The Sermon Mall



For All Who Walk In Darkness

John 1:1-14
In 1963, when Dori Schaeffer was twenty-five years old, she had experienced light and life. She had a happy childhood, had been a beauty queen, a prize-winning artist, a writer, a guitarist, a Phi Beta Kappa and a Woodrow Wilson scholar. But darkness and death had pushed into her existence. On her wedding night she was abandoned by her husband from whom she was soon divorced. A subsequent fiance was killed in an automobile crash. On December 22, 1963, she was stunned by the assassination of John Kennedy. One morning a month later she found an old black man beaten to death on a park bench. That same day her car was vandalized, and when she returned home by cab, she found that her house had been burglarized. In Dori's mind and heart the darkness began to overcome the light. Toward the end of her diary she said, "If I ever write stories, I will not write about the sunny kitchen or the breeze which blows through organdy curtains. I will write about the woman who scrubbed floors to put her children through college and when she won the Irish sweepstakes was killed by her children. ...I will write of men with grotesque distorted egos--men who lie, men who kill, men who steal. I will write of betrayed trust..." Concluding at last that darkness and death have the final word, Dori surrendered to them. She wrote to her mother, "Do not weep for me. Be glad that I will not be disenchanted or hurt anymore. Death is a sort of Utopia, a calm, a quietness I have never known since I became a college girl at 16. I can't bear to start another year..." On Christmas Day, 1963, she took a massive and fatal dose of Nembutal.
Anyone who chooses to look at life through sun glasses which make everything look amber-colored or who stays mildly anesthetized with stuff from the drugstore or ABC store or keeps the light on all night and the TV on all day to avoid darkness and the sounds of silence will not really understand Dori and will wonder how young people get messed up like that.
But anyone who is in touch with reality and is able to look at the universe and the earth and at human existence with eyes, mind and heart open and alert cannot help but see and feel the awesome power of darkness and death.
When you look up into the sky on a clear night, it is reassuring to see the stars twinkling. The empty, inky blackness of deep space in which they are set and in relation to which the tiny stars seem weak and vulnerable is not reassuring at all. It is scary and overwhelming.
It becomes even more intimidating when you learn that, when the inner life of one of those stars is spent, the force of its gravity will squeeze and crush it into a pinpoint of darkness and death so dense that it will quench even light. It becomes what the astrophysicists have named a "Black Hole."
This power of darkness and death creeps, prowls and roars through this earth of ours in all kinds of ways. Beneath the bright, sparkling surface of the sea in its murky depths glide the mindless monsters depicted by Melville in Moby Dick and by Peter Benchley in Jaws. Out of atmosphere in the South Atlantic and Caribbean the power of death and darkness concocts huge circles of hurricane clouds and sets them loose with their screaming winds to wander erratically, killing and destroying. A huge tanker breaks up in Prince William Sound. Beaches turn black with gooey oil, and sea life is killed, perhaps for years. Blights and diseases attack and destroy plants and animals, and doctors work night and day to help us defend ourselves against the death-dealers which creep into our organs and bloodstreams.
We can see and feel the power of darkness and death as it affects our own thinking and behaving and the thoughts and actions of others. We can feel it in the dark hatred which fuels "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans and ignites terrorist bombs in busy London streets. We see it in drive-by shootings on city streets. It wells up in us or pushes in on us in the form of dark, brooding anger, cold gray loneliness, black debilitating depression. It produces the moral and spiritual emptiness and deadness which follows our adulteries and cruelties and lies and cowardices.
If you are aware of and sensitive to the power of darkness and death in the universe and in the world, you are standing where the writers of Scripture stood and seeing things the way they saw them. But they saw something else. They saw the darkness being pierced by a shaft of light; and they saw physical, mental, emotional and spiritual death being overcome by life. They saw God as the giver and sustainer of this light and life.
As a matter of fact, this is the first picture we get of God in the Bible. Genesis begins with these words, "In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the power of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, `Let there be light,' and light appeared." The account goes on to describe God's creation of plant, animal and human life where there was nothing but deathly chaos.
When Abraham and Sara were old, "as good as dead" (as the Bible puts it) and living in dark despair of ever having a child through whom the promise of God might be fulfilled, God gave them Isaac who brought light into their darkness and new life to their dead hopes.
In First Kings 18 we read about how spiritual darkness spread over Israel as the religion of Baal began taking over and about how depression and despair came over the prophet, Elijah, who went out into the wilderness, "sat down in the shade of a tree and wished he would die." The story goes on to tell how God gave Elijah new life--physically and emotionally--and how, through Elijah, God restored light to Israel.
In the 6th century B.C., when the Israelites were in captivity in Babylonia, and the darkness of political bondage and of personal discouragement seemed overwhelming, Isaiah said to them:
Arise, Jerusalem, and shine like the sun; The glory of the Lord is shining on you! Other nations will be covered by darkness, But on you the light of the Lord will shine; The brightness of his presence will be with you.
The places where God is presented as the giver of light and life in the midst of darkness are many, but two places where the juxtaposition is most dramatic are in the stories of Jesus' birth and Jesus' resurrection.
Notice how vividly the forces of darkness and death are presented in the Christmas story. It takes place in the darkness of night. Mary and Joseph are turned away from the well-lighted inn and find a place of shelter in the dark stable. Herod has all of the babies in Bethlehem killed in an effort to eliminate the one who is predicted to be a king. Into this darkness a silent star beams, and in the midst of the killing a baby survives.
In the crucifixion/resurrection stories the power of darkness and death seems overpowering and invincible: the arrest and trial of Jesus in the dark of night, the weakness of Jesus and his disciples in comparison with the strength of the Sanhedrin and the Roman soldiers, the torture of the crucifixion itself, the darkness that came over the land, the earthquake and finally the sealing of the dark cave-tomb with the great stone. But once again, quietly God brings light into darkness as the stone is rolled away, and God gives life as Jesus is raised from the dead.
The writer of the Gospel of John sees the entire history of the world as the story of how God has kept on giving light and life where darkness and death have seemed overwhelming. He sees Jesus as the eternal Word through whom light and life have continued to come. "From the very beginning the Word was with God," he writes. "The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out."
So what? So what does this mean as far as you are personally concerned? Well, it means you have to make a decision and a choice about what you are going to believe and how you are going to act.
Are you going to believe that the lights in the universe are going to go out one by one until, after some billions of years, all that will remain is a black hole of nothingness? Or will you choose to believe that what will remain, when all else is gone, is the living God who created the universe out of nothing to begin with? In the end nothing? Or in the end God? There is no proof for deciding one way or the other; it is a matter of belief and choice. But the way you choose will have a profound effect upon the way you live. If you decide that the universe is headed for oblivion, you are much more likely to become a self-seeking, opportunistic sort of person. If you decide that the world is headed toward God, you are more likely to be the opposite.
If the light goes out of your life and you begin to feel depressed and wishful of death, are you going to believe that there is no power strong enough to enliven and lighten you again? Or will you believe that Christ who is risen is able, through your trust in him, to raise you up? I realize that some of us, by nature or by virtue of our experiences in childhood and youth, have a predisposition for gloominess, and some of us, by contrast, have a predisposition for sunniness; but I cannot buy that brand of determinism which leads people to say, "I don't have any control over whether my life is filled with darkness or light." The choice is ours, and the choice we make will affect what we do about our condition.
Do you believe that the nations of the world are under the dominion of the powers of darkness and death and that the only way differences are ever going to be settled is with guns and violence? Or do you believe that the world is really in God's hand and that "In days to come," as Isaiah says in chapter 2
He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again.
What you believe will have a tremendous impact upon whether you are most interested in the things that pertain to war or the things that make for peace.
I said earlier that there is no way to prove that light and life will prevail over darkness and death. That is true. But it is also true that up until now, at least, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out." And that is amazing when you think about it.
It is amazing to see the sweet spirit maintained by some people in spite of tragedies they have been through.
It is amazing to look back and see how the huge shadow of British rule in India was dispelled by the steady, unassuming, just and gentle light that was Mahatma Gandhi.
I know a woman who clung to her belief in the ultimate victory of light and life in spite of a twenty year struggle with severe mental illness. It is amazing.
On the other hand, maybe it is not so amazing. Maybe it is just hard evidence that people who put their belief and trust in Jesus Christ have within them a light and life that darkness and death will never snuff out. In John Bunyan's great allegory, Pilgrims Progress, there is a conversation between Christian and Interpreter which pretty well sums up what I am saying. Let me read it to you in closing:
Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.
Then said Christian, "What means this?"
The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil; but in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter thou shalt also see the reason of that. So he had him about to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire."
Then said Christian, "What means this?"
The Interpreter answered, "This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still."
J. Harold McKeithen, Jr. Newport New, VA