Written by Pastor Ed
I Am the Light of the World
October 8, 2017
John 8: 12-20
Imagine if you will the scene which seems to be the background for our reading from John 8. You are standing in the Court of Women during the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, as it’s sometimes called. During the day there is a water ceremony where jugs of water are carried through the court and poured out.
And then at night, there are giant menorahs which are set up and lit, sending light it is said over much of Jerusalem of the day. One rather interesting note is that these menorah had bowls on top filled with oil and wicks made from the worn out underwear of the priests. Early recycling, I guess. After the menorah were lit, there was a recitation of the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134 and then a reciting of the litany:
Our fathers when they were in this place turned with their faces to the East, and they worshiped the sun toward the east; but as for us, our eye are turned toward the Lord Suk. 5:4
Worship of the sun was condemned by the prophet Ezekiel as he was shown what was happening to worship in Jerusalem during the period of exile. From Ezekiel 8:
“And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; there, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, prostrating themselves to the sun toward the east.” (Ez. 8:16)
This ritual of lighting the candlesticks was performed each of the seven days of the Festival. And then imagine Jesus standing in that same court during the feast and proclaiming, “I am the light of the world.” Not these candlesticks, not anyone else, “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8: 12)
As with bread, which we examined last week, light is a common theme throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Indeed, light is even more fundamental and it must have astonished his listeners to hear him proclaim that he was the light.
Just as light is the first thing you see in the morning, so light was the first act of creation, even before the sun and moon. Light represents order rather than the chaos and is the source of life. In fact, seeing the light can mean either being born, literally, or having that light bulb come on and recognizing meaning – that “AHA” moment. All of a sudden you “see the light.” And the people are continually invited to move toward the light, to receive the light, or to walk in the light.
In the Old Testament, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the physical manifestation of light and the metaphysical. Light becomes the source, the revelation and the guide. God appears in the light, whether in the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel through the wilderness, or the brilliance of God’s face upon which no one could look and live. At the same time for the light of God’s face to shine upon humankind was part of the blessing in Numbers – “May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.” (Num. 6:25)
While darkness is most often literally darkness in the Old Testament, rather than connoting evil in some way, there is still a contrast and when the prophets like Zechariah look ahead to that ideal feast of tabernacles, their vision is that “there shall be continuous day… not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.” (Zech. 14:7) A theme that is picked up again in Revelation where there will be no night because “the Lord God will be their light.” (Rev. 22:5)
The same themes are continued in the Gospels and New Testament writings with a renewed emphasis on equating light with revelation and salvation. Having the light means understanding and recognizing the truth. Jesus uses the image of light in numerous parables and sayings, like the parable of the lamp that gives light to the whole house.
33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” (Luke 11:33)
John in particular develops the themes of light and darkness, perhaps reflecting some influence from the Qumran community which called themselves the “sons of light” as opposed to those who had not seen the light yet. Already in John 1, the Prologue, John talks about the light which “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) And then in the letters of John the theme is developed even more into ethics, so that those who are in the light can be told because they love each other, again as opposed to those who walk in darkness.
All of that Old Testament background would have been in the minds of the Pharisee listening, so it is perhaps little wonder that they would question his authority to declare himself the light of the world. Any self-deluded person could proclaim themselves to be of such importance. And if this follows, as it seems to, Jesus’ other statements about being living water and being from God, then he must have caused a great deal of consternation. After all, he was from Galilee – and no prophet was ever to come from that hick town!
Jesus speaks of living water coming from him and then of himself as bread and light, all essentials for life and metaphors for revelation and knowledge. And then to emphasize the point, John follows this passage with the account in John 9 of Jesus giving sight to the blind man, literally giving light to the world.
But the image of Jesus as the light doesn’t stop with just Jesus, for Jesus also declares to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14)
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
When we have received the light that comes in Jesus, we then become reflections of that light to the world. How we reflect that light thus becomes important, and unfortunately, not everyone who claims to follow Jesus reflects the true light. Even Jesus said that there were those who call upon him whom he doesn’t recognize. As the writer of I John says,
“Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” (I John 2:9-11)
If Jesus is the light, then we are invited to not only seek the light, but to walk in the light. Not only to accept that Jesus is the revelation of God, but follow the way of Jesus reflecting who he is and what he taught. That’s a tall order, granted. But we are also assured that when we walk in the light, following the way of Jesus, the darkness will not overcome it. And sometimes it only takes a little light to dispel the darkness.
Some of you will recall my lightbulb sermon, where I noted that you needn’t be a huge light to make a difference, or even that unique a bulb, but that the important thing is that you fulfill your purpose and shed the light which you can on those around you, reflecting the one who proclaims, “I am the light of the world.”