“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” Words from our 1st reading today from the 60th chapter of the prophet Isaiah – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
I would like to share a couple of stories with you today about the importance of light. On my day off on Wednesdays, I generally go home to visit my parents and help them out around the house. My Dad has a workshop downstairs and for the last 6 months or so the fluorescent ceiling fixtures have been broken. The light bulbs themselves worked but the fixtures needed a new ballast. You’d go into the workshop, flick the switch, and the lights would only hum and emit a very dim light. So, what did we do next? It’s pretty simple of course, out comes the phone flashlight and in we go to get the tool we need and then proceed to work elsewhere. How many of us use our phone flashlights nowadays? So anyway, we finally got around last month to fixing the lights, and we decided instead to put in all new LED fixtures that we picked up from Lowe’s and so we reconfigured the wiring, installed some new outlets, and installed the fixtures. And before anyone asks, no, we’re not for hire, better to get your own electricians. But my goodness, what a night and day difference, pun intended! It’s like the whole workshop now just glows, and you can actually see even better than before and we can finally work again and enjoin on various projects.
As a Boy Scout growing up, I had the opportunity to go on a 72-mile hiking trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. Covering over 140,000 acres of rugged mountain wilderness in New Mexico and offering numerous outdoor activities and programs, Philmont is perhaps the premier hiking destination place for scouts. One of my most memorable experiences from my time there was gold mining. There’s about $14 million dollars’ worth of gold in the Aztec Ponil and Cyphers Mines in the mountain ranges there. The only problem is that it would cost millions more to excavate it, so the operations had ceased at the turn of the 19th century. But we had the chance to get a tour of the gold mines and see the tools and methods used by the miners in the days of old. As our tour progressed along and we were a good way into the mine itself, our tour guide went on to explain what the miners would have to do in the event of a collapse. Suddenly and without warning, we heard a big bang and all the lights went out. They were simulating for us a mining disaster and our crew was stuck scrambling around in the dark without flashlights or modern technology to help us. Fighting back confusion and fear, we tried remembering what our guide told us just moments before and began reaching around in the darkness, uncertain of the way out. After what seemed like forever, our guide stepped in, shouted out commands, helped us to find each other, and then with our right hands against the wall of the mining shaft and the other hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us, we proceeded slowly along the corridor in a single file line following the lead of our guide who at last brought us safely out of the cave. That was an exhilarating experience I’ll always remember – talk about bringing history to life! Although we were never in any real danger, I have to admit that without our guide we were lost. For us, he was the light that shone in the darkness leading us safely to the light of day and rescuing us from our predicament.
Despite the sun forever shining upon our earth, there are many moments when we find ourselves in darkness. The darkness of night, of a room with no windows and no power, or even of a cave that has collapsed. In these cases, we need something more immediately accessible than the sun shining millions of miles away… we need something close at hand to illuminate these dark corners of the world. While in many cases something like a phone flashlight will do the trick, it should be mentioned that some of this darkness – most of this darkness – it cannot be dispelled by artificial lightbulbs. The darkness of sin and struggle and temptation and depression and poverty and disease and addiction and war and abuse and neglect and family strife and meaninglessness – we all know something of these struggles; we all know the darkness; we need something or someone close at hand to bring light to these dark corners of our world. I suppose it’s not your traditional Christmas metaphor, but we need a tour guide to help us out of the darkness of our situation and bring us back to the light of day. It’s something that we take for granted, but no other religion believes in a God who has come and dwelt among his people. God is no stranger, God hasn’t abandoned us but is Emmanuel, literally ‘God-with-us’. Just as the sun’s rays cannot penetrate the dark cave walls of the mines we are trapped in, we don’t need a God who is out there; we need a God close as hand. Enter Jesus Christ the Savior, the light of the world.
And you know, sometimes it’s not so much the darkness we are competing with. We are competing with all these other artificial lights. Like the sun, the light of Christ is forever shining, but sometimes it is difficult to notice, much like the light of the candles at this altar amid the light that comes in from the windows or from the lights in the ceiling. With the advent of electricity only over the past century or so have we been surrounded by so much artificial light. Our eyes take us to the flashing false distractions that numb us instead of the true light that brings us fulfillment and peace. We end up settling for the light of our phones, our TVs, the barrage of communications and advertisements for quick fixes instead of better solutions. Just as nothing quite recharges solar batteries like the sun, our spiritual lives are hardwired to be charged with the light that comes from the Son of God. Superficiality, artificial lights of this world, are a dim substitute. Seek out the light, the true light.
All throughout the season of Advent we’ve been lighting more and more candles, signifying the coming of the authentic light of Christ more and more fully into the world. Now that it is Christmas, we put up lights on our trees and decorate our houses with strands and strands of lights. Certainly, they look nice, but we call them Christmas lights as opposed to any other kind of light because ultimately, they are symbolically meant to reflect the light of Christ dispelling the darkness of our own lives. This year, we have added more stars to our Christmas decorations, and have illumined the star hanging in our sanctuary. The magi of our Gospel followed the light of this star of Bethlehem. They sought out the true light. Epiphany celebrates this fact. They were not caught up in the distractions of this world for wealth or power like King Herod was. Instead they lived their lives guided by the light of Christ that had been revealed to them. Isaiah says, “nations will walk in your light.” The magi from the east model this for us. Indeed, the star the magi followed beckons to us still today, to walk in the light of Christ, to let our lives be guided by faith. Just as the wise men searched for the light of Christ and were yet guided by it, so too do we need to follow the star and draw all nations along with us.
I hope and pray that everyone has witnessed Christ’s light for themselves in the context of our own lives, and I hope that each of us has experienced the presence of Jesus our savior, who has not abandoned us but came into our very struggles to lead us to safety, whether it was through an experience of prayer or through the compassion of a family member or good friend, or even if it was simply the light of Christ shining in a dark gold mine far away in the person of a tour guide that we’ll probably never meet again. As we commemorate the light of Christ this on this feast of Epiphany, we give thanks to God for the glory his radiant light, and we ask that we in turn can be bearers of the Body of Christ in this Eucharist we receive, to bring his light to all the world.