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Nestled in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico is one of the crown jewels of the US National Park System: The Carlsbad Caverns. As the name suggests, there isn’t just one cavern there but many. The park has 120 of them, with more still being found.
First discovered in 1930, each year about half a million people visit the popular landmark.
The main attraction in the cavern is the Big Room. With a length of almost 4,000 feet the Big Room is just that; it is the largest cave chamber in North America.
There are two ways to get to the Big Room. You can take an elevator 750 feet down to it, a nice modern touch for such an ancient space. Or you can take the one-mile hike into the mouth of the cave, just like the original explorers did almost 100 years ago.
Once there, one thing is guaranteed: you’ll experience something difficult to achieve. During each tour the Park Ranger gathers everyone together, explains what will happen next, unlocks a panel on the wall, and then flicks a switch.
And there you will be, in a room large enough for six football fields, with perhaps a few dozen people by your side, surrounded in complete and utter darkness.
Devoid of any visual cues to help make sense of the surroundings some people who go wave their fingers in front of their face. Others hold hands with loved ones to know they are there. Panic may set in, the guide explains, but just take a few deep breaths. Because the Park Ranger will turn the lights back on soon.
People describe the experience in a variety of ways.
I went as a child. Standing there is indeed something I’ll never forget.
Genesis & John
Long before those caverns came into being darkness was all there was.
In the beginning, when God created from nothing, the earth was formless. Darkness reigned supreme. But a new wind was blowing. Change was in the air. God said, Let there be light and there was light. With that God separated the light from the darkness. God saw the light and called it good. And there was morning, and there was evening, the first day.
Our text this morning offers us another creation story. This one has a twist.
In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God.
So starts the gospel of John. If you listen closely, with the Word being Jesus, you can hear an early echo of trinitarian theology ringing through.
What has come into being in the Word was –
the life, and
of all people.
This is the birth story of Jesus according to the fourth gospel.
For the light shines in the darkness.
And the darkness did not overcome it.
The rest of Christ’s ministry reveals the nature of this light going forth one –
…at a time
And later one –
…ensuring Christ’s light would brighten the world forevermore.
Both creation stories speak to –
Order, emerging from chaos.
Light, emerging from darkness.
They also both speak to the role of the divine, illuminating the change.
Making all this –
hope for brighter tomorrows possible.
This past year has been a tough one in many ways.
With few cues to help make sense of our surroundings we may be tempted to focus on the darkness. When we do it allows little room for anything else. Fear, panic, alarm, may all start to creep in. Yet –
As short winter days grow longer,
(more light is coming)
As one year closes and a new one begins,
(more light is coming)
Let us also look for wisdom in the depths of the Carlsbad Caverns.
For once upon a time, a young couple took their two young children there. As the family reached the deepest part of the Big Room, the guide turned off the lights, as they always do, to show just how dark it can be. Enveloped in complete darkness, the couple’s seven-year-old boy began to cry. He was scared. Immediately they heard the quiet voice of his big sister, who was only 11.
“Don’t cry,” the sister said. “Someone here knows how to turn on the lights.”
Seconds later the lights can back on. They always do. All was well in the little boy’s world.
Christ knows how to turn on the lights. Even better –
Christ is the light.
May Christ be your light.
May Christ show you the way.
For just a little light, amid the darkness, is all we truly need. Amen.