Christmas Day – Let the Light In

Please read John 1:1-14

Recently I’ve been wearing these new “progressive lens” eye-glasses to help my vision. It’s taken some getting used to. For one thing, I can’t simply walk around looking at things in the same way anymore. There are a few things I’ve had to practice doing differently.

I’m grateful for these lenses. The glass functions to direct the rays of light in a certain way as to heighten clarity and focus. The glass lets the light refract through the lens to give me the best possible vision. Although it’s something I’ve had to get used to, it is a gift to have the opportunity to see better.

Learning to wear glasses for the first time is very much like learning how to “wear” the faith. After all, Saint Paul casts the image in his letter to the Galatians of learning to be “clothed with Christ”, to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). How do we “wear” our faith in Jesus the newborn king?

The first thing I’ve had to learn to do wearing my new glasses, is to look through a specific point on the glass, depending on whether I’m looking at something close to me or far away. I have to be intentional about where I look through the glass if I want clarity. I have to focus my sight.

I can’t just indiscriminately look at everything in my vision and expect to see all things clearly; these lenses don’t work that way. I have to prioritize my vision. And that means, I have to think about what I’m doing; and then I have to make choices.

At Christmas we proclaim that the “light of the world has now come” (John 1:9). Do I see this Light? God spoke through the prophet Isaiah as much to our world as his: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not see it?” (Isaiah 43:19) Do you see the Light of the world in your life and around you?

If at first I cannot see God in my life, I have to ask myself, “Am I looking in the right place?” Am I making choices, prioritizing what is important in my life, doing things that contribute to health and wholeness, accepting my limitations that I can’t “look at everything” and do everything?

The truth is, Jesus is called “Emmanuel” (Matthew 1:23), which means “God is with us.” The Light has come into the dark world, yet the darkness has not overcome it. If I can’t see clearly the Light of the world in my life, perhaps I’m not looking in the right place.

For one thing, Jesus is more likely to be found in the least expected places and people. Not just in the happy, successful places of pleasure, glory, comfort and joys of life. But especially in the unexpected places of our need, want, brokeness, failure and pain. The Christian God is not afraid to go into the dark places, after all.

Jesus was born in a dirty manger in a barn for animals in the middle of the night. Jesus – the Light of the world – was born surrounded by people of ill repute (those shepherds!) and foreigners from the East (those Magi – folks from other religions!) These are the people and places in whose midst Jesus first came.

Do you see Jesus in your life? Part of the answer to that question, I believe, depends on where you’re looking and the choices you make.

The second thing I’ve had to learn to wear my glasses well is: Don’t hide behind the glasses. Given my personality especially, I can easily fall into the trap of hiding behind my glasses and not looking at what is before me; either I want to deny the truth of what is before me, or I am afraid to engage it, or pretend it’s something that it is not.

For example, at first when I’ve been wearing my glasses and talking to people, I’ve had to force myself like never before to actually look in people’s eyes. It was easy wearing glasses to “stay within myself” – behind the rims. I think it’s sometimes easy wearing our faith to “stay within ourselves” and either ignore or deny the truth of what is beyond the church.

Wearing glasses, I need especially now to look beyond the boundaries of my world into the vast realm of God’s world. “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16) – the message of Christmas in a nutshell. God sent Jesus into a dark world – to unsuspecting shepherds, a teenage couple, foreigners from the East. It’s not just about me. It’s just as much about God’s love for others who may not be like me at all.

Finally, I need to trust my peripheral vision. Sometimes I need to take off my glasses, especially when I’m walking in the dark. And when I find myself in darkness, if I’m to see anything, find my way – the path before me, and allow whatever light there is to help me, I then need to trust what I see at the periphery of my sight – what seems to be just outside my grasp. I need to trust in my God-given, innate ability to see without seeing. Let me explain:

On a moonlit night, the amount of light washed over the land is only about 10% of full sunlight. Imagine also the effect of one candle burning in a large, dark room: it doesn’t illuminate the whole room, just a part of it.

When you are trying to move in the dark, if you try too hard to see, it won’t work. If you look directly on the path or at that which you want to see, you’ll start imagining things! Rather, you have to look to the side a bit and let your peripheral vision guide you and allow you to see something of what in truth is there. You’ll get a truer picture of what’s ahead by letting go of the compulsion to manage directly your sight or assuming the only way forward is to wait until noon-time on a bright, cloud-free, sunny day. Admitedly, it takes some practice to walk well in semi-darkness.

Saint Paul wrote, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), and again: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). In other words, we move forward not so much by exercising our own effort to see, or expecting to see everything crystal-clearly.

Often faith will mean trusting. Martin Luther’s definition of faith included the centrality of trust in a power greater than what I can do alone. The effect of faith is to see beyond what I can grasp with the full effort of my will.

Listen to the words of Jesus, who speaks to us today: “You did not choose me, I chose you” (John 15:16). Saint Paul reinforces this message when he writes, “Our justification depends not on human will or exertion, but on God …” (Romans 9:16) I need to appreciate the truth of God’s wondrous mystery.

Employing all these strategies of “wearing our faith” well is irrelevant unless we appreciate first and foremost the critical and foundational connerstone of belief in Christianity: The Light first comes to us. Focusing our energy, Engaging others, Learning to let go and trust — none of these work unless our eyes are first open to receive the light. “Sight” only happens as a gift to us.

This is good news: The light has come into the world! The Light has come!

Let the eyes of our heart be open to receive the light and love of One who has already come into the world, and continues to come to each one of us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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