The Light Shining in the Darkness

Scripture Text: Isaiah 9:2-7 (Christmas Eve text)

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

I used to live in a neighborhood where I always passed this wonderful old French colonial house with wonderful verandas lining both floors of the house.  For years, the house would outline the verandas with twinkling strings of lights during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  It was beautiful.  Then, for some reason I’ve never completely understood, they began to add more and more lights each year.  They started by stringing lights across the verandas three, five, seven, fifteen times.  Then, the next year, they did the same to the house. What was once a delightful twinkling of lights became what can only be described as a veritable blob of lights.  The house had been overtaken by light. And it was no longer beautiful.  In fact, it was a little off-putting.

So, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  This journey toward the Light is coming to an end, so to speak.  We know now that is does not actually end at all.  It’s more of a turn, a tilt, a leaning in.  But as we do that, we need to think about our time in the darkness.  See, light is not pretty or comforting or even helpful alone.  It’s blinding.  You can’t even see anything anymore.  Light is at its best when it illuminates the darkness and creates shadows and contrasts so that we can truly look at the Light.

Much of our lives, much of our existence is about traveling in darkness.  It is a holy darkness.  God created it.  And then God created Light to push back the darkness.  Now notice that it doesn’t say anywhere that the light is meant to dispel the darkness or cover up the darkness or in some way destroy the darkness into utter extinction.  Darkness is.  The Light is.  They live together, woven into a holy mix of light and shadows and clouds and stars and deep darkness.  That is life.  That is Life.  And that is where the people that walk there see the Light.  So, our act of coming out of the darkness into the marvelous Light is not one of leaving but of looking in another direction and finally learning to travel in the dark.  That’s called faith. 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born.  (Ann Lamott) 

Grace and Peace,


The Coming of Light

Scripture Text: John 12: 44-46

44Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.

I think we often have this sense that the Light is the end-all.  After all, it’s the thing to which we’ve journeyed, the thing for which we’ve searched.  But have you ever looked at light?  (I know.  You’re really not supposed to do that.)  But while I was thinking about this post, I looked up at my kitchen light.  It’s one of those flood lights that you can turn and redirect.  I was in my living room and it didn’t have many lights on so, basically, I was in the darkness looking at a light.  And behind the light, surrounding the light, was a circular rainbow.  See, there’s always more in the Light. And it could only be seen in the dark.

This Scripture comes in the midst of the readings that we use for Holy Week.  Jesus is preparing for the cross.  But part of that preparation was pointing yet again toward God.  Jesus more than once confirmed that he was the “Light to the world” but he never let it stop there.  There is always more to the Light.  Jesus was always quick to remind his followers of that.  He espoused that they were not believing in him as a person, as a man who showed them the Light.  They were rather believing in God.  They were looking toward the Light that Jesus had been sent to show them.

OK, hang with me here…at the risk of going all 4th century on you, I’m going to go all 4th century on you!  In “The Life of Moses”, St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 395) contends that a person’s encounter with the mystery of God comes in three parts—light, cloud, and darkness.  (I know, that sort of sounds backwards.)  He sees the first stage in our quest to encounter God in light, such as Moses’ vision of God in the burning bush, illuminating the darkness of our sin and ignorance about who God really is.  The second stage is a journey into partial darkness where Moses encounters God as the cloud, an intermingling of darkness and light.  The final stage is entering where God really is (not a place, mind you, but a way of being).  And in that, we come to the realization that God IS Light, that God IS Mystery, that God is utterly incomprehensible.  In this place, Moses declared on Mt. Sinai that he had seen God or, in other words, had seen the eternal mystery that is God and had finally begun to understand his part of that Mystery.

The crux of this rather long-winded explanation is that the Light to which we journey is not the end; it is the beginning.  The Light is the beginning of our knowing not God in God’s fullness.  We are not meant to know that.  God IS mystery.  But the Light to which we journey is the beginning of us knowing not who God is but who we are meant to be as we encounter our Creator, our Sustainer, our Redeemer, the One in whom we believe. It’s also the beginning of us finally knowing that the darkness is also filled with Light.  As we come into the Light as it dawns on the world, we begin to see beyond—and it is glorious!

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.

In every beginning, there is darkness.  The darkness of chaos seems eternal, Yet form emerges: light dawns, and life is born. (Sixth Service of The New Union Prayerbook) 

Grace and Peace,


An Invitation of Light

Scripture Text: Psalm 139: 11-12

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

If you are reading this at the time that it posts, you are in the midst of the longest night of the year.  In meteorology, Earth’s winter season for the Northern Hemisphere and summer season for the Southern Hemisphere began on December 1, 2021.  But the December solstice brings in the astronomical winter and summer seasons, respectively, for the two hemispheres of Earth.  This will happen on December 21 at 15:59 UTC, which is 9:59 a.m. Central Standard Time for the United States.  At that time, the imagined axis of the Earth will “tilt” and the seasons will change.  So, for us, in the midst of the longest and darkest night, the Earth effectively tilts toward the light.  After that, the nights in the Northern Hemisphere will slowly begin to shorten and the days will slowly lengthen.

So, interestingly, as our journey brings us nearer to Christmas, even the Earth shifts a bit to lean toward the light.  I think that’s an important lesson.  Because, as we’ve talked about before, the Light for which we look does not come flooding in unexpectedly.  First, we journey in darkness so that we can learn the meaning of the Light.  Think of the Light that comes flickering in as an invitation—an invitation to change, an invitation to grow, an invitation to understanding the meaning of the Light itself in a different way.  And, so, in the darkness, we begin to tilt our axis, we begin to lean toward the Light.  The change in trajectory is not just a shift so that we can see the light better; the tilt is our response to the invitation.

As the Scripture implies, even in the darkest of hours, even when we feel covered by darkness, we know there is Light.  And as we tilt our lives, as we change our view, the darkness begins to be Light.  That is what Advent is—a tilt toward the Light or, even better, learning to keep leaning toward the Light, regardless of how much darkness we see.  Sometimes the purpose of our places of darkness are to compel us to move so that we can finally see the light, which means they really aren’t completely dark at all.  We’re almost there.  The Light is beckoning.  Lean in toward the Light.

Why fear the dark?  How can we help but love it when it is the darkness that brings the stars to us? What’s more: who does not know that it is on the darkest nights that the stars acquire their greatest splendor? (Archibishop Helder Camera) 

Grace and Peace,


The Light of the World

Peter Adams, Cristo-Redentor, Corcovado Mountain, Rio

Scripture Text: John 8:12

12Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 

Jesus is the light of the world.  We’ve heard that many times.  We like that.  It comforts us, give us hope for this sometimes-messed up world in which we live.  So, we wait.  We wait for the Light to come flooding in, for the darkness to subside, for the world to be what it is and always was meant to be.  And in the meantime, we rely on faith.  We look toward Jesus to lead us home.

Does that sound about right?  But what if it’s different from what we imagine?  What if the waiting is not for the time that the Light will come and fill our world but for the time that we will finally let the Light into where we are standing now?  See, contrary to what we’d like to visualize, I’m beginning to believe that Jesus has no intention of lighting up the world like some sort of massive fluorescent light fixture.  God is not dangling full lighting at us as a reward for our faith or for changing our ways or anything else.

The Light is already here.  Jesus did not say “I am going to be the Light of the world” or “Someday I’ll light up the world”.  Jesus said “I AM the light of the world.  The Light is shining into the world.  Sometimes it is hidden.  Sometimes we hide from it.  Sometimes we shrink away from it.  Sometimes we miss it because we’re looking in another direction.  But the Light is here, shining its way into the world.  The world is made of Light.

This Season of Advent is not preparing us for the Light to come; it is preparing us to learn to see what is already here.  It wakes us up, clears our eyes, and shows us how to focus on the Light that is shining into our lives.  And if we look toward that Light, if we learn to see it even through the shadows, the darkness in which we sometimes reside will not disappear but will become a hollow space prepared for Light.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. (Desmond Tutu) 

Grace and Peace,


Magnification of Light

Russian School; The Virgin Hodegetria; Paintings Collection; mid-19th c, Victoria & Albert Museum, London;,

Scripture Text: Luke 1: 46-55 (Advent 4C Psalter)

46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Here we go again.  Every year on this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light all four colored candles on the wreath and we read this for our psalter.  It is well known and, depending on how it rests on you when you hear it, it is either the beautiful and poetic “Song of Mary” or it is the hard-hitting, uncomfortable Magnificat.  Magnificat is Latin for “magnifies”, from the root magnificare, which means “greatly” or “to make much of”.  E. Stanley Jones, an American Methodist missionary, once called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world.”  It is said that The Magnificat so terrified the Russian Czars that they tried to outlaw its reading.  It’s been used in Argentina to call for non-violent resistance and the government of Guatemala banned its recitation altogether in the 1980’s.  It is a call to revolution, the beginning of a new society, the dawn of a New Creation.

These words depict God’s vision for the world.  It is not a world where the best and the brightest and the richest and the most powerful come out on top.  It is not a world that we can control.  It is a world where God’s presence and God’s Light are poured onto all.  But it comes with a price. Those who have, those who are, those whose lives are filled with plenty are called to change, to open their lives to God and to others. Because God will scatter the proud, those who think they have it figured out, those who are so sure of their rightness and their righteousness.  In other words, those of us who think that we have it all nailed down will be shaken to our core.  The powerful–those with money, those with status, those with some false sense of who they are above others–will be brought down from their high places.  The poor and the disenfranchised, those who we think are not good enough or righteous enough, will be raised up. They will become the leaders, the powerful, the ones that we follow.  The hungry will feel pangs no more and those who have everything–the hoarders, the affluent, those are the ones whose coffers will be emptied to feed and house the world. 

These words are indeed a magnification, a magnification of Light.  We have journeyed toward the Light expecting it to save us, expecting it to shine its warm glow into our lives.  But when we read these words, we realize how bright the Light really is.  This Light doesn’t just shine on us.  It shines on everything, illuminating the dark corners and dirty vestibules of our world and exposing the pain and injustices that still exist and of which WE are still guilty.  It’s uncomfortable.  So, we are tempted to shrink back into the darkness once again.  The problem is that this IS a revolution and revolutions do not tend to be warm and fuzzy.  Revolutions have jagged edges that will cut into your heart and, yes, change you.

The Light is coming.  It is bright and magnified and something we’ve never seen before.  God came into the world to turn the world upside-down (or maybe right-side up).  God didn’t start it by choosing a great religious leader or a political powerhouse or even a charismatic young preacher.  God chose a girl, a poor underage girl from a third-world country with dark skin and dark eyes whose family may be so questionable that they are not even mentioned and whose marital status seemed to teeter on the edge of acceptable society.  God chose to shine the Light on the WHOLE world.  Our response is to reflect that Light and magnify it further.

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton) 

Grace and Peace,



Scripture Text: Luke 1: 39-45 (Advent 4C)

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

So, we have one more week.  You know, in those days, it would have taken about that long to get from Galilee to Bethlehem, so, chances are, Mary and Joseph would have left…about now.   It would have been a hard journey.  They could only travel during the day and would have had to somehow find warmth and shelter in the cold desert wilderness at night.  They wouldn’t have traveled alone.  That would not have been smart.  They could not have gone straight through Samaria because it was not a friendly country.  So, they probably would have traveled along the Jordan River and then turned near Jericho just north of the Dead Sea and headed toward Jerusalem.  The way would not have been easy, but, as they traveled, God made room for them, providing a pathway of light, probably fellow travelers, and a perseverance to get them to Bethlehem.  And there, in the dim light of a stable, the glory of God would be revealed in the child that was born to Mary.

This story that we love so much is not only a story of God’s coming into the world.  God would never have been able to come if somewhere along the way, someone had not made room in her life for God to come.  So, we hear of a young girl who put her life’s plans aside and made room to participate in God’s work of salvation.   And there with her, is her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, who, putting their convenience and their reputation at risk, opened their home to make room for the young girl.  That young girl was not just a vehicle for God’s work.  She wasn’t some random person that God used.  That young girl was a Light-Bearer.  She made room for the Light of Life to come into the world.

So, this story is as much an invitation as it is something in which we believe.  It is an invitation to us to open our eyes, open our hearts, and, yes, open our minds to the ways that God comes into our lives and the ways that God is calling us to participate in the changing of the world.  See, we are all called to be Light-Bearers.  We are called to bring the Light of God revealed through Jesus Christ into the world.  Oh, you don’t have time?  You’re not ready?  You’re not trained?  You’re afraid?  Alright, focus…Mary was just a young girl.  She was still maturing, still growing into who she would be.  She was planning her wedding.  And then this angel shows up and, well, you just won’t even believe what all happened.  Mary had plans for her life.  And yet here was this angel, a messenger of God, asking her to put all those plans aside and do this one little thing for the world.  Mary was asked to birth the Light of God into the world.  (No big deal, right?) She sat there stunned, the light probably draining from her face.  The angel waited.  The world waited.  God waited.  The Light hung suspended for a moment, waiting, with the darkness nipping at its heels.  And then Mary responded, “Let it be…let it be according to God’s Word.”

So, in these days leading up to Christmas and beyond, when you answer the door or find yourself in conversation or are met by someone who asks you to rearrange your mind a bit, remember that you never know when you might come face to face with the sacred, with the Divine, with God.  And our faith tells us that when that happens, it’s all about making room for God to do something new.  It’s about becoming a Light-Bearer.  The Light shines on you.  It is getting brighter and brighter with each day’s journey.  It is the same Light that God created so long ago.  It is the same Light that brought the world to this place we read about today.  It is the same Light that Mary birthed into the World.  And it has been there ever since—shining into our lives, inviting us to bear the Light to the world.  Let it be according to God’s Word. 

When I first met him, I knew in a moment I would have to spend the next few days re-arranging my mind so there’d be room for him to stay. (Brian Andreas, “The Story People”) 

Grace and Peace,


A Light in the Window

Scripture Text: Psalm 18: 1-3, 28

1I love you, O Lord, my strength. 2The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies…28It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.

Remember once again in the first chapter of Genesis when God created Light?  The Light was created to push back the darkness.  It didn’t “win” over the darkness; darkness was not gone.  This is not a light war.  Even darkness was created by God.  But then came Light, pushing back the darkness, re-creating the darkness into Light.  In essence, Light illumines the darkness.  God lights up the darkness.

This Psalm can be traced back to the era of the First Temple (Solomon’s Temple) before the Babylonian Exile.  It was considered a Royal Psalm, words echoing the belief that God would save the king, that God was the one behind the king, the God who had always been strong and reliant, the God whose actions were always just and merciful and would continue to be.

What, then, does it mean for God to light our darkness?  What does it mean for God, strong and reliant, just and merciful, to push back the darkness in our lives and illumine where we stand?  Are we ready for that?  Do we trust in that?  As we’ve mentioned before, sometimes the darkness gets a little too comfortable.  We become accustomed to strategically hiding part of ourselves, which is, of course, easier in the darkness.  And, after all, there’s always still darkness, right?  But if we truly allow ourselves to look toward the Light, the darkness will begin to subside.  We’re not used to the Light.  Our eyes will sting at first until we clear the remnants of darkness from them.  But when we begin to focus, it will all come into view—pushing back the darkness.

Try it.  All it takes is a candle—one candle in the darkness.  If you light one candle, there is Light. Maybe it’s not everything you want.  Maybe it’s not enough to read or something.  But it’s enough to light your way.  It just takes one candle to begin to push back the darkness.  It just takes something small.  I think that’s how God does it.  I think that’s how God has always done it.  God doesn’t turn on all the lights at once.  Sometimes God slips into the darkness like a baby in a manger. 

We’ve always been in darkness.  I think that’s so we can see the Light.  God doesn’t supply us with headlights or spotlights or even a strategically-placed flashlight.  You know why?  Because we don’t need light to find Light.  God created darkness for us.  It was the place that we were born before our eyes could adjust to the Light.  It was the place where we grew and learned to see the Light.  But through our lives, God always put a light in the window, just enough Light so that we would know where to go.  God begins to light our darkness, lighting one lamp after another.  Because that’s all it takes to light up our darkness.  Look toward the Light and the darkness will be pushed away.  Look for the Light in the window.

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal) 

Grace and Peace,