This scripture reading is fitting for the last day of the twelve days of the Christmas season . . . fitting for the eve of the season of Epiphany . . . with Christmas we receive the gift of God . . . with Epiphany we receive the assurance that this gift is for all people . . . for all of God’s children . . . for all of us. Thus it is fitting that we hear the words of the writer of John’s gospel . . . it speaks of gift, opportunity, and potential . . . it speaks the Good News.
If watch any television or listen to any radio you have heard the commercials from Motel 6. You hear that folksy music being played, the narrator speaking, and then the punch line . . . a punch line we all know by heart that finishes the commercial, “We’ll leave the lights on.” That one line from NPR radio personality Tom Bodett probably did more for his career in radio than did anything else. That little announcement was construed as being so sincere, heart-felt, warm, and honest that it won Motel 6 national and international awards for advertising . . . and, it became their slogan . . . their brand . . . their identity. People believed them when they said, “We’ll leave the light on.”
Leaving the light on has always been a symbol of hospitality . . . a sign of welcome . . . a sign that someone cares. As a teenager and young adult, I always appreciated my parents leaving the light on when I was out carousing with my friends. After getting married, I always appreciated it when my wife would leave the light on when I was coming home from a long trip and getting home late at night. It is always a relieve to see the light on when approaching the house in the darkness of the light. It reminds me that someone cares . . . someone is inviting me in . . . someone is welcoming me home. That is what Motel 6 was shooting for when it developed its advertising campaign promising weary travelers that they “would leave the lights on.” And, so it is with God.
God leaves the lights on . . . at least that is what the writer of John’s gospel is telling us. Unlike the other Advent and Christmas readings from the scriptures we have heard, we delve into the Gospel of John this morning . . . this writer is not too concerned about the actual story; no, this writer is more concerned with the theological implications of the story. This writer uses a lot of images and symbols to lay the Christmas story out for the readers. Where everyone else is concerned with making sure all the little details of the story are told, remembered, and fit into the prophecies . . . this writer is more concerned that the reader or listener get the point of the story . . . God has left the light on.
With the birth of Jesus, God flipped the light on. The light shines in the darkness of the world for all to see. It is a sign of hospitality . . . a sign of welcome . . . an invitation to come on in, kick your shoes off, and stay a while. The light shines so that all may see it through the darkness of the world and their lives . . . it is there for everyone. In the Christmas story, God turns on the light . . . the writer states: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness . . . the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” This is the gift of Christmas.
In Jesus, God offers a gift of relationship . . . a gift of intimacy . . . a gift of connectedness . . . between us and God through Jesus and his life. The gift shows us the way . . . is it not “light” that shows us the way through the darkness of the night . . . of our world . . . of our lives? John wants us to know that God has flicked on the light . . . and, it is always on.
The symbol of Epiphany centers around the three Magi . . . the three wise men . . . or, as our hymns so gleefully proclaim, the three Kings. We know that the scriptures never really tell how many of these individuals there really were, but we do know that they came bearing three gifts . . . thus we make the assumption that there were three of them. We also know that they were not from Israel . . . that they were foreigners . . . that they were not of Jesus’ people, they were not Jews. They came seeking the “light” that they had seen . . . they seeking the truth . . . seeking the gift. It was not because they had to, but because they wanted to.
One of the major points that we followers of Jesus must consider from this story is that the gift of the Christ . . . the gift of the “light” . . . was not given only to one race of people, but to the whole of God’s family . . . it was given to the world. These Magi, of different countries, races, and religious persuasion, were also given the gift of Christmas as we call it. God not only flicks on the light, God throws open the doors . . . all are welcome.
That is what the writer of the Gospel of John wants us to understand; yet, at the same time, the writer wants us to also understand that it is a gift that must be received, embraced, and used . . . something the writer does not see as happening . . . then or now. The writer writes: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it . . . the world did not recognize him.”
The “light” is on, but it is up to the person seeing to receive the light, embrace it, and make it a part of who he or she is . . . remember, a gift is not a gift until it is opened and received. The reward is great if the gift is opened . . . “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” To receive the gift, to step into the “light”, is to enter into the intimate relationship with God . . . it is to fulfill the circle of grace. This is what God wants . . . this is what God offers . . . but, the choice is always up to us.
As we journey through this world with all of its darkness . . . God leaves the light on. As we journey through the darkness of our own lives . . . God leaves the lights on. God always leaves the light on . . . God leaves the lights on because God wants us to come home. Amen.