- 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.