This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. Today we observed the Epiphany of Our Lord, and used a service of Lessons and Carols. All of the readings and songs were in some way related to light, and I invited the congregation to repeat the word and point to the cross every time they heard the word light.
Lots and lots of light, wasn’t there? We did a lot of calling and pointing, didn’t we? Listening to all these readings, you might think that life for God’s people in Biblical times was bright and sunny, almost blindingly so. So much light.
On the other hand, listening to all those readings, you might think that life was dark, shadowy, and frightening. Maybe that’s why they needed to hear about light coming over and over again. And that’s closer to the truth. Life for God’s people was challenging and difficult, full of suffering and worry.
It might be hard for us to imagine the darkness they lived in. We are so used to being surrounded by light. How many sources of light are in this room? Those lamps and bulbs fill the room with light, whether it’s day or night, summer or winter. But light and darkness were very different things prior to the advent of electricity. Rooms were filled with light only if the sun was up, and the windows were in the right places. After the sun set, a candle or a torch or an oil-lamp might give some light, but not the kind of room-filling light we’re used to. Darkness filled rooms and towns. Darkness covered everything like a blanket of blindness. Darkness thick as fog. Darkness that could overcome what little light there was. Even with a candle lit, most of the room was still in shadow. Even with a few torches burning here and there, most of the streets were still shrouded in dusk. Even with thousands of stars shining in the sky, the land around was still foreboding and full of danger.
That is our world prior to electric light. We don’t know that world, at least I don’t. But those who wrote our scripture readings did.
But of course, for them darkness and light were metaphors for something else. If the promises God made through the prophets were really just about literal light, then Thomas Edison was the Messiah, for he brought electric light to the world. But no. In scripture, darkness means something else. Darkness means fear. Darkness means confusion. Darkness means despair. Darkness means a lack of hope. A lack of comfort. A lack of confidence.
And we can imagine that world. We know that darkness. Just like our forebears in Biblical times, we know what it is to be frightened. Just like them, we know what it is to be confused by the world around us. What it is to think that our nation is falling apart. That war is on the horizon. That our future may be bleak. That our life has no meaning. We’ve been there. We know that electric light isn’t the savior. Just having these lights on doesn’t protect us from fear or confusion. Just having these lights on doesn’t prevent us from careening toward war. Heck, we learned anew just last week that having these lights on doesn’t prevent church buildings from being places of violence.
We live in a different sort of darkness. And we need a different sort of light.
And we just spoke and heard the good news that we have that light. We heard words like these:
“The Lord went in front of them in a column of lightning to give them light.”
“Arise! Shine! Your light has come!”
“What has come into being was life, and the life is the light of all people!”
“You are the light of the world!”
“Let … there … be … light!”
And there was light. We have been given the light. There is light shining in our darkness, and it is the child whose birth we have been celebrating these past twelve days. There is light shining in our darkness, and it is the same light that made shine the star the wise men followed to find the child.
There is light shining in our darkness, and it is the one who still comes to us today. The one who comes to meet us here each week in the word, and in bread and wine. The one who comes to us in times of despair, and gives us hope for tomorrow when we need it. The one who comes to you, shining light into the darkest parts of your life, forgiving you, cleansing you, renewing you so that you too can shine with this light.
There is light shining in our darkness, and that light surrounds us and fills us, making us shine with the same light, shining brightly in the darkness so that others can see. We are the ones who see the light, despite the darkness. We are the ones who point to the light, just as we did this morning (point). We are the ones who point to that light for a world that needs it, the ones who shine that light for a world that needs it. I have been tempted to just give up on this world, to give up and say there’s no point in trying to make a difference.
But the light keeps shining. The light keeps shining and giving me hope when I’m at the end of my rope. The light keeps shining, and beckoning me to embrace it. The light keeps shining, and imploring me to point it out to others. The light keeps shining, and I shine too.
There is light shining in our darkness, and his name is Jesus. There he is, on the cross, giving you forgiveness. There he is, in the font, giving you new life. There he is, in the bread and wine, giving you nourishment. There he is, in the hearts of each and every one of you, giving you breath. Breathe in the light, and breathe out the light.
There is light shining in our darkness, and his name is Jesus.