The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 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.
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 1
2But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And 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.
15(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.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No 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: 1-9, 10- 18)
Some time ago, when I still lived in the UK, my wife and I and another couple went south for a holiday, aiming for Weston Super Mare, as I remember. Two things stick in my mind from that holiday, plus that it rained every day bar one.
The first was that we went inside Winchester Cathedral, which was a thrill. It is a beautiful edifice. And a glory to God.
Many churches in England date back, to the tenth or eleventh century. And I say many, because by the fourteenth or fifteenth, most had been built. There was hardly a church built between then and the eighteenth century, because every town and village had one. New churches were built much later, after people began to move from the farms into the cities during the Industrial Revolution.
Also, I was always amazed to read, about such a cathedral, that it may have taken from two hundred to four hundred years to build.
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
You would think that the plans would have been lost, or ‘they’ would have run out of enthusiasm, or something, but no! building continued, I would imagine spasmodically, as money became available until it was done.
Two or three centuries later!
What faith they must have had in the future.
The other noteworthy memory was of visiting the Cheddar Gorge.
Now you might think the Cheddar Gorge has something to do with cheese, but no, it is a complex of caves. To be able to go inside those caves is a real treat.
Inside, there are stalactites and stalagmites, illuminated by coloured lights, and spectacular they are. But what I remember most was the moment when the guide extinguished all the lights.
He said, “When I put out the lights you will experience real darkness.”
And he did.
And we did.
The darkness was almost palpable.
You could see no-one, and nothing.
The person beside you wasn’t there any more.
You could have been in a coffin, or in outer space.
The darkness had no limits.
It was kind of scary, to tell you the truth.
After just a few minutes, one small light was turned on.
It was such a small light, but it made all the difference.
Just that one small light threw back the darkness
And people began to breathe again. You realised you had been holding your breath.
John, telling about Jesus, the Word, tells us ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
The love of God came into the world and the world did not overcome it.
That is the message I want to carry with me from this first Sunday of the Year of our Lord, two thousand and twenty two. .
I wonder if the people who built those mighty cathedrals in Europe thought that the word of God would endure unto the millennium, or did they think that the darkness in the world would overcome it?
Because there were many dark times in England and Europe in the years that followed.
We have our own worries about the state of the world, and maybe about the state of our own lives, and about Covid, but they had worries too.
In the tenth and eleventh centuries, and for centuries afterward, life expectancy was low. Infant deaths were common. Midwives baptised babies right away, because there was no guarantee the child would survive long enough for its parents to take it to church.
The people who worked on the land were slaves, in essence, subject to the rule of the local lord.
Sicknesses were treated with remedies based on superstition.
The plague would come along and decimate the population.
There were no street lights. Homes would only have tallow candles to provide light, if at all.
Unless there were a moon, and you walked outside at night, there was nothing to light your way, unless perhaps you carried a torch made of straw dipped in pitch. Or a candle in a lamp.
Neither of which lasted too long. Or cast much light.
And in the darkness devils roamed the countryside.
Or so people thought.,
I remember reading a story set in the fifteenth century, about life in a castle which was surrounded by a moat.
All the rubbish generated in the castle, everything, was thrown into the moat, including human waste.
You can imagine what an evil mix was formed.
Gases would be generated and sometimes there would be an explosion as these gases were ignited by lightning strike, or spontaneous combustion, and people would think it was caused by the devil, or demons, what with the flames and smell of burning sulphur.
It was a fearful time, to be alive.
Not only did people have to worry about invaders, or what the feudal lord might demand of them, they had to worry about demons too.
The church, where candles would be lit, and hymns sung, and lessons read, and fellowship experienced, was the place where they felt safe from the exigencies of life.
Because even in that dark world, the light of Christ shone.
And reassured people.
Today’s cities have so much light they can be seen from space. Here on earth, the city lights make it impossible to see the night sky, and the Milky Way, as well as we could when we were young.
I remember, as a child, lying on my back and looking up at the night sky and dreaming all sorts of scenarios.
I pointed out that we can’t do that today, because of light pollution, etc., to one of my grandkids, and she said, “Of course I can see the sky Grampa. Look here on my i-pad. See, the planets and constellations are even named “
We have come a long way, haven’t we? Technologically.
We still have our own worries, of course, terrorism, wars in foreign countries; concerns about millions of refugees or displaced persons, and how to help them; the aforementioned Covid, of course, and still many illnesses that medical science hasn’t yet found a way to eliminate.
And our own personal worries – personal demons, we might call them.
Some years ago, right after celebrating Midnight Mass, I hurried to the bedside of a young woman in hospital, who sadly, was dying, on that Christmas Eve.
Death doesn’t take a holiday.
So this year, 2022, with its yet unknown challenges, to whom or to what will we turn?
Where will the light come from to drive away the darkness in our world, or in our lives?
When Jesus’ friends were beginning to desert him, Jesus asked Peter, ” Will you also leave me Peter?” and Peter replied, “Lord to whom would we go?”
To whom would we go?
To whom will we go?
In this New Year, despite all that may threaten us globally, or personally, we can reply likewise when we are asked, ” To whom will we go?”
The light in the darkness which was not, and will not, be overcome.
And will be our touchstone as we live out this year.
Father, let this coming year be a safe and Blessed Year for us all.