Bringing in the Light with Epiphany
This January marks not only a new year, but a new decade. I love when the calendar turns to a new year (decade, etcetera) because the new year is always about intentionality. It is about choosing to try something new, to become something new. In many ways, New Year’s is about bringing light into the darkness. Shortly after the New Year begins, we who follow the church calendar move into the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany is also about light coming into the darkness (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that Epiphany and New Year’s follow the Winter Solstice, so each day we get a tiny bit more sunlight for those of us north of the equator), it can feel like all of creation is yearning for us to notice the power of light, of change, of newness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this line in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Strength to Love: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” It’s based on John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it – which is a little more complicated when we look at the text in the original Greek. “Overcome” can also be translated as overtake or grasp, which means that this line from John could mean that the darkness cannot overtake or seize the light, or simply that darkness does not understand light. This idea of the darkness being unable to grasp the light resonates with Dr. King’s teaching on love. Hate does not grasp love, and hate cannot overcome love, which (I’m sure many theologians would argue with) leads me to the conclusion that the difference between light and dark and love and hate is that light and love understand darkness, they can grasp it so they can overcome it.
For me, these texts point to one of the deep truths of Christianity, which is the belief that we were created for goodness and love but born into a broken and hurting world. When I used to preach at baptisms, I reminded the congregation that babies come into the world as tiny love letters from God to a world desperate to be reminded that we are loved and that we are enough. Baptism is a reminder that each of us was created to be light in the darkness and sometimes we need to be reminded that no matter how dark the darkness seems, how terrifying the hate, the light and love that we were born with and bathed in at baptism will not be overcome by any of it. And yet, we understand the darkness and the hate. We understand it because it is often fueled by fear and scarcity so we can grasp where the darkness and hate are coming from, which means we have the tools to overcome it, which is to say that the problems of the world will not be solved by “opting out” but by being signs of light and love. When we find ourselves stuck in tough conversations, we’ll reach for tools of love like curiosity, gratitude and assuming good will. We’ll rely on tools that shed light, like good boundaries and safety rules. But we cannot shy away if we want the world to be different, we must show up.
The turning into a new year is an important time to remember our Baptism, to remember that we are light and love and to seek out how we might do that. It’s a chance to believe we are enough (and thank you for all of the ways you bless our world each day), that we have enough, and we are capable of being light and love. We will be light and love even if the world doesn’t grasp what we are doing, because we know that by doing just that we will overcome the darkness with God’s help. I’m looking forward to seeing the 2020 UTO grant applications in the “Bless” focus, as these projects are signs of light and love in the world. What a great way to start a new decade in the life of the United Thank Offering, which has shone out in the darkness for over 130 years thanks to all of you shining the light of love through the radical act of giving thanks.