I don’t know about you, but every once in a while, I am reading something and I come across a truth that I have read before, and discover I have never read this before!
Sunlight is said to be the best bleach and streetlamps the most effective police officers…
- Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
- Luke 1:46b-55
- 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
- John 1:6-8; 19-28
Growing up here in Panama, I went to Boarding School in Chame. As a child, after playing games or skating on the basketball court, we’d head back to our dorms, taking the shortest way back straight across the soccer field. Pitch dark – although probably only 7.30 or 8.00 p.m. Not something I wanted to do alone!
I remember (probably on more than one occasion), walking back across that field, and my friend Marion would let out a screech or scream and take off running, and I would scream and bolt for the buildings and the lights. In overtaking her I would notice she was doubled over with laughter, but that wouldn’t really sink in until I was safely standing, out of breath, on the porch under the lights. She’d eventually show up, still laughing. I was so predictable: waiting for those unseen snakes or ghouls or scary monsters to grab me out of the dark.
I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m just scared of what might be hiding in it.
Today I want to speak about the LIGHT.
Ever since mankind crawled out of the primordial slime, we’ve cried: “More light.”
Sunlight. Firelight. Candlelight. Torchlight. Neon, incandescent light that banishes the darkness from our caves, homes; lights that illuminate our roads, dangerous intersections and treacherous corners; and even lights that turn on when you open the door scaring the bogey man out from inside our refrigerators. Floodlights for our sports arenas. Tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.
Light is so much more than watts and foot-candles. Light is metaphor: knowledge and truth (the age of enlightenment); light is life and growth (photosynthesis, vitamin D); light is energy and force; and light is light.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
The Pharisees said to him: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
This is our third week of Advent, our celebration of the birth of Jesus: the way, the truth and the life. The gospel of John starts with these words of Truth:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through Him all things were made… In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness…
Notice the connection with Genesis 1?
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep… And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…
And to Genesis 3?
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
I want to start today by quickly reviewing the dichotomy of light versus darkness, in all its metaphors. Take a moment to reflect on these contrasts. What images come to mind as I read these words of Light and Darkness?
Doubt Anxiety Nightmares Despair London winter Dimness Depression Fear Tiredness Lethargy Captivity Blindness Haunted Sickness Grief Sadness Deception Heavy-hearted Addicted Imprisoned Contaminated Hatred Ignorance Consumed Hungry Famine
Faith Peace Courage Energy Dreams Freedom Hope Health Sunshine Sight Brightness Pleasant Contentedness Truth Joy Happiness Light-heartedness Free spirit Pure Love Knowledge Rejuvenated Plenty Satisfied
Light is a force and energy, whereas darkness is merely the absence of this force and energy. So, when the Bible says that God is LIGHT, what are the author’s trying to communicate to us? It doesn’t say that God is LIKE light, or God is “surrounded by” light, or “God has a great big electric generator so He can sit in the spotlight”, it says “God IS light”.
Light is the essence of God – the same way that man is flesh and blood. This light is self-existent, God possesses this power in and of Himself. It has no external source. God is pure light, not diluted or mixed in any way with evil, hatred, untruth, ignorance or hostility. God is light is not a theoretical assertion about the nature of God, but a statement that drives us to the heart of what God is like: God is pure light.
God is the source of all living things. God is truth and enlightenment.
If we briefly look at some of man’s encounters with God in the Bible, we can see a little better this Light and its many meanings.
Think of Moses’ first encounter with God: the burning bush. The bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames. God has his full attention – but didn’t have to destroy anything in order to do so.
The children of Israel got a glimpse of the glory of God at Mount Sinai:
under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself… but the cloud covered the mountain, and the glory of God looked like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain.
This was all a little much for the children of Israel, especially when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a radiant face, and they were afraid to come near him. A little like Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. A bright cloud enveloped them… and when Peter, James & John heard the voice, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.
On the other hand, think now of David, and his beautiful psalms. Here we find at least three metaphors:
- Picture God “clothed in garments of light”, symbolising the One who is pure, righteous and holy (there is no dirtiness, nothing to taint or contaminate God).
- God’s revelation through spoken and written word gives light: “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”; offering moral guidance and direction for how to live.
- Light symbolises also salvation: “God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Or how about Isaiah:
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.
Did you ever notice that most of the prophets start with “The word of the Lord came to…”, except for Ezekiel. Have you noticed Ezekiel’s spaceship?
I looked and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightening and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures (with faces and wings – each of the four had the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox and the face of an eagle) – so it didn’t matter which way they were facing, they were always facing forward. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright and lightening flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightening.
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome… Then there came a voice… Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown…
I’m somewhat relieved I haven’t had THAT encounter with God! And then sent out to preach against the injustice and evil of man…
And what about Paul? While breathing out murderous threats against the disciples, on the road to Damascus suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, sending him to the ground. When he got up and opened his eyes, he couldn’t see. And for three days he was blind. Three days to sit in quiet and solitude, and meditate on the meaning of his life. Three days to sit and think about what he’d been shown when he saw the light. Three days to wonder if the light was going to be the last thing he ever saw.
And yet, without light, none of us can see. Our eyes are useless in the pitch dark. Our sense of hearing and smell and taste and touch are unaffected by the darkness – but take away the light, and we are all blind. We need the reflection of light off objects to be able to see them. Light = sight.
You know, and I know, we each need that encounter with the LIGHT.
Some of us will find that light burning within us, but like the burning bush, this light doesn’t consume us. It is the Light that sends us out to rescue those who are prisoners or slaves, whether they are addicts, those imprisoned by poverty, those bound by depression or those just in need of love. This light from within feeds itself and gives us energy and light, but it doesn’t destroy us. It is the light of life! The light of the Spirit! The light of joy and giving! This is the Light that we are called to share with our fellow man. Don’t hide this light under a bushel. We are not to be mirrors of this light – this light is meant to burn inside each of us!
Some of us will fall on our faces, before the purity and power of the LIGHT, and simply worship. And when we walk away, after being in God’s presence you will be radiant, transfigured. Perhaps scary for others to see, but we will be RADIANT.
Some of us need to walk in the light, as David did: the light that guides each footstep and guides our path. We all need the words of truth.
Others will find in the Light that place of safety and security, the salvation that they so desperately need. The light that lifts them out of depression or addiction. The light that sets them free.
Some of us may be in that place where it seems that there is no light from the sun, and then we will hear, as Isaiah did “the LORD will be an everlasting light”.
Others of us will need to see the supernatural, like Ezekiel. That light that takes our breath away – and when it’s done, empowers and emblazons us to stand up and speak out against the injustices in the world. That takes us to fight for the 13 million people in the Horn of Africa that are starving because of the drought; the drive and motivation to face the starving refugees of Somalia; the motivation to stand up in “occupy” and say I disagree with the financial powers that be, “this is wrong”; or whatever message is laid on our hearts regarding the injustices and inequality in this world.
We need that Light that moves us to pray for the family in England of the man who after losing his job went home and shot his wife and daughter and 2 other children and then turned the gun on himself, leaving 2 orphaned children in the hospital to deal with the horror of the future without a father or mother or sister. And yet others will be called to minister directly to the grieving.
Some of us need that jolt of lightening like Paul, that stops us in our tracks, and makes us take time out from our endeavours and goals and plans, and the rat-race we call life, to make us rethink the direction that our life is heading in.
But more than anything, ALL of us need to be plugged into the LIGHT, the energy, the life-force. We are all like stand-alone computers, that until we are plugged in to the electricity, we can’t do anything, and unless we’re connected to the network, there’s a limit to how much information or data we can access. We all need to be plugged in and connected.
We read in first John 1: 5-7
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus… purifies us from all sin.
I ask each of you to take a moment right now, before we go on with this service, to meditate on what God’s Spirit reveals to you. How are you called to respond this Christmas season?
Some of us will be called, like Isaiah to proclaim:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because I have been anointed by the LIGHT; the LIGHT has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; To proclaim the year of the LIGHT’s favour… to comfort all who mourn; … to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. For the LIGHT loves justice, and hates robbery and wrongdoing; the LIGHT will faithfully give them their recompense. … I will greatly rejoice in the LIGHT, my whole being shall exult in my God; for the LIGHT has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness… For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the LIGHT will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Others, will, like Mary proclaim:
My soul magnifies the Lord, my LIGHT, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the LIGHT has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me… His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; the LIGHT and TRUTH has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. The Mighty One has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; the LIGHT has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. The Mighty One has helped his servant … in remembrance of His mercy.
And finally, from Paul we are reminded:
Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; Give thanks in ALL circumstances, knowing that this is the LIGHT’s will for you. Don’t quench or put out the Spirit of Light by allowing darkness to take hold in your life; Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything that you are told and hold fast to what is good and true; abstaining from every form of evil. And know that the God of peace Himself will sanctify you entirely; that your spirit and soul will be kept sound and blameless, no matter what happens or how crazy this world gets. Because the one who is call THE LIGHT has called you, and the LIGHT is faithful and true, and will do this.
C.S. Lewis said:
“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way”. ”
For those of us who have a hard time saying “Thy will be done” C.S. Lewis identifies:
“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are just wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
We may be thinking about those verses in 1 Peter chapters 4 & 5 that say: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering… but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings… so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” “… those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” “and the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Chris, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself make you perfect, strong, firm and steadfast.”
C.S. Lewis goes on to say:
“If we let Him–…we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”
Our 4 lectionary readings have a common theme: they demonstrate to us how simple and yet profound the choice presented in the Bible is.
1st Corinthians 3, verses 3 to 7:
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says “I follow Paul” and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
We are not to get caught up this earthly life, or on whose teachings we follow, who is right or wrong.
“all religions are true … So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be (that) a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”
Spiritual maturity is being able to admit “God makes me grow” – not what I do. I am not “trying” to become a “child of God”: I already am a child of God. We have all been redeemed and bought with a price. Our objective is not to win salvation; our objective is to become more Christ-like. As my relationship with God evolves, I realise that salvation, sanctification and justification is about personal transformation. I am not looking forward to eternal life when I die: eternal life began the day that I accepted God’s free gift of forgiveness.
But, am I allowing God to work in me or holding Him back? Do I love myself and God enough to become a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as I cannot now imagine? Or am I caught up in this world?
In my adventure of getting to know the omnipotent, omniscient, ever-present God, Deuteronomy 30: verses 15 to 20 sheds light on my relationship with God. Deuteronomy means “the second giving of the law.” In this Book, Moses repeats the law of God for those who will cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.
If you recall, before going up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, Moses challenged the Children of Israel with the basic rules. Exodus 23:25 “Worship the Lord your God and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give a full life span.” And so, in Exodus 24: 3: “they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.”
A couple of days later, while Moses is up on Mount Sinai getting the 10 Commandments, these same people ask Aaron to make them the golden calf. Who here can honestly say they’ve never done this? “Everything the Lord has said, we will do” except for the “no other gods”, or whatever your favourite exception is. We promise God one thing, and days later have completely failed.
So, here we have Moses, in Deuteronomy 30, repeating the law of God to the new generation; he offers them a choice:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commands, decrees and laws… This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life…
This passage is about my relationship with God, not about material prosperity. No magic formula for worldly success. Nor was this was some “altar call”. This was a call to surrender, each new morning, to Him. “Choose life” refers to loving God, hearing Him, walking in His ways, keeping His torah, holding fast to Him and not going astray (each morning, each moment of each day). It’s a radical difference – a life-style choice.
Psalms 119, verses 1 to 8 remind us.
1- Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2- Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.
3- They do nothing wrong; they walk in His ways.
4- You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
5- Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
6- Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
7- I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
8- I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.
Even David, a man after God’s own heart, admits that he is NOT perfect in obeying God’s decrees. He feels put to shame when he considers God’s commands. “I’d love to say I am obeying fully, but I’m messing up”. If we are truly honest with ourselves, obeying God’s Word is challenging. It’s a very high standard! The Bible is the mirror in which we see our own inadequacies.
David admits he’s still learning God’s law, and finishes with “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” Don’t give up on me God; I’m going to keep on trying. We know David had some serious slip-ups in keeping God’s commandments.
He coveted his neighbour’s wife.
He committed murder.
So, how is it that he’s the man after God’s own heart? Well, firstly, although he obviously went through a period of rebellion (more than just a couple of months… maybe more than a year). He was far, far from God. Yet, when Nathan confronts him, he repents. There is true remorse, grief and shame. There is a certain tenderness that comes with this repentance. Surrender.
We see it again in Peter, who rejecting Christ 3 times, realises his rejection and rebellion, and goes out weeping bitterly. Somehow, having reached the bottom, Peter was able to put aside his pride, accept Jesus’ forgiveness: was able to bow down and surrender.
Sai Baba said:
“Give up all bad qualities in you, banish the ego and develop the spirit of surrender.”
As a child of God, in our walk to become more Christ-like, we have to understand the importance of the spirit of surrender to God: “Choosing life.”
Jesus makes it clear, in the sermon on the mount, that it’s not about legalistic fulfilment of the law.
It’s not enough just to know the law. Last week we read: “let your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees”. Pharisees followed the letter of the law; even added a few for good measure. What have we humans done with God’s law?
The Law of Moses established that we should fulfil our oaths: Human interpretation says: “if I don’t make an oath, I don’t exactly have to tell the truth”.
Likewise, with respect to divorce: what was “objectionable” enough about a woman to warrant divorce? There were different views between various rabbinic schools:
One said: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.
Another said: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written: Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.
And yet another: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written (and this translation is a little more liberal than “because he had found in her indecency in anything), And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes.”
And so Jesus explains that the true meaning of the law is to honour God, not just with your actions, but also with your thoughts, your motives and your attitudes. What does it mean to “Choose Life”? Even Gandhi taught:
Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts, but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts.
These rules from the Sermon on the Mount are deeper and more personal than the laws of any country. It delves deep into the innermost part of man, where only God sees.
We may think that our “thought life” is our own, hidden from others. We indulge in “my thoughts” –save a little space, some room, for us to live in our little indulgences. This hypocrisy of a secret thought life! – One way on the inside and another on the outside – This deep corruption and confusion is not “choosing life”.
We see another example of this when Jesus rebukes us for holding onto our anger, rather than choosing the higher way. What do I choose to do with my anger? Do I deal with it? Buddhist teachings warn:
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; while holding it, you’re getting burned.”
Jesus says there is no real point in priding myself on the fact that I have never actually killed someone. Why? Well, because unresolved anger leads us to sin: saying “Raca” (empty head) or “you fool” (moron) – My angry, thoughtless words KILL my relationships, chipping away at the trust and love.
Jesus values our earthly relationships – important enough that he says we should leave worshipping God and go and make things right with our neighbour or brother. We are to actively seek reconciliation.
True happiness and fulfilment comes from putting our relationship with God right and then our relationships with all of those around us.
Sai Baba says: “Once we surrender our mind to GOD completely, HE will take care of us in every way.”
How do I really put into practice, in all aspects of my life, the grace that I have received, living a life of righteousness and holiness before God? How do I “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God”? I “know” (head knowledge) it means to desire Him above all else: He demands first place in my life. No half-hearted or part-time love: “just Sunday mornings.”
Much like Christ says in the gospels to the young rich ruler: No one is good except one–God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not give false testimony,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’” The young ruler said to him, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.”
Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen “choices” in the Bible. Genesis: starts with the exercise of free will. We can choose to eat the forbidden fruit or not – our eyes will be opened: but… will we like what we see?
“When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God.”
God doesn’t want me to pick and choose when I will love him, or under what conditions. I am to Love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength.
I’m happy to be a Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet lapping up all the teachings. I enthralled by His teachings. But that’s not enough: how do I let go of earthly things, daily struggles, and become a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as I cannot now imagine?
If I loved God, really, truly, loved HIM, I wouldn’t have any problem keeping His commandments; I would have complete faith in Him and His Word, put absolute trust in Him. I’d allow Him to guide me, not snatch the reigns back when things get tough. I would surrender all and trust Him, be filled with His light, and let it shine through me into the lives of others around me.
We know (head knowledge) that “things” cannot give us life – they don’t satisfy the inner longing of our soul. No harm in trying, right? And so, like the rich young ruler, we distance ourselves from God, putting our trust in our “security”.
True righteousness is more than just legal or external obedience. It’s not about seeing how much I can “get away with” and still be considered “righteous”. Wrong-doing arises because of the mind. But if my mind is transformed, wrong-doing has no place to live. God’s righteousness is concerned with His “shalom” – well-being, peace and harmony. This is His righteousness: a peaceful, life-giving relationship with God. I want, this day, to choose life.
And so, as C.S. Lewis said:
“He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly … His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”
And so, I repeat:
We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are just wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
So, as you walk out of here today, which of the 2 types of people do you choose to be?
Those that say to God: “I choose to surrender and banish my ego. I trust you to do the best for me and to give me the strength I need for whatever You have in store, however painful the growth process may be. I want to become more Christ-like. Thy will be done.”
Or those to whom our Father in heaven, with great sadness in His heart says, like as to the rich young ruler, “All right then, have it your way”.