What does light mean to you? Let us reflect upon it. For light is at the symbolic heart of Advent and Christmas, as it is of our Gospel reading this morning. Indeed the Gospel writer John says of John the Baptiser, ‘he came as a witness to the light.’ So what is this light and what difference does it make to our lives?
Our Gospel reading today is not entirely helpful. For a number of reasons, our lectionary compilers missed out 11 verses between the first few verses (verses 6-8) and the following ones (19-28). Which is a bit of a shame. For verses 9-10 especially, are, for me, key to understanding both the light of John’s Gospel and John the Baptist’s role. For verses 9-10 say this: ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world, He was in the world, and the world came into being through him: yet the world did not know him.’ In other words, John’s Gospel is saying that what we know as the light of Christ is that which lights up everyone, but we, as human beings, fail, so often, to grasp this. As a result we become separated, or feel ourselves separated, from true reality. This is the root of the brokenness and divisions of our world, of our personal relationships, and of our own personalities. If we are not connected, or do not know ourselves as connected, to eternal light, then how can we shine to our fullest.
This is at the heart of the ministry of healing in which we share in our eucharist today. As we pray, we do so to be reconnected and renewed in the light of Christ. For, in the light of Christ, all things are interconnected and re-illuminated. The ministry of healing, you see, is not a special separate act. It is an affirmation and demonstration of our deepest reality: that we all come into being through the light of Christ and that we all shine best when we allow that light to flow through us and between us...
I find that very helpful, don’t you? Too often Christian Faith has been portrayed in terms of keeping rules and regulations, with God judging us if we fail. Yet John’s Gospel suggests that our basic problem in life is separation: separation from our true life-source. It is a bit like a wonderful modern electronic device. It can run wonderfully in many ways, without direct connection with its light and energy source, sometimes for a very long time. It works best however when it is in regular connection with that life-source. Otherwise it loses its real power and its real purpose. It becomes drained and short of illumination. Healing is similarly essentially about being reconnected. It is about being renewed by our ultimate life-source. It is about rediscoving illumination in the face of darkness. It is about overcoming separation.
There is an old saying about sin. If you look at the word sin, they say, you can see that the letter ‘I’ is in the centre. In other words, sin is about the separation of our ego from God: putting ourselves at the world’s centre. Well, there is something in that. I think it goes much deeper though. Sin isn’t just about our human egos, it is also about all the other separations in our world. It is about the way in which people are separate, or made separate from each other. It is about the way we separate rich from poor, black from white, male from female, gay from straight, the abled from the disabled. It is about the way we separate human life from the life of the wider planet, head from heart, mind from matter, spirituality from economics. And, vitally, it is about the way parts of our being are separated from other parts.
John’s Gospel reminds us that all parts of our world, and all parts of our selves, belong together. For everyone, and everything, comes into being through the light of Christ. Once we start to separate, we start losing connection. We begin to be drained. Our brokenness worsens. We feel cut off and we face increasing darkness. That is what John the Baptist was saying, not just about our personal lives, but about the whole of life. Repent, he said,: turn round, reconnect with the light that created and sustains you. Repent, turn around, reconnect with others, reconnect with your wider world: for all of these things too, and renew you.
The ministry of healing is thus not a special, separate act. The ministry of healing is actually a central sign of what the whole of Christian life is about: namely, reconnecting with the light of Christ which creates and sustains us, and which illuminates and dispel our darkness. It is about restoring our relationships, on every level of our being. It is therefore not about magic but mystery. It may not ‘fix’ our immediate problems but it can transform them. It may not take away all our pain but it does allows us to find Christ in our pain and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. It is about reconnecting with our life-source, which always seeks our well-being and unity.
I don’t know about you, but I suspect that the worst thing about illness is not the pain itself but what the pain represents and leads to: namely separation. For when we are ill, we are typically separated from so much that is life-giving, and which, when we are well, we so easily take for granted. When we are ill, we are separated from bodily well-being: that is what pain does to us. We no longer feel connected to our body in ways we would like. We no longer feel the same, or even think the same. But there is much, much more to the separation of illness and pain. For when we become ill, we are typically separated from the wider world. We may no longer be able to do much, or hardly anything, of what we used to do. We are theefore separated from so many of the very roles and relationships which have made up our life to that point. Instead of a lightness of being we then feel heavy and drained. We may no longer see much light in ourselves or the wider world, but only thicker, gathering, darkness.
Do we start to see therefore why the light of Christ in today’s Gospel is so important? Do we see why Jesus spent so much time on the ministry of healing and commanded his followers to do likewise? Do we see why it is so good to share in the ministry of healing in this Advent service, as we seek to reconnect again with the light of Christ at Christmas? Our ministry of healing is about sharing in Christ’s transforming of the powers of sin: the powers of separation, of brokenness and of darkness. Our ministry of healing is about reconnecting and helping each other reconnect with the light and healing of Christ.
Another way of looking at Christian healing is as a way of restoring the body, the broken and suffering body of Christ, which is you and I. The ministry of healing is thus an extension of what we do when we share the Peace. At the Peace, we reconnect, don’t we? We share as one body, and we do so by a word of peace and by touch. That is what we do in our ministry of healing. We reconnect. Instead of suffering in our separateness, we join together. Instead of being separate individual bodies, bearing our pain and struggles alone, we share our pain and struggles together, as one body with others, in the light and presence of God. Instead of being cut off, we experience the healing touch and loving embrace of God, through other members of the same body.
So may we turn from our sin and separateness and know again the healing light of Christ, transforming our pain and dispelling our darkness. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.