THE WAKE UP CALL
A light has entered this world that will never be extinguished. Adjusting to its power takes time, but its inescapability must rouse us from our sleep.
I am the light of the world.
We rather take it for granted that Jesus made this claim for himself without really thinking through what it means. The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis observed that for Jesus to make this kind of claim he must be either mad, bad or God. There is logic to this. A mad person may say I am the light of the world because he has lost a grip on reality. A bad person may say I am the light of the world because he wants to exercise malign power over gullible followers. However, no sane and balanced person would say I am the light of the world because it is a ridiculous claim to make. C.S. Lewis was trying to make people face up to Jesus with some integrity. It is no good saying he was just a good man with a nice sleight of hand in magic, because no good person would lead people astray with such claims; and as he was far from loopy, he must surely be who he says he is: the Son of God.
I am the light of the world.
This is a remarkable claim to make, but today it lacks a little of the dramatic impact it would have made on listeners at the time. The South East today, for instance, endures the worst light pollution in Europe. We do not have to think much about the dark because there is so little of it around, with street lights, headlights, house lights, shop lights, factory lights, motorway lights and airport lights making the South East look to a satellite orbiting the earth like it has been clumsily tippexed out. Two thousand years ago people were heavily dependent on campfires, torchlight and candlelight to ward off the darkness. The rhythm of life was built round daylight; at nightfall, most activity would stop.
It isn’t often you encounter complete darkness. Some of you will remember the power strikes of 1979. I was a teenager at the time. The streets looked spooky without light. No-one went out. It suddenly felt more dangerous, even though the neighbourhood was so familiar I could have walked around it blindfolded anyway. I remember another occasion, standing on the deck of a ship a long way from land at night and under heavy cloud cover. There was no horizon. Instead the ocean and the sky merged into one dark chasm of eeriness. To steady myself I looked down at the waves beneath my feet to prove I wasn’t just floating through space. I am sure you will each have had an unsettling experience of light deprivation you remember to this day.
So you can see how Jesus describing himself as the light of the world would have deep resonance with people who had to find ways of staving off the darkness every night. We want to be near the source of light. It reassures us and drives away our fears. Light helps us to see where we are going, to make sure we don’t stumble or crash. Light also adds colour and life to a place. If we turned the lights off in our church and blew out the candles it would seem a gloomy and forbidding place. Only when you shine a light on something is its true beauty revealed. When we allow Jesus to shine his light on our surroundings it transforms all we thought we knew, drawing out the loveliness we have missed, adding shape to the contours of our lives which once seemed fuzzy and incomplete.
Light also guides us on our journey. In Psalm 119 the writer says that God’s word ‘is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’. We need the complex and sometimes murky choices we face in life to be illuminated by light, and Jesus is able to do this. Faith is not the same as certainty though and there are many times when we remain less than confident about what to do in our lives. St. Paul said that in matters of faith we ‘see through a glass darkly’. If he were alive today he might have taken hold of the soldier’s night sight as a different analogy. Night vision goggles make a dramatic improvement to your sight, but you still see the world with an eerie green glow – it can never be the same as daylight. In a similar way, faith gives you the light and the guidance you need to live, but we will not have perfect vision until we meet Jesus face to face at the end.
There is, however, another side to light. The logic of C.S. Lewis about Jesus being either mad, bad or God only seems to work for some. This may be because personal commitment involves more than just the power of reasoning. The Bible also speaks of light uncovering the misdoings we’d all rather hide. Light is disorientating. After a period of darkness we instinctively shy away from it. When someone suddenly turns on the bedroom light on a dark winter’s morning before we are ready for it, the sensation is painful and bewildering.
Jesus is God’s wake up call for the world and we struggle to adapt to his light. It is quite misleading to suggest that choosing to believe is a leap in the dark, for it is really a leap into the light. This light may be challenging, but as we adjust its presence feels warm, welcoming and more powerful than all the darkness in the world. When you look up into the sky on a clear night at first it seems there is nothing there. Soon, though, you begin to see stars emerging. After a few minutes you aren’t thinking how dark and gloomy the sky looks – your breath is taken away at how beautiful it seems when pierced by a thousand points of starlight.
That first Christmas, a light entered this world that will never be extinguished. We must all make a response to it, because it is here to stay.
I am the light of the world.
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