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Sermons

The Light of Christ

June 22, 2003

Bible Reading

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.

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 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.

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. 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.

(John 1:1-18)

Reading from Swedenborg

Divine love cannot fail to be shown in others whom it loves and who love it. If this is the character of all love, it must be supremely, infinitely characteristic of love itself. (Divine Love and Wisdom #48)

Sermon

Light . . . it's just plain gorgeous isn't it? Are you a "light lover" like me? Have you ever given much thought to light? What does it mean? On both the natural and spiritual levels of life, it dispels darkness--and in so doing can dispel fear of many kinds. Wow, what a blessing light is! And when we start to talk about the divine light that shines from our Lord God Jesus Christ, the conversation gets a whole lot more interesting and vital.

The word "light" occurs in the Gospel of John over twenty times. Jesus referred to himself as the light of all people. John the Baptist's mission was to point people to the light that was in Christ. Twice Jesus calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). The Lord taught that this light can be within us (John 11:9, 10), so that we can become children of the light (John 12:36). "I have come," said Jesus, "as light into the world" (John 12:46). Let us see if we can understand something of this idea of the light that Jesus brings into the world.

This morning it is my joy . . . it is my deep privilege . . . to talk with you about several of the awesome specialties of the fourth Gospel: light, life, and love. I'm going to address Christ's life as light--a divine light in fact that shines into the darkness and illuminates not only Christian lives but all lives!

The older I get, the more I deeply love and appreciate light, and what it does to darkness. Lately I find myself marveling at what a string of lights wrapped around a bush or tree can do to a very dark night. Or what one little candle lit in a darkened room at night can do to my heart, my mind, and my life.

The other night, when I was all by myself in my house, as my cute, furry pussycat Tiger was snoozing in an adjacent room, an old spiritual nemesis entered the room: a basic yet powerful fear of being alone. Do you ever feel this fear within you--a fear of being alone in life?

The darkness that John wrote about in his awesome opening chapter is the enveloping and destructive falsity that the spirits of hell relish. This falsity, when accepted by us, blocks out God's light of truth, creating darkness in the mind. The hells want to convince us that certain dark false notions are true--such as that we are truly alone, or that chaos is stronger than the Lord, and stronger than all that is orderly and good in life.

You may ask: Why? Why do the people of hell organize this way? Simply put, because those twisted spirits actually enjoy leading us to feel fear and pain. The enveloping darkness they inspire and control enables them to feel like they have control and dominion over others--and this is something they greatly enjoy.

Contrary to the overly simplistic theology of the New Age movement, there truly are evil spirits, and they want to destroy and consume true life, love, and faith in God. This is their aim: to create fear, anxiety, worry, selfishness, and hatred. They are lost in a world of fantasy, falsity, and spiritual perversions and lusts. And on that night, that one seemingly dark and lonely night of mine, their darkness was around me.

But you see, I know their game; I know what they want. And I know some very effective tools for beating them at their game. God's light dispels the darkness! The wisdom and light of God has been entering this chaotic world of ours for a very, very long time! As God spoke through Isaiah, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined" (Isaiah 9:2). And later, after the Advent of the Lord, John wrote: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it."

Long before I was born, the Word of God has been shining into life as spiritual light. And it has been shining into my mind and spirit for many years now. I knew what the truth was in the midst of that delicate yet oh, so real and frightening temptation that night. I recalled these powerful words, this powerful truth, given to us by the Lord through his apostle John, telling us that before there was any darkness there was the Word, which was God. Before there was darkness there was light that shone from the divine life force itself. John revealed with poetic strength unequaled by any religious mind in history that Jesus Christ is this divine Word and light because he is the divine truth of God the Father who shines into life! Divine truth shines and illuminates our minds. As Swedenborg learned, the Word that John speaks of in his opening verses is, put simply, divine truth that shines brilliantly and gloriously into life! Life itself was the very soul of Jesus Christ--and so we read that in him was life, and his life was the light of all people.

God's Word is our light that lightens our paths in life. And when we read the earthly level of God's Word of truth, the Holy Bible, we feel and receive the light of Christ, and it illuminates what lies in front of us.

As I took the time early this past week to read and pray and meditate on these words from God written in John's opening chapter, knowing and believing that these words belong to the Lord, and reveal his mind and truth to everyone in the world, the power of their divine light began to dispel the darkness I had fallen prey to that night. It wasn't long, and then I was at peace--a very strong and lovely peace.

Our Gospel writer said, "In the beginning was the Word," which we know means: in the beginning was divine truth, divine reason, divine light that shines forth from life itself! The Greeks latched onto this essential truth thousands of years before Christ was born through the thoughts of a great Ephesian philosopher named Heraclitus, who lived in the sixth century B.C. He knew that God is the Logos, the reason and the order that makes the ever-changing, constantly in flux universe, and the often chaotic elements in it, assume beauty and orderliness. Interestingly, Heraclitus then brought the matter even closer to home.

What in us individually told us the difference between right and wrong? What made us able to think and to reason? What enabled us to choose aright and to recognize the truth when we saw it? Once again Heraclitus gave the same answer. What gave people reason and knowledge of the truth, and the ability to judge between right and wrong, was the Logos of God dwelling within them. Heraclitus held that in the world of nature and events, all things happen according to the Logos, and that in the individual person, the Logos is the judge of truth. The Logos, said the Stoics, pervades all things.

For the Greek, the gods were typically above and beyond us. They hung out on Mt. Olympus, and would only occasionally visit human beings. They lacked an ever-present divine compassion. They often played games on us and manipulated us.

John's Gospel reveals that the Word, or Infinite Reason, was certainly the real light, which gives light to everyone, and is not a game-player! John gave testimony by his years of personal experience of living with Christ that the Word was coming into the world that had come into being through him. "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. . . . From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Suddenly, with the Incarnation, things have gotten much more intimate! John revealed a truth that Swedenborg elaborated upon very highly in his theological writings, namely, that there can be only one Divine Being of Life, and this infinite Creator and Sustainer has always had the power to reveal his love and wisdom to us. Christ is that aspect of the one God that becomes eminently present with us ("God with us"--Immanuel); who shines forth his light of truth upon us more so than ever before in history; who makes the infinite Father visible and known. And the beautiful, healing, guiding light that shines from Christ is truly the only light that enlightens all people.

As Swedenborg wrote in essence, all Christians and all Christian churches who believe in and preach this doctrine of Jesus' divinity, and who do so by teaching this from the holy Word in its earthly form, the Bible, are toward the center of God's kingdom. From this center churches like ours emit the spiritual and divine light of the Lord that shines everywhere, even into non-Christian religions and into their holy scriptures. This is why people may find a lot of saving truth and light in the Jewish, Islamic, and other non-Christian religions without confessing Jesus as the Christ. And this is why we read in John 1:9: "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world."

I began my message to you by saying that light dispels darkness. This truth needs to be underscored and expanded! Jesus says, "I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). But let us all know with utter clarity that the light of Christ is more than a light of peace and goodwill toward all. It is a searching light, a penetrating light that will shed light into places within you that won't feel very good about at first. Yet if we can stand it, later comes experiential salvation! Later comes growth and transformation!

The light of God is true life; it is love and wisdom. It therefore won't stop halfway, but will shine fully throughout your heart and mind. It will reveal the truth behind your deep fears, your dreads, your falsities. It will continue to shine into your darkness. The light of Christ has a simple aim: to get you fully exposed to it, so that you yourself shine with it. It is having the light of God within us that enables us to be, as the Lord said to his disciples, "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).

Jesus came into the world in part to enable people to experience a terrific growth of love, joy, and peace centered in truth. His beautiful and searching light makes this possible, and makes it happen with our openness to his light. Thus, spiritual love and truth are his great aim--and your life and my life are Christ's target.

But make no mistake about it: his light, which is truth, will bring you mercifully in touch with the dark, problematic falsities, addictions, neuroses, and spiritually disorderly elements within you that try to avoid God's light, just as chapter one in the Gospel of John says: "The world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own did not accept him."

One day an older brother shined his flashlight into the closet of the bedroom that he and his younger brother shared. He was testing it to make sure it had plenty of power to give him the light he needed on his upcoming camping trip. Suddenly, to his amazement, the voice of his younger brother rang out from the darkness saying, "Turn that light off Jimmy! You might see what 'no good' I'm doing in here!"

These dark elements of life are what trip us up and make us fall. The darkness within us, before it is transformed, hates the light. Our inherited evil inclinations within our naturalness hate the light, and will battle it fiercely at times. So John is saying, as William Barclay puts it: "Into this world there comes Jesus, the light of the world; for there is a darkness that would seek to eliminate him, to banish him from life, to extinguish him (as the ancient Zoroastrians knew so well)."

But there is a power in Jesus that is intractable--not easily governed or controlled. The darkness can despise the Lord, but it can never get rid of him. As has been truly said: "Not all the darkness in the world can extinguish the smallest flame." And again, "The unconquerable light will in the end defeat the hostile dark. John is saying: 'Choose your side in the eternal conflict and choose aright.'"

Christ said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness" (John 12:46). As our reading adds, "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."

Swedenborg wrote that God, who is love and therefore life itself, wants to share all of himself with you, that you might receive the Lord's love and wisdom within your own unique heart and mind, just as these plants around me receive the warmth and light of the solar sun from above. You were created for this purpose: to enjoy life being conjoined and deeply close to our divine Father, Jesus Christ. It is a vision of life with the Divine that is close, personal, and intimate. God the Father came here and lived among us to make sure your access to the kingdom of heaven remains open and vitalized.

Isn't it marvelous that now, as you learn and apply God's Word, his truth, his light, that by living in this way the Lord is as close and present to you as the lights brightening this chancel and this sanctuary? In fact, much, much closer than that!

Prayer

Infinite Light of the world, we thank you for continually shining your great radiance into the darkness of our world, the darkness of our minds, the darkness of our hearts. We thank you that our darkness can never overcome your light. We thank you for illuminating the dark corners of our souls, chasing away the shadows of darkness, loneliness, and fear. We open ourselves once again to your presence, willing to endure the pain of a brilliance that burns away the stains of evil and hell, and leaves only your love. Amen.

Rev. Kit Billings