthless and sinful worm destined for hell without Christ. NO! You’re invited to help bring heaven to earth! You’re invited to put down the weapons of war and violence and turn the other cheek, love and reconcile with your neighbor. Jesus is the light of the world: both like us and wholly other. Jesus is what we can aspire to, the best of what humanity has to offer and can become! In Christ, we’re invited to opt out of the game of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and instead be delivered into a world of universal belonging and universal connecting. We have words for this: shalom, peace and wholeness, heaven.
So that means that we, the church are called to become Christ-like, to put on the mind of Christ. This is easy enough to understand: love God and your neighbor as yourself. But it will take a lifetime to learn how to live this out. And it will take a community to be accountable to and loved by. Not even Jesus did this alone, he had 12 other men and a score of unnamed women around him.
You are both wave and particle. You are recycled stardust and you feast upon recycled sunlight. The bread and juice we are preparing to consume came from plants that eat sunlight. We are light and yet we are solid. I think it’s time for us to embrace the light, the darker the night, the brighter our light must be!
Shine in the dark of this atmosphere of racism and Islamophobia
Shine for peace in the dark of war-all-the-time
Shine in the dark of partisan politics
Shine in the dark of hate-filled religious rhetoric
Shine in the dark in your home
Shine when darkness comes on your job
Shine all around your neighborhood
Shine in the darkness of ignorance and creationism.
We know that we are both animal and divine. We are products of millions of years of evolution and successful parents. We are living genetic experiments. Experiments we are testing in labs and finding out the very gritty and dirty processes of birth, survival and death. And yet we have this spirit, we are divine as well. Look at the art and music we produce. Look at the beauty and love we release on the world. We cannot live by bread alone, we know there’s more and have for centuries. From the early people that took time out of surviving and painted on the walls of caves to our modern video game creators, it’s the same thing! Senseless beauty for no purpose but entertainment and beauty! We need to shine! It’s in our genetics!
We are Godly animals, we are divine beings. We are the same age as the universe, since matter cannot be destroyed! We are all shining paradoxes.
Who would think that what was needed to transform and save the earth, is you? It was a baby, a light that came into the world and grew up and reflected God and pointed to God and to many, many people was God-incarnate. Who would have come up with that plan?
Oh my fellow people of paradox, please accept your invitation to shine and reflect God to others. Please take joy so God does not have to appear to be stingy. Pray to be honest, strong and kind so that God is never miscast as a cruel great miser. For God is near. As near as the next thing of beauty that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, “WOW!” As near as your next great idea or epiphany. As near as your neighbor. As near as your next breath.
Harrison, David (2002). "Complementarity and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics". UPSCALE. Dept. of Physics, U. of Toronto.
Luti, Mary. “Divinized.” Wonder. Advent Devotional 2015.The still speaking writers’ group. 2015. Page 1.
Rohr, Richard “Theosis.” May 15, 2015.