By Rev. Rachel Gunter Shapard
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” ... There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." from Luke 2:22-40
Two devout members of the religious community at the temple who were known to dwell richly in the presence of the Lord recognized Jesus as the Messiah at first sight. Simeon called Jesus “a God-revealing light to the Gentiles and a light for glory to the children of God, the Israelites.” Later in his life and ministry, Jesus will proclaim himself to be the light of the world. And if we follow him, we too become bearers of the light. So what does it mean to be the light that we are called to be in Christ Jesus?
Perhaps it would help to remember the many ways in which light is used in order to know how best to emulate it.
- Light is used to illuminate. We use a flashlight or candle when the electricity goes out to light our way in the darkness.
- We use light to draw attention. A spotlight on a stage is used to draw the eye, and the angler fish uses light in the depths of the ocean to draw its prey.
- We often use light to celebrate. We place candles on a cake to celebrate a loved one’s birth and we festively hang Christmas lights on our home and property during the holidays to celebrate the season.
- Light is also used to remember. We light a candle of remembrance for someone who has passed away, or light a candle as we offer a prayer on behalf of a loved one.
- Light is also used to warn. The light from a lighthouse alerts ships that they are approaching a hazard or drawing near to land.
- Light is used to commemorate. The flash of a camera when taking a picture allows us to preserve a special moment in time.
- Light can expand and radiate in all directions, it can interfere with other waves, it carries energy and momentum and interacts with matter.
- Light is used to welcome. We leave a light on outside our homes when someone is coming to visit.
- Light is also used to symbolize. Throughout history light has been used as the symbol of the Divine. Earlier our epistle reading said as much: “God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.” For that reason, each year we light the Christ candle on Christmas Eve and again throughout the twelve days of Christmas to remember the coming of Emanuel, God with us, the light of the world. Light is used in many ways.
So if we are to be the bearers of the light of Christ, to become light itself in a world that is far too often bound by darkness, then maybe we must take on the properties of light. Maybe we should be about the work of illumination, lighting up the dark spaces of our world and showing the difference between natural light and that which is artificial. Maybe like light, we are to use our lives to draw attention…not to ourselves, but to the way of Christ which is as simple and as difficult as loving God and loving people. Maybe bearing the light also at times involves sounding a warning, so that those who come behind us do not make the same mistakes we did by falling into the darkness. Becoming light-bearers may require a spirit of celebration that spills forth the light from within so that others view it in our eyes, notice it in our smiles, and experience it in our actions, for in Christ we do have so much to celebrate. Maybe in addition to celebration, we also must take upon ourselves the task of remembrance…walking with those who grieve in their time of difficulty, standing with those who are lost or struggling as they seek to find their way out of the darkness. And of course retelling the stories of those who have gone before us, so that we might share in their light. Maybe we must be about the work of welcoming - friends, strangers, enemies and family into our homes and lives. Maybe all of these things are what it means to follow in the footsteps of the one true light.
I love the words of Jan Richardson in her poem, How the Light Comes.
"I cannot tell you how the light comes.
What I know is that it is more ancient than imagining.
That it travels across an astounding expanse to reach us.
That it loves searching out what is hidden what is lost what is forgotten or in peril or in pain.
That it has a fondness for the body for finding its way toward flesh for tracing the edges of form for shining forth through the eye, the hand, the heart.
I cannot tell you how the light comes, but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way into the deepest dark that enfolds you, though it may seem long ages in coming or arrive in a shape you did not foresee."
The light is more ancient than imagining, and it came to us in the flesh over two thousand years ago in the form of an infant who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. That same light does travel across an astounding expanse of time to reach us still today, and it will reach us if we allow it to do so. Yet we cannot merely receive the light. That would be too simple. The light asks something of us. We are asked to take on the qualities of the light…to become the light. For in and through us the light can expand and radiate in all directions, it can interfere with the stuff of darkness for its energy and momentum can propel the light far beyond our spectrum of possibility.
This year, as we move from the twelve days of Christmas into the new year before us, let us not concern ourselves with such trivial things as how long is too long to keep up Christmas lights. Instead may we bury ourselves in the task of becoming the light. “For if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another, and the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s son, will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1: 5-7
A Prayer for us: Remind us this day, O God, of the many qualities of light: the way it illuminates, draws attention, celebrates, remembers, alerts, commemorates, welcomes, and radiates in all directions in order to dispel the darkness. Help us to take on those properties . . . to become the light. We pray these things in the name of the one true light, our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Some final words from Richardson’s poem, How the Light Comes:
“And so may we this day turn ourselves toward the light.
May we lift our faces to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies to follow the arc it makes.
May we open and open more and open still to the blessed light that comes.”