Sunday, January 02, 2011

In The Beginning (John 1:1-18)

How we begin things will influence how they go. Common sense statement, right?

If we start reading the directions on page one, we have a better chance of assembling the whatever-it-is properly. If we take the right road at the start, we will reach our destination sooner. Of course, if we don't do those things, we can still change our mistakes and get back on track, but even that choice is a result of what we did at the start.

So John will begin his gospel by pointing out that Jesus the Savior was not just the savior when he was on the cross or when he was born in the manger. He was the very Word of God, with God in the beginning of all things and participated in creating all things. The Word, or in Greek, the Logos, is now and always has been a part of God in a way that people don't completely understand.

And then, at the point in time we mark as Christmas, the Word entered the world in a unique way, as a part of the very world the Word had helped create. According to John, the coming of the Word brought light into the world, even though people didn't know it. He doesn't flesh out exactly why people didn't know it until a couple of chapters later, when Jesus talks with Nicodemus. In John 3:19, we're told that the judgment was that people loved darkness more than they loved light, even when the light came among them.

The thing about light and darkness is that they don't coexist. If light is present, darkness is absent. Sure, a less powerful light doesn't shine as brightly and we can't see as much, but it still shines and we can see something. When miners talk about the darkness when the lights go out in their mines, they're talking about a situation in which there is no light whatsoever. Our eyes could be in there for hours, days or even weeks and we would never adjust to the darkness, because there's no light for them to find.

I find that one evidence I myself will tend to love darkness more than light is that I will sometimes construct elaborate justifications for my wrong choices, trying to re-create them in some kind of gray area instead of acknowledging them as wrong choices. There are gray areas in life, but there are also a lot of not gray areas. My attempts to make "fake gray" areas are really just ways I try to justify a choice to ignore the light that's come into the world.

When I'm at the gym in the afternoon, sometimes the televisions are on some of those court shows with the stern, no-nonsense judge dispensing philosophy and barbed wit to the delight of the audience. I can't stand them, but at least at the gym I only have to read the closed-caption instead of listen. And when the other TVs are on The View or maybe some home shopping channel, I'm stuck.

Anyway, what strikes me is all of the elaborate explaining that goes on when the judge asks a simple question: "The plaintiff says you did A, B and C? Did you?"

"Well, Your Honor, you see, things were like this, and then this other thing happened, and that made me be like this, and so in the end I kind of did A, B and C even though I ordinarily wouldn't, because in this case it was completely justified because of what everyone else did first."

"So you did A, B and C?"

"Yes, because it was like I said, you see..." and on and on it goes. The judge, of course, knows that the person is making something up or trying to recreate events so that what everyone in the room -- including the person making up the story -- knows is wrong doesn't seem so wrong, or might even seem right. But the person making up the story makes it up anyway in spite of that.

At a previous church, our location near a highway meant that we had a few people each month stop by the office needing money for gasoline. They were almost always on their way somewhere else, needing to pick up medicine, or needing to reach a sick relative in the hospital, or moving across country and just a little short of their destination where there would be someone who would help them out. I would offer to meet them at a gas station across the street and buy them a little gas, because our church had set money aside to do that. That often sent them on their way, because they wanted the cash instead of the gas. If someone had come to me and said, "I don't work, I don't want to work, and I go around mooching off people for food and gas," I might have gone ahead and got them some just because they were up front for once.

In all these cases, these elaborate explanations go wrong from the start, because of where they begin. Their goal is to obscure or hide what is plainly visible as a wrong choice -- to try to bring some darkness into the light. But once the light has come, darkness can't overcome it.

I might not try the same kinds of creative fiction that the people in the courtroom or the gasoline seekers do, but I can make some pretty elaborate constructions of my own to try to obscure the plain wrongness of my own choices. Oh, I just lost my temper and everyone loses their tempers sometimes. Oh, that's just the way they thought way back then, things are different today so that wasn't really wrong. Or the all-time favorite: Well, you don't know what she did first!

At their root, at their beginning, my justifications do the same thing those others do: Bring enough darkness into the situation so that what I and everyone else know is wrong won't look as wrong. I don't mean legitimate gray areas, like if someone has to lie in order to protect a person from harm or steal to provide food. I mean areas where we know what is right, but we choose what is wrong and try to finesse it.

But we don't have to. The light has come into the world, offering us the chance to walk and live in it. Isaiah said the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, and because the light exists, we have the opportunity not only to own up to our wrongs, but to see and do what is right. If we didn't get it right from the beginning, we can now see what is right and move towards that. Taking the consequences for that wrong might not be all that easy -- we have to start all over again, perhaps, or undo what was done wrong and redo it the right way. But in my experience, the burden of hiding the wrong and worrying about discovery have often outweighed those consequences anyway. They were worse than whatever happened when the wrong got found out, if for no other reason than they could have dragged on forever instead of having a definite end.

The light has come into the world. May that be our beginning in this new year!

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