The Light Shines in the Darkness

Second Sunday of Christmas C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI.

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20, 26
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:1-18

On August 5, 2010, at 2:00 in the afternoon, a significant cave-in occurred at the San José copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert in Chile. There were two groups of miners working that afternoon. The first, closer to the entrance, escaped immediately. But the second group, 33 miners, found themselves trapped 2300 feet underground, 3 miles from the mine’s entrance.

They gathered in a shelter and had access to food and supplies meant to last 2-3 days. The cave-in filled the tunnels of the mine with a dust cloud that lingered for 6 hours and blinded the trapped miners until it settled, though they suffered the effects of it long after. They tried to escape through ventilation shafts, but the ladders required by code were never installed. Luis Urzúa, the duty shift supervisor, organized the trapped miners and rationed supplies.

A national rescue effort got underway, but everyone assumed that the miners would be long dead by the time anyone reached them. Still, they pressed on, and 17 days later, the first drill broke into the area where the miners were believed to have been trapped. When the drill was brought back to the surface, a message was taped to it: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33”. “We are fine in the shelter –the 33”.

Now that the recovery operation knew that all 33 miners were in fact alive, an international effort of cooperation ensued. More equipment and engineers were brought in to drill holes that could actually be used for rescue. Food and supplies were sent down the already-drilled holes to keep the miners alive. It seemed like everyone worked together to save these miners trapped down in the dark.

On October 12, the Fénix 2 rescue capsule was lowered down into the mine, a 21-inch wide tube, with a rescue worker already inside to help the miners get into the capsule one at a time. Each rescue took 15 minutes. One by one, the miners were brought up and back to the surface, with Luis Urzúa coming up last. And on October 13, all 33 miners were rescued alive—they had been trapped down in the mine for 69 straight days.

Every morning, we wake up and eventually we get to see the sun. Every night, when darkness falls, we are confident that it is only a few hours until the daylight returns again. But for someone trapped in a mine for 69 straight days, separated from the surface of the earth, and living for over two months in perpetual darkness, I can only imagine what it was like to be pulled out of the ground, out of a place of certain death, and brought back into the light. I can only imagine what the bright glimmer, what that blazing sun meant for those 33 miners who were literally lifted out of their grave and set down on their own two feet. For them, that light wasn’t just another ordinary day. It wasn’t just the sun, it wasn’t just morning and afternoon and evening. For them, that light was the single most important thing they had ever seen. It literally changed and saved their lives.

John 1 is one of the most poetic, most beautifully written parts of the entire Bible, and it’s easy to sort of gloss over it. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Great, a theological paradox all wrapped up nicely and neatly in one place. Even the parts about the light coming into the world seem so quaint and ordinary, as if God did nothing more than flip a light switch and bring a little warm incandescence into a dimly lit world to spruce it up a bit.

But I encourage you to read it again. Read John 1 again, and keep in mind the plight of those 33 miners who spent 69 days trapped in the darkness of the earth, who lived on the brink of death. For them, darkness wasn’t just an inconvenience—it was the end of their existence. It was utter hopelessness and despair.

Now keep in mind how life-saving the light actually was. How it literally brought them from death to new life. The light is not so ordinary and not so common now. Don’t gloss over it.

Very often, Christmas can become just as ordinary as any other season. It comes and it goes, and we hardly know the difference. We shout “Yay Jesus!” and have fond memories of shepherds, angels, and a little manger. Many of us know, but don’t really remember, that Christmas starts on December 25 and runs all the way to January 5. It’s easy to gloss over how important this season is. Today is Christmas. Today, we continue to celebrate the coming of The Light into the world, a world that had been, and sometimes, still feels as if it is cast in complete darkness.

We fight wars constantly over things as petty as money and land and resources and power. We are the only animal species on the planet that kills its own kind regularly “just because”. While I don’t think any of us have been trapped in a mine for 69 days, I’m sure if I asked each of you, myself included, you could think of a time when the world seemed completely dark, distant, even evil in your own life.

This is the reality into which God injected Christmas. This is the world in which the light shone brightly as a tiny, tiny flame at first. These are the people for whom God sacrificed all.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

We know that we as human beings are not only not perfect, we’re pretty darn far from it. Individually, we have our ups and downs; communally, as a group, we can and do cause tremendous pain and hurt to each other and to the world. And yet, it is precisely this, this human body, this human arrogance and ignorance, hatred and envy, greed and gluttony, that God took on in the very real, human form of Jesus Christ. That sounds awfully risky to me.

This summer we heard a parable about yeast, about how even a little bit of it can change and even ruin a batch of dough. So much good, ruined by so little a thing. Surely, taking on human form, full of all the evils the world can devise, would be a mistake for God. How can anything withstand what we human beings can do?

And 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. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Something miraculous happened at Christmas, this season we celebrate today. God became incarnate in perhaps the worst part of creation, human beings, and in the process, not only resisted the temptation to become just like us, but actually transformed us. We became children of God, born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God. It may take only a little yeast to ruin a batch of bread; but it only takes a little bit of light to banish a room of darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

This is who we are. This is what Christmas reminds us: that we, too, have seen the light, that it enlightens us, that through it we have received grace upon grace. This is not the light that comes up every morning and goes to sleep at night without us noticing. This is a light that penetrates down to the deepest, darkest, collapsed mines of our hearts, a little spark that bores its way into a wide tunnel that lets the light in and our new selves, our new lives, back out into the world. What has come into being in this is life, the light that is the light of all people.

Today may be the last Sunday we celebrate the Christmas season, but it is by no means the end of the light. Indeed, for just as the light was preceded by those who heralded its coming, such as John, who witnessed to the coming of Christ, so too is it proceeded by all those on whom the light has shined, who have come up out of our dark graves into the glorious day. Now we are the witnesses. Now we are the heralds, not to some dinky little light but the light that saves the lives of more than just 33 miners trapped in a dark hole.

We are the heralds of good news and glad tidings, messengers to a world trapped in the darkness of death below the earth and among those still living on it. We are the little lights that shine in the night. We are the voices crying out from the wilderness: the Lord is coming!

And 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. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Get ready: the light is about to shine!

Featured Image: “13.10.10 Luis Urzúa” by Gobierno de Chile is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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