A sermon preached at St Paul’s Church Bantam Connecticut on January9, 2011 by Christopher L. Webber.

The more I know about light the less I understand it, but light is the measuring rod of the universe.  They say that it travels at 186,282 miles per second – but that’s only in the United States.  In the rest of the universe, it travels at  299,792,458 meters per second. A meter is the distance traveled by light in a vacuum in a 299,792,458th of a second.

Looked at another way, light is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum visible to the human eye  but a great deal of that spectrum is not visible to the human eye, so it’s like saying that the ocean is the water we can see when we stand on the beach or Connecticut is what I see when I look out the window.

It gets worse.  If we ask what light itself is, the physicists tell us that sometimes it’s like a wave and sometimes it’s like particles. So much of it is invisible and the visible part is indefinable, but without light, we would be unable to see and the world would be invisible, yet God, who created light, remains invisible to the human eye.

The Bible tells us  “God is light,  and in God is no darkness at all.”

We come here tonight – in the dark – to celebrate light. I think we do it this way because it reminds us so vividly of the contrast between dark and light and of our dependence on light. But we have created a world in which darkness seldom really exists any more. Until a century or so ago when the sun went down, it was dark – truly dark. Nowadays astronomers have a hard time  finding a really dark place from which to observe the night sky.  There’s ambient light even in the country. From our house at night we can see the glow of Kent nine miles away. I’ve talked to people in Kent who had no idea they were that bright. You begin to hear about campaigns  to tone it down, to focus street light down where its needed instead of letting so much of it go up  where it baffles the birds and frustrates the astronomers.

A hundred and fifty years ago it wasn’t like this.  Armies in those days couldn’t fight after dark. People pretty much stayed home at night. They went to bed early and got up late because candles and kerosene were expensive and what would you do after dark anyway without books to read or television to watch or radios to listen to?  People slept much longer than we do for months because they had no light.

We forget how much we depend on light because we’re surrounded by it and take it for granted.  So we’ve got all this light  but I wonder, do we really see any better or understand any better or live any better? Does all this light do us any good?  I think we need to remember that Satan, the Devil,  is also called Lucifer which means “Light Bearer.”

Not every light is a true light or a light of truth. You know that, I’m sure.  A lot of the light on your television screen is not true light.  You wouldn’t want your children to see it. A lot of the speeches made by politicians shed very little light on our situation. But how do you know?  How can you tell true light from false?  No one spends money on misleading ads unless there are people who are easily misled and no one votes for politicians who lie to us  unless it gets votes,  unless we don’t know the truth, and are willing to be lied to, and make no effort to be informed.  So a festival of light is a time to give thanks for the light but to remind ourselves also  that the gift of light is  a gift to be used wisely and carefully.

The wise men saw a star, a distant point of light, and followed it,  and came at last to a house in a remote village near Jerusalem. But the star was not the light they were seeking.  It was only a guide to the light. The light was the child in that house in Bethlehem. Christ is the light of the world,  the true light, God, the Creator of Light,  in one truly human life.  God is light.  Jesus is the true light.

Do you wonder why we are here? Do you wonder how to live?  Do you want to know the truth? God is Light.  We come here to be enlightened, to know God in a way that will help us live, to know God in a way that will give us the light we need, and also – never forget it –  this is a light to share. For all the ambient light in the world, we aren’t as enlightened as we ought to be. Lots of people out there have no idea that a lot of the flashy light that attracts them is false, misleading, a path that leads down, not up.

And what are we doing to counter that?  What light do we as a congregation bring to our community?  Is there anything we do that would get people’s attention and make them think that they could benefit by coming here, that they could find light here? What are we doing to spread the light?  People driving by tonight will see light radiating out through our windows and say to themselves, “I wonder what that’s all about; I wonder what they’re up to.”  How can we let them know?  What do we do that provides answers?

Now I’m not suggesting we need to buttonhole people and ask them if they’re saved. That’s not enlightening and most of us would be scared to try. But if we give a concert for Haitian relief,  that’s enlightening. If we see someone struggling and offer to help, that’s enlightening. If we get into a discussion of any of the issues facing our society – taxes, health care, death penalty, gun control – and can bring light without heat – can participate in a discussion with a Christian perspective, with charity, with patience, with an ability to listen and understand while keeping a perspective that comes from our worship and prayer and Bible study – a perspective centered on Christ, not ourselves, that focuses on love of God and love of neighbor, not love of money or anger or prejudice – that would bring light where light is desperately needed.

Can we do that?  Well, no, we can’t; not by ourselves, not without constantly coming to the light  to renew and deepen our own understanding, not without being re-enlightened constantly ourselves.  The Bible says,  “God is light and in him is no darkness at all”  and the Bible also says “we are children of light.” We have a calling to grow into,  a job to do, and all the light God can give us  is available to help us see the way ourselves and show the way to others.

Think again about this light we’re talking about, this mysterious wave or particles that’s largely invisible. This church is like a lighthouse at the edge of a chaotic ocean sending out light that may sometimes seem to be one thing and sometimes another and is often invisible. A good many ships will pass by this lighthouse in broad daylight and have no need at that moment of the light  but may be glad all the same that it’s there. Others will pass by  and not realize that the community they are passing through is changed by that light. Others may never pass by at all  but find guidance from that light in ways invisible  and forms they will never understand. And we who come here regularly, who depend on that light each day, may never know the difference we make as bearers of the light, carrying it with us invisibly but powerfully all the same.  Christ is the true light  and we are called to come to that light and to be bearers of that light in the dark world to which God sends us out.

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