1 Epiphany: Darkness, Light, and a Third Thing

“In the beginning…
the earth was a formless void and darkness
covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God
swept over the face of the waters.”

”to you the night is the same
as the day,
darkness and light to you
are both alike” —
the psalmist says to God in next week’s psalm.

What is God
that light and dark are both alike?
Can we even imagine eyes
that see through light and darkness
with the same acuity?
What is God
that there exists within holiness
something that is other than
light or dark —
a something, third thing?
I can’t imagine such a third thing, can you?

Before there was light
there was darkness
and God did not know yet
that there could be something other,
something more,
something we would come
to love
to know
to need
to require…light.

A world without light
would grind us down, down, down
and even if we survived,
we would be so much less
than we are.

But a world without darkness?
Well, we can see what happens
when we refuse to turn out the lights.
We become manic.
We ruin things.
We forget everything
the darkness teaches us
about rest
and quiet
and dependency
and risk.
A world without darkness
never never stops.

But “where the desires of two come together
there love is perfected.”
Where lightness and darkness meet
and there is a third thing
that was before both of them,
Life is perfected.

All of which is to say,
”Whoa, we have no idea
what we’re talking about here
when we are talking about God.”
I mean, right from the beginning of the Bible,
Genesis 1:1, we are alerted
to the fact that God —
who sees neither darkness nor light
yet created them both —
is way too much “other” for us
to even imagine.
God is whole other category of…of what?
We don’t even have a way
to describe something so much other
than us.

A burning bush that talks?
A still small voice within a whirlwind?
A cherubim with a glowing coal?
And other ridiculous cartoons and caricatures
from the Hebrew text
that bleed into the imaginations
of the New Testament?

No. A single human being.
Someone plucked from an ordinary life —
ordinary for first century Galilee —
and adopted as the child
of the Creator-of-all-that-is.
A single human being
that could only see
lightness and darkness
and not that third thing God sees.
Yet somehow these two desires
came together
and love was perfected.

Right there
is the idea of the Christ.
God is too much other —
too much different
and so far beyond what we can even imagine,
that we needed something
to distill God down
into a recognizable
and accessible
Viola, Jesus.

Now whether you believe Jesus
is the Christ — that form
created by the meeting
of two desires
to create perfect love —
or not,
you can at least understand
where that idea comes from.

We needed something
to translate God
into a human life
into a human body
into a human way of living.
That is the idea
of Christ.
Whether you believe it or not
you can understand
and appreciate the idea.
It is an idea
that has been around
in a variety of religions
ever since human beings realized
that there is something greater
than the light and dark we see.

We can learn from
and apprehend
and utilize the idea
even without believing in
the “facticity” of it.
And believers
and non-believers
can form community together
because where two such desires meet
love is perfected.

Is that too much gobbledygook?

I’m a preacher
and so I love digging around
big ideas, but
that is not for everyone.
Some people prefer
a straight up order of eggs over easy
with bacon and toast, rather than
what the menu describes as
“a butter basted oospore
turned comfortably until firm and golden,
luxuriously accompanied by a holiday
of glistening rippled fingers of bacon
slightly encrusted half-moons of pain
lathered with farm-fresh creamery butter.”

If you are the former, who likes it straight up
without the big ideas,
you are in luck.
There is the Gospel of Mark.

Mark is a straight-forward story-teller
who does not beat around the bush.
While there are some sneaky literary riffs in Mark
they enhance the story
without a lot of falderal.
We have an example of it today.

Notice that these verses
are the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel:
Chapter 1, verses 4-11.
There is no long and poetic prologue
as there is in the Gospel of John
that tells us Jesus is the Word
and was with God in the beginning
before all that light and darkness.

There is no recitation of Jesus’ genealogy
as there is in Matthew and Luke.
No Mary and Elizabeth.
No Mary even — not until later,
and then neither elaborate nor complementary.
No angels.
No shepherds.
No birth or king prophecies.
No wise men or kings.
No escape into Egypt and no evil King Herod.
None of the stuff
we associate with Christmas or Epiphany.
None of it.

Just John the Baptist
and Jesus who had come
to repent
and receive forgiveness for his sins.
That is what John was offering —
baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Mark just tells it straight up.

There is John,
wearing camel skins and eating bugs,
standing in the river
welcoming “all the people of Jerusalem”
as well as “people from all over the countryside.”
In other words, urban and rural folks.
Jesus was among them.
Jesus gets baptized.

God adopts Jesus
as his child.
”Two desires come together
and love is perfected.”

The way Mark tells it,
Jesus is that single human being
hosting God
and translating God
into an ordinary human life
in ways both understandable
and accessible.

Later on the Church
will blow that up
and make Jesus into a supernatural Christ
that we can neither understand
nor access.
But if we travel back to Mark
and stay rooted with him,
then we have a human being
adopted by God.

It doesn’t say how they met
or whether Jesus agreed to the transaction
ahead of time or not.
But it does tell us
he was an adult before this happened
and that he was an ordinary human being
who felt the need to repent
and be forgiven — which is part of what defines
our ordinariness.

So big idea
meets ordinary human being
and love is perfected.

Welcome to Epiphany
and the year of Mark,
the featured Gospel for this year
in the three-year lectionary cycle.

But be forewarned, the lectionary
doesn’t allow Mark to tell his story
straight-out, without obstruction.
For example, immediately following
today’s story is the story of Jesus in the wilderness.
We will have to wait until Lent
to hear that story.

But if we take a look at chapter one
in the Gospel of Mark,
we will see that he tells
four big stories
in four brief consecutive paragraphs.
Jesus gets baptized is the first paragraph.
Jesus goes into the wilderness and is tempted,
is the second paragraph.
The declaration of Jesus’ mission statement —
third paragraph.
Jesus calls the twelve disciples, fourth paragraph.

It will be other, later writers
who take these stories and embellish them.
I find it helpful and refreshing
to leave the inflated menu description
and dig into the bacon and eggs.

So if you are someone who needs
the sermon to be about something specific
that you can put in your pocket
and take home for the week ahead —
instead of the big ideas
and poetic yammering
I enjoy writing — here it is.

Whether the Christ is a mystical,
supernatural God in a human body named Jesus,
or an idea wrapped up
in the teachings of a man named Jesus,
we can spend our lifetimes
mining the wisdom
in what he did and taught
and never reach the end of it.

In fact, we don’t have to believe in God at all
in order to access the wisdom
and amazing power for living
that is embodied in the life and teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.

I am not in charge of Christianity
or the Church
or even this little corner of it,
but it seems to me
that we can believe and hold
any of those options
and still participate fully
in the spiritual community we call church,
because when two such desires meet
love is perfected.

Put that in your pocket
and take it home with you.