Written by Pastor Ed
The Light Shines in the Darkness
January 3, 2016
Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem” has a refrain that says, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack, in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It’s an image I like. Light is one of the powerful images used throughout scripture. Our call to worship, taken from Isaiah 60, the beginning of the third section of Isaiah, begins with these familiar words, “Arise, shine for your light has come.”
It is a word to the exiles that a new day was about to dawn and a promise of a restored nation, Zion, which will attract others. “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” And indeed, as Matthew looked back on the birth of Jesus, he was reminded of this passage as he argued for seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and so included the story of the men who came from the East drawn by the light of a star.
Now when you really think about it, this is kind of a bizarre story which we only have in Matthew’s Gospel. One commentator suggested that Matthew’s original readers would have shaken their heads and chuckled at the absurdity of these events. Here were travelers from the East, more literally from the direction of the sun’s rising, saying they had seen something in the stars that told them of a royal birth.
Now while we may picture them as “kings” as they are portrayed in the hymn and in most art, for all we know they may have been more like religious fanatics who were into astrology and dreams and had given up everything to follow the signs. They were strangers, not Jews, and were off on a wild goose chase which brought them to Jerusalem. And after some inquiry and following their GPS unit they come to worship and offer gifts to the infant Christ.
If they were to show up today, we’d probably question their sanity and lock them up. Or at least make them go through background checks, obtain visas and go through security to make sure they weren’t terrorists trying to infiltrate the country. And then they went back home and we hear nothing more about them, no sense that they were converted or anything. One wonders what impact their journey had on them, what stories they may have told their grandchildren.
But Matthew clearly saw this visit as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision. The magi were drawn to the light, whether the light of a star, or the light of the Christ child. Now light is an interesting phenomenon. For years scientists debated about the properties of light, some arguing that light was clearly made up of particles, like a stream of BBs, that can be diverted by something put in its way, while others said light acted more like a wave, flowing through space and actually bending around obstacles.
It was not until Einstein and quantum physics came along that they realized that light could be, indeed, both a particle and a wave depending on the circumstances. Light has this amazing ability to respond to the context around it and act accordingly. It finds its way into the darkest places, sometimes even bending around obstacles to illuminate the hidden recesses. And light has a way of drawing us in. It’s not just bugs that are attracted to light, most of us are also drawn to light, both literally and figuratively.
So where am I going with all this? Well, throughout this Advent and Christmas season we have been talking about finding more love, peace, hope and joy which comes through the freedom we have in Christ. The challenge for the new year which comes to us this Epiphany is to allow the light to shine in us and through us. I see that challenge in two ways.
First of all it is a personal challenge to open ourselves to the light, and part of that challenge is to recognize our own brokenness, the cracks that are there – that allow the light to get in. Just this past week I saw some material that argued that we had to know all the answers and make everything fit a particular view of the Bible. And I was reminded of one of the sayings I have on my bulletin board that he opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.
Faith means that sometimes we have to say, “I don’t know” and that allows for the light to shine and shed new insight into our lives. If we think we have all the answers we close ourselves off from the Spirit’s leading and prompting us to new insights which the church has had through the centuries. I trust that in the new year we will all open ourselves to new light that shines into our lives.
But there is another aspect of this light shining, for the light still draws people to it. And the passage we read in Ephesians says that it is through the church that this light shines for the world to see. Now if there is any institution full of cracks it is the church and so maybe the image is that it is through the cracks in the church that God’s light shines through to the world.
If the church presents itself as having it altogether, as full of perfect people who act in perfect love, we will either scare people off because they think they could never be a part of us, or when people come they will quickly discover that that image is far from the truth. Let’s be real. The church is made up of imperfect people, and when we get together, we act in some imperfect ways. Yet God’s light has been given to us to share with the world around us. If we think the light is just for us, that’s like trying to hide a light under a basket, it’s hard to do because the light finds even the smallest crack and finds its way out. And I think somewhere we’re told that’s not what we’re supposed to do with the light.
And despite what studies may say, people are still being attracted to the light of Christ and to an authentic expression of what Jesus taught us about love and community. While the shape and structure of the church may be changing, the church as God’s people is not going away anytime soon. In fact maybe some of the old has to develop some huge cracks and even crumble before the light of Christ can shine through it again.
And so that’s the challenge for us; to recognize those epiphany moments when the light shines in and through us, drawing all people in. And then being open to welcome and receive those who come to the light, no matter who they are. They may be refugees, they may be new neighbours, they may be people we’ve known for years who suddenly recognize the light. And they may be people who have a very different view of the world than we do. The light isn’t choosy about who is attracted.
And as we open ourselves both to the light that shines in our lives, as well as to those who are attracted to the light which shines through us, I am convinced that we will indeed find more love, more hope, more peace and more joy in the year ahead.