Here’s what happened Sunday.
Ginger had the congregation read John 1 in unison:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The last line is one of my favorite in all of the gospels. I remember it the way I learned it years ago: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.
As we read, I was struck by the notion that John and his readers knew more about darkness than you or I do. Light, in John’s time, constituted of oil lamps and, well, starlight – the ones we can’t see much of anymore because of our manufactured illumination. In a world where lamps burned out nightly, John talked about what was inextinguishable: the same inexhaustible, ancient light the Magi followed was born into a baby boy who would become the Light of the World: light as old as creation, filled with the love of our inescapable God, found focus in the insignificance of an infant.
OK, I need to back up a bit. On the way to church on Sunday, as I was preparing to follow the Magi to the manger, this story was delivered without irony on NPR:
America’s space program is scheduled to undergo a fundamental shift in 2011. Unless something changes by the end of the year, NASA will no longer have a rocket to send astronauts into space. The space shuttle program is being retired, and for the moment there is no American replacement rocket capable of sending people into orbit.
As we watched the wise men follow the star to the manger, the news came that we have quit chasing stars. (I know that’s not really what NASA was saying, but you have to give me a little poetic license.) In a year when we “discovered” more stars than we had previously imagined, we appear to have grown more provincial. The technological boom is in smart phones, not space craft. I have forty-seven ways to announce my every move to the world, yet, to borrow from my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald line, our count of enchanted objects continues to be diminished. Are we are losing our capacity for wonder, and to wonder?
Now – back to church and the rest of the gospel reading from Sunday:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
One last bit of time travel: on Friday, Talk of the Nation: Science Friday was going down their list of the top science stories of 2010 and one of the guests mentioned the discovery of extrasolar planets. Though we are not taking to flight very much, the Kepler spacecraft keeps looking for “dips in starlight”
that indicate the passage of planets, had found a whopping 706 candidate bodies by June, bringing the total of presumed extrasolar worlds to well over 1,000. One of Kepler’s discoveries, though much too close to its parent star to support life, has a diameter only about twice that of Earth. The finding demonstrates Kepler’s potential for finding Earth-sized planets.
What intrigued me most was the discussion about how the planets were discovered. The “dips in starlight” were the shadows cast by the small celestial bodies crossing in front of their larger and brighter partners. The planets were recognized by their insignificance – and the light to which they pointed, much like John and the star that led the wise men.
I got to sing in church on Sunday. I sang a duet of Steve Earle’s Christmas song, “Nothing But a Child.” The last verse says,
now all around the world, in every little town
everyday is heard a precious little sound
and every mother kind and every father proud
looks down in awe to find another chance allowed
The last line — another favorite — gets me, whether I’m listening to or singing the song. Earle wrote and recorded it as he was falling victim to his addictions and before he went to prison for his heroin habit. The light shines in the darkness . . . .
There is, as we say in the UCC, more light still to break forth. Let’s go out into the dark and wait for it.