It can be scary to walk around in the dark. It isn’t so much the darkness that is scary as the unknown objects which sometimes lurk in the darkness. Trying to traverse down a hallway without the assistance of light is risky. When creeping down a narrow escape, a number of times I have tripped over an object, banged my leg against a table.
On the other hand, it can be just as painful to experience a sudden burst of bright light. I remember, quite vividly, my mother’s technique for waking me to go to school. She would come and gently tell me it was time to get up and start getting ready for school. The next trip into my room was a little more forceful – “Son, I have called you once – it is time to get up now!” The third trip was it – the light switch was flipped on – the overhead light glaring like a spot light! The last a final call – the covers pulled back, the body in vertical position, feet on the floor, up and ‘at em’. There are no words to adequately describe that soul-jolting experience that literally brought tears to my eyes.
God had the right idea. By creating dawn and dusk, God gives us time to adjust…to make a more peaceful, more gradual transition from darkness to daylight or from daylight to darkness. The prophet Isaiah uses such imagery to describe his faith in the ultimate outcome of what looked like a bleak situation. With the Assyrians breathing down his neck, he uttered the words which have become standard in the church’s celebration of Epiphany. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…those who lived in the land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
It is important for all who read these words from the vantage point of the Christian era to remember that the prophet, along with his people, were still walking around in the darkness. There were no signs of familiar life beyond the Assyrian invasion. These words were written during a time of utter chaos, confusion and despair among God’s people. The only way Isaiah could have seen the light of which he spoke so eloquently was through the telescopic lens of faith, aimed at a distant future horizon.
A colleague told the story of her grandmother, who lived in the mountains of Virginia. This grandmother had a tradition of leaving a candle in the front window whenever she was expecting one of her family to come home that night. It was always a comforting sign to round the corner and see that light shining out in the distance from that window. Like a lighthouse, it led the traveler safely home.
That is my image for the light Isaiah envisioned. It was distant. It was tiny. There was lots of dark space between God’s people and the speck of light. But the light was there. Isaiah had high hopes that God would send just the right leader to bring the people back home to God safely.
In the midst of turbulence in the early church, Paul reminds the Corinthians: “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” I have a mental picture of the Corinthian congregation reading this during Sunday worship. The Apollonians, seated on one side of the room, glare across at the Paulinists. The Cephas party sits stony faced in the center, arms folded across the chest, looking straight ahead. Then the worship leader reads: “…to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” I cannot help but wonder if there might have been a moment of shamed silence as the impact of Paul’s words and the image of the cross seeped into the collective consciousness of that fighting, feuding church. Were they able to capture the radiant glow of God’s love for all of them revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ?
I join the church in its declaration that the light which Isaiah envisioned and the radiance beaming from the cross to which Paul called the Corinthian church to reflect, is the light which has dawned upon the world in Jesus and which is growing from dawn to daylight as we grow in our understanding of Jesus’ message. The light is gradually awakening the world to the eternal love of God, slowly and faithfully, one person at a time. Let your light so shine…..