Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

January 15, 2023

Isaiah 49:1-7                       Psalm 40:1-12                                    1 Corinthians 1:1-9                           John 1:29-43

          In John’s gospel on Christmas Day, he writes that Word was in the beginning and that the Word was the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness.  It is a light that is not overcome by the darkness.  He writes that Jesus in the Word, Jesus is God in the flesh.

In our opening prayer this morning, we acknowledged that Christ is the light of the world and we prayed that being illuminated by the Word and Sacraments, we might shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory that Jesus may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. 

We use many metaphors for Jesus to help us understand – to the best of our ability, who he is.  In today’s gospel, John introduces another metaphor.  John the Baptist sees Jesus coming and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

For the Jewish people, the Lamb of God represents the lamb that is slaughtered to atone for their sins.  This rite, in the practice of their faith, is a sacrament that we remember in our Eucharist.  At the Passover meal, a lamb is also slaughtered and eaten to remember the mighty acts of God who freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Lamb of God represents freedom from sin and oppression.

In John’s gospel, John the Baptist tells of seeing the Spirit descending from heaven onto Jesus and remaining with him.  He says that Jesus is the one who will baptize others with the Spirit.  Andrew who is one of John’s followers, gets his brother Simon Peter and takes him to Jesus.  They know that Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah.  In John, how they become his disciples is different from the stories told in the other gospels.  Reconciling these stories is not all that important.  What is important is what John is teaching us about the nature of Jesus. 

In this first chapter of John, we’ve heard that Jesus is the Word, he is the light of the world, he is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, and he is the Lamb of God.  Early Christians argued about the nature of Jesus. Was he human or was he divine? John addresses this from the start.  He is God and he comes in the flesh to live among us.  He is human and he is divine. 

John does not provide us with an accounting of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning and who came to be with us.  And when he did, he went to John the Baptist who is baptizing people in the river.  John sees the Spirit descend from heaven and rest on Jesus.  The Spirit remains with Jesus. John knows Jesus will be the sacrificial lamb who will die to atone for our sins.

Yet, we also know from this gospel that Jesus is the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not, will not, overcome the light.  Understanding that the light and love of God cannot be overcome is crucial to understanding the scriptures which we also refer to as the Word of God. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this.  My favorite quote from him is:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

King’s cry for reform came from a position of faith.  His belief that in the end God’s love will overcome the darkness of segregation and racial prejudice is what we, as Christians, are to believe as well. 

          We have made strides towards equality, but we aren’t there yet. We have a long way to go. Jesus’ death on the cross was over 2000 years ago and God’s kingdom is still a work in progress here on earth.  Freedom for all, and freedom from racial, political, and other divisions are a part of God’s kingdom.  When it will come to be, I don’t know. Yet I do know that we must do our part to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  We must shine forth the light of Christ and respond to others with love.  This is what is required to heal the divisions in our world that perpetuate injustice, hate, violence and war.

          I recently spoke of the ancient spiritual practice of Ignatius known as Examin.  It is a simple practice that requires only a few minutes each day.  At end of the day, we are to reflect on where we have experienced God’s presence.  It can also be done the next morning by reflecting on the events of the previous day.  The person who recommended this to me suggested I write these experiences down along with the times I experienced resentment.  It is an exercise of paying attention to where we see light and where we find ourselves living in darkness. 

          By spending time looking into the light, the darkness begins to fade away.  I am grateful for the suggestion because it has helped me name my frustrations.  When I was a social worker, I learned that naming our feelings enables us to gain some control over them.  It helps us choose to respond rather than simply react.  

          In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be call Cephas (which is translated to Peter).”  Jesus is not naming Simon in order to control him; he is giving him a fresh start.  Cephas also means “rock” and later Jesus will tell Peter that he is the rock on which Christ’s church will be built.   Jesus uses the name “Peter” because he is calling Simon to be his disciple. Jesus has something in mind for Peter.

          Naming where we see God and naming our frustrations is empowering. It gives us the strength to answer Christ’s call and do what God calls us to do. It enables us to respond to hate with love, to darkness with light.   In the world today, it is easy to find ourselves staring into the darkness.  Simply making a daily effort to note where I have seen the light and love of God in my life has enabled me to experience a greater sense of peace and feel hopeful.  It has not eliminated all darkness, but the darkness is not as disorienting and does not consume nearly as much of my energy.   I invite you to give it a try. Where do you experience joy?  When do you feel most alive?  God is there, and God is calling you to be the light of Christ in this world and draw people together in love.

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, help us to feel your presence in our lives.  Help us to draw our strength from you that we, too, might respond to hate with love, and shine the light of truth into the darkness which alienates people from your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.