Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Christ be our Light

New year’s eve
Lighting up the sky, lighting up the beach, Lighting up people’s faces.

Odd waiting on the beach, in the dark, sitting and, well, waiting.

We don’t really live much in the dark nowadays do we? At home the lights are on almost all the time. I remember a time when there used to be blackouts fairly regularly, and we’d have a stash of candles and torches to light up the critical areas of the house. We had a blackout recently and it took us a while to even find where the torches were. We’re so used to the light just being there.

If you lived in a major city it’s even worse.
Hills International school.
Japanese students going camping and being scared.

Light taken for granted?

In Jesus’s time light wasn’t taken for granted. Light was precious and having light allowed a huge advantage for extending the useful hours of a day. Candles were not invented until about 400AD, but Jews had oil lamps. These were covered clay bowls to hold the oil, a hole to fill the oil and a hole for the wick to protrude out to sustain a long burn. Lamps were quite common and most houses would have at least one, but oil is moderately expensive especially clean burning olive oil. The lamps also needed to be continually topped up, so you couldn’t ignore them.

The Jews also saw light from a lamp as a symbol for “lighting” the path of righteousness, giving clear guidance to the wise. It was an important item in Jewish ceremony too, so Jews of the time would see references to the light quite seriously.

Into this mix, John writes his opening sentences that we heard in our bible readings:
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Even with the importance of physical light in their lives, these words would have leapt out of the page as a spiritual light, keeping out spiritual darkness. We may have abundant physical light ourselves, but we, too, have the same yearning for a spiritual light.

Sometimes our lives are spiritually dark. We can become spiritually dark either by being pulled away from the light by external pressures, or us covering ourselves up.
External darkness is anything which wants to pull you away from the Light.

That voice which says that life is short so you might as well get for yourself what you can while you can at anyone else’s expense - that’s darkness.

That pressure that comes on you because of what everyone else is doing, how everyone else is living. When you set your standards by what others say and do, regardless of what that is - that’s a darkness wanting to envelope you.

When there’s a downgrading of the importance of God or things associated with God – that’s darkness.

When your lines of distinction between what is good and helpful and character building and what is bad and useless and degrading – when those lines become blurred, then there’s a darkness taking hold.

And it can be subtle. It can be a subtle shift in the way you think, a broadening of your tolerance of what previously you disdained. It can be subtle in the way that slowly, bit by bit, God becomes replaced in your life: replaced with success, replaced with the need to be accepted, replaced with busyness, with material things, replaced with relationships.

And there’s an inner darkness and often that comes as a result of the external kind..

That growing emptiness inside, that loss of purpose, that sense of unfulfillment, when each day becomes just a grind.

It can come to us in the form of loneliness which we try to suppress, but it keeps on raising its ugly head.
It can be frustration: it grows in us and leads us to fly off the handle unreasonably and hurt others in the process.
It can be an anger in us: something unresolved, unforgiven, and it eats away at us, bit by bit, and as each day passes a little bit more light is extinguished and the darkness thickens.

I think that that kind of darkness most of us can identify with to some degree or another. Most of us have felt that sometime. Some of us may feel that right now. It’s not a pleasant thing. Once we recognise it we long for something to lighten the picture.

It’s for this that Jesus is being called the light of the world. A spiritual beacon to light up the way ahead. That’s what lights do best, show the way ahead.

Most nights I’m the last one to bed, and I go through a physically dark experience. I turn off the light on one side of the room and have to navigate, usually with my arms outstretched, through the living room to my bed. There’s some twists and turns and sometimes toys to stand on and it’s all a little unnerving. Sometimes I remember my phone and use it as a light and the difference is huge. I can walk quickly, not hunched over, no longer in fear of what might be in front of me next. It gives clarity to all those half shapes and blobs I think I see.

Jesus is saying “Let me be your spiritual light”. Let me guide you out of the darkness.

When we’re out in the blackness seeking things of this world, or tied up in busyness, Jesus comes to provide light to the pitfalls ahead. Please! Turn around! Look out ahead! These are distractions!

When we’re faced with more and more godlessness, Jesus comes to shine light on the issues. Follow my examples! Live like me! Heed my words!

When we’re down on ourselves, when we become aware of our failures, when we are frustrated with our mistakes, we don’t have to dwell on them, We don’t have to keep being turned in on ourselves. Jesus says come to me! Lay your burdens at MY feet and stand in light, unashamed and unafraid for you are forgiven.

When we do live in the light, When we turn our faces toward Jesus, something wonderful also happens. We light up. We can be a beacon to others! But it’s not our light, we’re just reflecting the light provided by Christ. Like the fireworks, we can see the faces of people if we look around, but they are merely reflecting the light and direction of the real source of light. Jesus says that through us, we can reflect his light out so that others may find their way out of the darkness, and also know the direction of the True Light.

We are to be like John in our readings:
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 
I hope and pray that Jesus is also like a firework to you. A light bringing exploding joy and happiness.