John 1:1-18 [1In 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. 12But 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.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In Australia, it’s summer, and fires have been raging all along the eastern coast.  At least 24 people have died, including one volunteer firefighter, and more than 2000 homes have been destroyed.  It should not surprise anyone that people want to know whose fault it is that things got this bad.  Climate change is cited, and many are blaming the Prime Minister Morrison for vacationing in Hawaii while all this began, and for being slow to respond.  The fires have burned about 12.35 million acres and have been raging since September, according to an NBC News article.  More than 150 fires are active, and 64 of them are reported as uncontrolled.  The country is experiencing some respite today with milder temperatures, and army reservists are now being deployed to assist.  Whose fault is it that things got this bad?  Who can be blamed?

Is it out of line to compare the situation between the United States of American and Iran to the fire woes in Australia?  One might argue that wildfires are natural disasters, whereas military actions are not, but in both situations, we want to place someone at fault, we want to know who to blame.  We want to explain our own actions in the best light, and mark others actions as darker.  We want the blame to point to others and not to ourselves.

But what does all this have to do with today’s Gospel?  It’s the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and we’ve read how the Word has become flesh… 

We’ve heard again of Jesus’ birth.  We’ve heard more than we really want of the darkness that surrounded his coming.  We can hardly help but to compare the darkness that existed in this world 2000 years ago to the darkness we see today.  Before continuing, let me revisit something I said as we gathered here on Christmas Eve:

God does not wait for us to get it right before coming to live with us, to lead us, to guide us.  Today’s Gospel emphasizes this, as it describes Jesus as the light of the world shining in the darkness.  The darkness does not go away, but neither does that darkness overcome the light that is Jesus.

The part of the Gospel that rises to prominence today is verse twelve:  to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.

In this world, many will look at others and make decisions about whether those others actually measure up to the claims they make.  Lately, I’ve been hearing particularly of Christians judging other Christians, some focusing on a single issue to determine whether another qualifies as a true believer, others pointing to a person’s behavior in business as disqualifying that person—and then there are those who discredit on the basis of a morality that appears to be either lacking or depraved.

We are making judgments about one another as to whether we are worthy Christians, worthy people of God.

Let me repeat the words of our Gospel:  to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.

Let me voice a bit of a warning here.  It would be quite easy to twist these words and make them about us, to make them seem to say that it is up to us to save ourselves by believing rightly.  That is not what this is about.  It’s not about saving ourselves.  So let’s add verse 13.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 

God’s the one in charge here.  God’s the one who claims us as God’s own, and we are free.

So what does it mean to receive him then?  And for what do we need power if it’s not to save ourselves?

We need power because we still live in a world of darkness.  The darkness has not gone away with the birth of Jesus.  It has not gone away with his death and glorious resurrection.  The darkness is still here.  Fires are burning.  People are warring. Political parties are squabbling.  Refugees are fleeing, hoping for something better.  Families are wondering how to meet the challenges of violence, disease, addiction, abandonment…

Yet, within this darkness there is some light.  A light shines in the darkness, and this light is Jesus, and Jesus does not hoard his light within himself, but shines it out into the world, into us—and THROUGH us!

We are given the power to shine the light of God in this world.  We are given the power to be the children of God, to shine the light of God in this world… in the dark places of this world.

Where do you see darkness?  How can you shine God’s light in the darkness that you see?  Are there ways to fight fires, or to respond to disaster? Are there ways to stand for the oppressed, and to work against the powerful perpetrators of darkness?  Are their ways to alter the ways our political parties work for the people?  Are their ways to provide hope in the midst of despair?

You have the power to be children of God, not merely infants basking in the promise of salvation, but also people who actively work to shine God’s light in the midst of darkness, however we can manage to do so.

How do we live God’s love within the darkness of this world?  The answer to that is too vast for one sermon, because it includes all those things I’ve mentioned and more.

Jesus is God’s Word enfleshed to be light in this world, and we have the power to shine that light as God’s children…  All who have received him have that power.  You can shine that light out into the world in all that you do… or you can try to hoard it to yourself!

I hope you choose to shine God’s light in Jesus’ name.  Amen