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Today we read again of another powerful image of light found in the Scriptures.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
Makes you think of Christmas.
I’m assuming you know that is image of light is a frequent one in the scriptures:
– In the beginning, into the dark void of chaos, God gives the word, “Let their be light, and there was light”
– You know the one from John’s gospel that poetically shares what the coming of Christ means to the world: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness, has not overcome it.”
– Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I could go on, there are over 200 uses of the image in scripture.
This is an image we use in the church every week. Every Sunday an acolyte comes forward to light our two Christ candles… reminding us that Christ is the one who bring light to the world. We bring the light of Christ into our worship to be fed and nurtured by Christ. Then we take the light out to take Christ back into the world.
Often, when I think of the image of light in the church— I think of the congregation on Christmas eve… holding the candles in a dark sanctuary singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night”…
You may not know this, but we go to great pains to get that part of the service right… instructions for ushers about when to dim the lights to set the effect. We know in order to see the light, there has to be darkness.
Light is an important symbol in scripture and for the church. It is a statement of faith that the light will shine in the darkness… wherever there is darkness. That God will be victorious over the darkness that descends into our lives and in to our world.
Isaiah used the image this way. He uses light as the sign of hope for despairing people…
The sign of hope for those living in anguish, that the darkness does not have the last word.
In our passage today, he is speaking to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali- people who are living in darkness to be sure. They are lost and alone on the world stage– pawns in a power struggle – living largely under the domination of a series of Assyrian kings. Eventually they were taken into captivity. From the perspective of the world leaders, they were pawns… nobodies. Alone and forgotten in the world. This is a land of deep darkness indeed.
Into this land, Isaiah preaches hope— God has not forgotten them!“The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light” — as he celebrates the coming of a new ruler in Israel.
Isaiah loves using that image of light… he uses it many times:
“Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
“I will make you a covenant to the people and a light to the nations”
“ It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel, I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation shall reach to the end of the earth”
“If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”
During our week in Guatemala, I went there looking for the light. Because I knew we were working with people who had lived in darkness for a long time.
What was interesting to me was a meeting I had with Pastor Francisco and two of the elders (Pasqual 1 and 2) of the church along with Noe, the Presbytery mission staff person who coordinates our work. I wanted to meet with them alone—to see how it was going. There had been so many changes since we first met them years ago.
We had gone there after Hurricane Stan had devastated their village… and they were indeed people living in darkness. We brought coffee plants which was nice.
But they wanted more. They wanted us. An elder on the first visit said, “Are you going to be one of those groups that come and go and we never see you again? “Another said, “We’ve been praying for God to send someone to help us and we believe God sent you!”
Since then, teams had worked hard to help where they needed and where we had gifts.
So over these years an amazing thing has taken place:
We have youth being educated with scholarships provided by Kirk members, microloans to help build a better life, we have built one of the best libraries, resource and computer centers in Guatemala—in the middle of nowhere…we are teaching family planning, teaching teachers, I have now led a seminar for Presbytery pastors… We have played with children, and most of all, developed developed deep relationships… We have prayed, worshiped, laughed, challenged one another… or as I told them, we have become family to one another. And they feel that way about each of you – even you who have never been there.
So, I wanted to meet with Pastor Francisco, Pasqual #1, and Pasqual #2, and Noe to see how they were dealing with all this change. Change, in my experience has more than one side—it can be good, but it comes with consequences. I told them I wanted to know how these changes had affected their lives, their church, and village. What changes had been for the better? What has been hard for you?
And this is what Pastor Francisco told me. He said,
“Before you came, it was as if Pala’ was living in darkness… now, thanks to the opportunities you have given us, it is like Pala’ is coming out into the light. Six years ago, no one cared for the people of Pala’… we felt abandoned by the authorities and Guatemala. We were all alone. But then you came, and light broke through the darkness.”
Pasqual 1 or 2 said,
“Since you came we have seen growth in our community… other people want to live here… people are more alive and motivated in our church… more participate in worship and in Bible study… the youth see how the church participates in the school… they see hope… (I might say, they see light where there was darkness)
“I have known the people of Pala’ for 20 years. They had always had much light… but the light was under the table. Now the light is on top of the table… it is shining so everyone can take advantage of it. This church now has an important role to bear the light for other communities… to let their light shine… to be the light on the hill.”
So I can say to you with great certainty: “The people who walked in darkness, have now seen a great light”…thanks to God inspiring us to return to Pala’ again and again… thanks to the passion of those God has given to share the light of God with others who live in darkness.
You see, the church is called to be a light in the darkness. God sometimes calls individuals to share their light with others. King Hezekiah was one whom Isaiah saw as coming to bring light to his people. Later, people would see Christ as the one who brings light to the world.
Now, Christ calls disciples to bear witness to that light wherever we see people living in darkness.
Do you see yourself as bearing witness to that light… to be the light to the nations as Isaiah would describe it?
You are you know. As a disciple, you are called by Christ to share your light… Because your loving faithfulness and service – wherever you share it, is a light in this world.
Do you see yourself bearing witness to the light? Where in your life do you find darkness? And where is God calling you to share the light of God’s loving hope in that place of darkness?
I heard recently of a Coach, Jerry Boone… who heads an organization called, “Athletes by design” he is about teaching athletes in high school, and college and even pros… and he has a motto that goes like this: “It is our goal, not to be the best IN the world, but the best FOR the world.”Not the best IN the world, but the best FOR the world.
Isaiah might have said it this way:, “you are called not just to be a bright light, but a bright light that shines brightly for God for the world.”
During our daily devotions in Guatemala, I asked our group this question every night:
“Where do you see the light shining in the darkness?”
I want to ask you the same question today: “Where do you see the light shining in the darkness?”
You don’t have to go to Pala’ you know. You can… but I see the light here as well. Every day.
When we returned and were waiting in the airport, we had not heard much about the Tucson shooting. But there was the memorial service… and I heard people speak of hope, love, comfort and civility. There was some light breaking there.
On the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, I read a story of people of faith singing and dancing… dancing with hope. The darkness is not going to defeat them.
Where do you see the light shining in the darkness?
There is a Kirk member whose heart is on fire to help a child not her own—who lives in anguish and confusion… alone in many ways in the world– doubting if there is a God. Yet his child loves crosses… and another member gave her a cross she had received. It was an expression of love… of light breaking through…
Where do you see the light shining in the darkness?
Bob Adams shares that light about his wife Jean with every email… reporting progress… taking pictures of hands holding hands… When I visited Jean, I saw it in her eyes and on her lips when she was able to hear and respond.
I saw some light shine on our last day in Guatemala. We were traveling up the mountain for our daily commute on the back of the pick up. We saw something I had never seen before. A stream of families… and women holding jugs, walking up the mountain back to Pala’. We wondered what was going on.
We came to find out that in a neighboring village, a baby had died. The women and families had traveled on foot to the home of the family who lost their child to offer what they could… some food… and each family carrying water… to throw on the grave… to help harden the ground so dogs would not dig up the deceased.
Like us, they went to bring light into the darkness of death… to say, you are not alone. We are with you, God is with you.
Where do you see the light shine in the darkness?
I’ll tell you where… it is wherever and whenever we see God doing what God does best… coming to those who need God most…
Where do you see the light shine in the darkness? I see it all the time. I see it among you—whenever and wherever I see you serving… caring… loving one another and the world in the name of our Lord… who is the light of the world… and the light for the world.
May that light shine brightly among us and through us always, so that we may bring glory to God. Amen.