By Leanette Sansum
Daily Lectionary reading: Psalm 20; 1 Kings 3:5-14; John 8:12-19
Selected passage for reflection: John 8:12-19
John 8:12-19 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards;[a] I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid, for it is not I alone who judge but I and the Father[b] who sent me. 17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” 19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
As we reflect on the birth of Jesus, at the brink of a new year, we discover a different kind of birth in our waiting. A hope for greater light in the world. Mary, who mediated God incarnate through the birth of Jesus. Advent makes it a point and challenge for us to reexamine the meaning of God's incarnation and what we wait for; in the coming year.
John's Gospel reads as a theological manifesto about who God is as it relates to Jesus John's community of early Jesus followers. John's community interprets Jesus as God, Logos. Like much of what this Gospel communicates, here in this passage are motifs riddled with tension that is behind the scenes between this new religious community and the Jewish community. This tension is expressed in words like Pharisees vs. Jesus, dark vs. light, and evil vs. good. Egos are walls built that isolate and separate us from each other, having drastic consequences of discrimination and oppression, as seen in years of antisemitism using scriptures like these to assert our superiority.
But what if, in the story of God's incarnation, we don't see how we are separate or superior from the other communities but see it as God diving into humanity and into our day-to-day life experience? What if, as God enters our raw reality, lived first through Mary birthing Jesus? And in that first encounter touched what it was like to be human, a young woman, oppressed and bound by laws that left most women with no voice or power. What if in this first incarnation encounter, God identifies with Mary, finding her to be the first glimpse into how the "Light of the World" would become incarnate disrupting these "us vs them" mentalities as seen in the Gospel of John and in our world today.
Mercy Oduyoye, an African feminist theologian, names this well "Together, they rejoiced at God's salvation, which comes through women. As unborn speaks to unborn, God's future as discerned by women is made ready by women to be communicated among and by women to the whole community" As Jesus matures and begins his ministry continues to relate to, connect, and identify with the suffering of others, especially God's most marginalized. An uncommon practice, and yet found ways to light the world with new ways of being human and being in relationship with each other. After all, Jesus was a brown and poor Jewish man who spent most of his time with those who had been outcasts.
Oduyoye adds: "God the Christ is the one who takes on the conditions of African women: conditions of weakness, misery, injustice, and oppression." This "Light of the World" shines for us to see that in Jesus's disruption of oppression in our systems and interpersonal relationship, God touches our pain, meets us in our misery, identifies with our weaknesses, and is in solidarity with us as we fight against injustice and oppression. God, through Jesus, expresses this kind of radical Love.
In this Advent season and inching toward "a new year," could we be challenged into some "Theological Vulnerability" as theologian John J. Thatamanil shares that allows for the Light of the World to birth a new kind of humanity that sees how we each are part of the Beloved Community, interconnected, held together by Love. A love that disrupts our hyperindividualism, separation, and superiority that perpetuates oppression and instead sees the imago Dei in all of us. To find the likeness of God in all of us and to know that I cannot understand and be in whole relationship with God without my neighbor. Especially those who have been outcasted as we see today in our divisive Church and secular politics, where all "isms" of homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, and ableism are more alive today than ever.
We need this "Light of the World" to be God, "Love in the World."
As we respond to John J. Thatamanil’s challenge of “Theological Vulnerability”: How can we birth a new kind of humanity that sees our neighbor as a part of Imago Dei and thus part of how we understand and fully participate in God’s Love and Light?
God, in this Christmas season, may we participate in the beauty of your incarnation, Light, and Love. May we become more humble, vulnerable, open to listening and learning from our neighbor who give us a glimpse of God and of Love, to see ourselves. May this be what stir our hearts to love more courageously and to actualize the Beloved Community into this world.
About the Author
Leanette Pokuwaah is a Chicago native but is a first generation Ghanaian-American. She is passionate about curating communal healing spaces through faith, social justice initiatives, and community building. She is a writer, teacher, coach and musician who is pursuing her Masters of Divinity and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She hopes to continue to bridge spirituality, mental health, and the Enneagram within LGBTQ communities and communities of color. To learn more check her out at www.enneastories.com.