A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent (Karl Barth)

Karl Barth, “John 1:1-5 (December 22, 1918)”

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 anything 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 Life was the light of the people. The light shines in the darkness….” We live from this truth. This light shiningshining light is like the air we breathe; we live from it without thinking about it. All that we know and have that is joyful, beautiful, and beloved comes from this shining light. But, like children who reject their parents, we can be ungrateful and forget the source from which we receive the best we have. Yet the source never ceases to flow, and we never cease to drink from it. We can indeed sit in a corner with the minuscule light of our own wisdom and righteousness, and act as if this little light were the only right one in the world, the one that should illuminate God and all other human beings. Even such minuscule lights would have no brightness at all, if it were not for that great shining light; without knowing it, we have kindled our little lights from that light….This shining light is given, and we live from it.

The light shines. We may hear this as a message of joy, good news, gospel for us and the whole world. We may proclaim it courageously and defiantly against all the darkness of our time; against the darkness in our own hearts, in our community, in our hospitals, mental institutions, and prisons; against the darkness in our conversations with one another and in the newspapers that we read; against all the darkness that darkens so many sickbeds and the beds of the dying; and against the pernicious darkness of our social conditions. Without hesitation we may proclaim against all darkness: the light shines. It remains true to itself; it remains what it is even in the deepest darkness, and that is why it shines. Because it is true, we may be courageous and defiant. There is no reason to doubt and despair, to give up, to think only somber and hopeless thoughts about ourselves, our community, and today’s world…..The light shines. This is what must be and remain most important, over against all that is otherwise true, all that otherwise occupies and fills our minds and hearts and causes us to be burdened with care.

For in the Savior, whose birth we will celebrate at Christmas, the light is a power of God for all who are honest and upright. Based only on ourselves, we human beings really do not understand life. Based on ourselves, on what we think, decide, and do, we will always be in error in answering the most important questions, even with the best of intentions….We live in a world full of confusion and lack of understanding, full of violence and distress, and all of it comes from this: willing to live based on ourselves. Now, however, in the Savior something beyond us, something from the other side, has begun to move. The life has now revealed itself. The truth has appeared. The eternal has come into time. The love of God has been poured out [cf. Rom. 5:5], God has given the course of the world another direction.

It is as if God said to humanity, “Now things are based not on you, but on me! Based on you, on your thought and actions, there was sin; based on me, there is forgiveness and the power of a new life. Based on you, there is distress and affliction; based on me, there is help and salvation. Based on you, there is always opposition, one against the other; based on me, there is togetherness and being for one another. Based on you, there are all kinds of false valuations of greatness, position, money, education; based on me, there is humility and fellowship. Based on you, there is coarseness, violence, severity, and much noisemaking; based on me, there is what is fine, quiet, interior. Based on you, the most exalted lord and ruler is death; based on me, there is eternal life.” That is how we might imagine God tells us of the change that has come about through Jesus Christ, a fact that can never be undone. […]

It is God who asks us, “Can what I have spoken become true among you? Where are the honest and upright people who willingly hear and understand what I have said? Where are the bright, open eyes that can see and understand the light? Who truly hears and obeys the joyful message that the light shines? Please understand that for me all is in good order: the light shines, the truth is made known to you, and the knowledge necessary for salvation is in you. But is all in good order for you? Can the light now defy the darkness? Can in triumph? Do you who are Christians, ‘Christ-persons,’ do you see something of the change in all things, of the revelation of the life that is in this name you bear? Are you what you say you are?Have you done your part to let the light that you have penetrate into your families, into your social circumstances, into the relationships of different peoples and nations one to another? I have laid hold of you, but have you understood me? […]

Suddenly the tables are turned; now we are the ones being asked. The question that we want to ask God is turned back on us. We are asked whether the light of Christmas really is light. So the answer that God gives our questions is his calling us to account, his asking us what we have made of the light that has long since been given to us at Christmas. And now it is up to us to give answer to God. […]

The message of Advent about the coming of the light requires that we become people of Advent; people who persistently await the victorious light. Where there are such people, Christmas can happen. Christ waits for people who will not compromise the light with darkness, neither in themselves nor in anything else, but who are moved by the serious need for the light of Christ and who are aware of whence the help comes. May God give that we may go forth to the festival of Christmas as moved and motivated people. Then we will experience Christmas with the gifts of grace and blessing.

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