Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-5, 10-11, 14, 18
Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.
As I have lived through 2015, my heart yearned to hear this pronouncement from God: Let there be light! News of…
…earthquakes: Let there be light!
…bombings: Let there be light!
…refugees: Let there be light!
…death: Let there be light! Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light!
On Epiphany Sunday, could there be anything more we would want to hear as? An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. A seeing or revealing. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthroughs, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. In the church, it has been associated with the story of the Magi – whose “aha!” came in the appearance of the star, a sign of a new light born to the world.
What a wonderful place to begin a new year – with the promise of new light to guide our way!
We begin in Genesis. It is believed that the version of the creation story from Genesis 1 originated during Israel’s exile, amid hopelessness and despair. Their country had been pillaged, the temple ruined, the people carried off to serve other kingdoms. In other words, this poem, Genesis 1, was first sung amid national desolation. The writer reached all the way back to the foundations of the earth to reveal hope to the people living in the darkness of exile.
I’m sure that, in ancient Israel, there were folk who sincerely believed that the thick walls around Jerusalem couldn’t be breached, that the vast temple would stand forever. And when they crumbled in a weekend, dark despair went with them into exile.
The lament of Psalm 137 – “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept; on the willows there, we hung up our lyres, for our captors required of us songs” – such anguish was not the only voice the exiles heard. Genesis 1 was given voice in the same context. The God who could create light out of chaos once, could do it again.
I used to hear that the Old Testament did not contain grace; that grace was reserved for God’s new voice in the New Testament. But can you imagine hearing this poem proclaimed in Babylon? In the darkest days of exile, the cry went out: Let there be light! And there was light. And God saw that it was good! This was not just a story of ancient beginnings, but also a subversive story of hope for the exiles.
By the time John was writing his account of Jesus for his friends in Asia Minor, it was a time like this again. First Greece, then Rome had captured the holy city. And just a generation ago the Roman army had gone into Jerusalem with an iron hand, smashing everything the Jews held as holy. The Temple was completely destroyed, its strong leaders killed. All was grim.
And John writes: Let there be light! The light from the word of creation has come again into our world. And that word is life and light.
John certainly intended the people to think of the creation story of Genesis 1 when he penned this grand beginning to his story! He probably intended readers and listeners to remember that this story of God’s creative power came to the people in the worst of times.
They might have expected the word to be vengeance, the destruction of enemies. It may be what they wanted to hear. But John gave them something much more subversive: Light.
What do I mean when I say that light is subversive? John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Darkness can be defined as the absence of light. When light comes, darkness moves to the shadows. Light moves the darkness.
When a single candle is lit, the darkness is banished. Remember Christmas Eve service when we all lit our candles and held them up to lighten the room. Darkness had no ability to fight back. It took no effort from us to banish the dark. It is just how it works. Darkness cannot overcome light. When the first tendrils of light shoot over the mountains on the horizon, there is nothing to do but welcome light. Light will not be bound. It comes to us when it comes and does its work, often unobserved, warming the soil, greening leaves, bursting flowers.
There is another, perhaps better translation for this verse, though. The word, overcome, is more often translated “grasp, or seize” in the sense of comprehending or understanding something. So we could say, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it.” The light is shining in the darkness. The darkness feels its prick. But, darkness does not seem to be able to comprehend light.
I have usually read this verse as light and dark being enemies. But maybe that is not what it means. It may be saying that darkness and light are so different that darkness simply can’t see what the light reveals. It may not be so much animosity as blindness, or not being sensitive to anything but the fear of obliteration.
Like the “Dark Side” of Star Wars fame. I have been re-watching the Star Wars movies (all seven of them!) in preparation for the Phantom Menace, which I haven’t seen yet. In the set of movies of the early years, the not-so-popular movies, the story deals with the wooing power of the dark side. Young Anakin Skywalker, later Darth Vader, was a good soul. He sought the dark side in order to bring life to his dying wife. He thought he could use the dark side for good. He simply did not comprehend the light he was denying. Later his son would see the light in him and open his eyes.
A second observation is that light and darkness need each other. They are two sides of a coin. Neither overcomes the other. The Chinese describe it as the yin and the yang. The two sides of the circle are dark and light, but also intertwined and both essential to existence. This is another perspective on this verse: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Both continue to exist.
During Advent, we observe this same phenomenon. As the nights grow longer, we light more candles. The darkness grows and the light grows with it, side by side.
Poet, Mary Oliver observed this same irony in her oft-quoted comment: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” 
John hints at a much larger question: If it is true that God is light, and lived among us, how can it be that people don’t embrace it? There is no real answer offered in this passage. It is the question the readers of John’s story had in their souls. If this is really true, why doesn’t everyone get on board? Why does hate and violence still exist? Why can’t we all just put down our darkness and fear and live together in peace? Of course, WE COULD. Jesus lived it here. But even Jesus, the quintessential gentleness and grace aroused the ire of darkness. How can light overcome this kind of fear and darkness?
So, how do we live in the light? Look at verse 18: No one has ever seen God. It is God’s only begotten, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known. The last clause of verse 18 seeks to describe what the Word made flesh does. The Incarnate One declares, reveals, makes known, God. He is the Epiphany of the divine! The verb exago means “to bring or to lead out.” In other words, the principal purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out – out of the darkness, enough so that we humans can comprehend God, so that an experience of God is possible for humans.
The good news is that we as human beings, because of the Word-made-flesh, have the opportunity to experience God. All of God? No. Every aspect of God? No. For, as the verse says, no one has seen God. God is so mysteriously other that we cannot comprehend God completely. Sort of like darkness cannot comprehend light, so we cannot comprehend God. God will always be more than we can imagine or conceive in our minds.That is humbling.
But because of the Word-made-flesh, we may encounter the living one, who is light and life for us. At least in doses we can comprehend.
Christmas reminds us of God’s decision to become one of us, to take on our lot and our life that we might have hope, and to share our mortal life that we might enjoy God’s eternal life. It is a promise that requires our active participation every day of the year. God’s humanity glorifies human endeavors. Our lives matter to God. Our welfare is of tremendous importance to the Almighty. There is no worry too small, no challenge too great, that God is not eager to share it with us. Let there be light!
So, again, how do we live in the light, grope toward comprehending its presence? I read a devotional some years ago which gives a clue. Ginger Pyron writes about “seeing with traveler’s eyes.” 
What does she mean by this? I was curious. We hear a lot about life as a journey, but how often do we think of ourselves as travelers? Sometimes travelers journey with direction and purpose; other times we choose to wander a bit, investigating new paths. Always, though, we expect to run across signs that can tell us where we’re headed, and where we are. And here is the key to seeing “with traveler’s eyes,” and the key to comprehending the light. Open your eyes, to see what maybe surprising. Open your eyes to see signs that give direction. Open your eyes to see the pinpricks of light in the darkness of our world’s chaos – the world which still seems dark, formless and void. It is NOT so. The Holy One, the Creator, the word of creation itself has come among us, lives among us, leaving signs of life and light among us like trail markers on the path. A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This story was John’s trail marker for his friends. And it blazes a trail for us as well. Open your eyes. Choose today to be open to see the signs of light around us. They are here. And as we fill our minds and our words with the words of light, some will comprehend the presence of light, even among us. Because it is here.
Because light is here….
The good news: The creative lover that had the first word shall also have the last. All evidence to the contrary, God’s love is stronger than human hate because that’s the way God has set up the world.
In life and death, in life beyond death, there is only one word. At the end, it’s the same word as at the beginning: A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Let there be light!
 Mary Oliver, from Thirst, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006.
 Seeing With Traveler’s Eyes – A Meditation for Epiphany Sunday, by Ginger Pyron and Lanny Peters, Oakhurst Baptist Church, January 8, 2006.