Children of Light

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at St Paul’s Church Bantam Connecticut on the Epiphany, celebrated as a “Festival of Light,” on January 8, 2012

The first thing God ever said,  according to the Bible, was “Let there be light.” The God we worship  gives us light. 

But do you know that for centuries  and still today there have been Christian churches  that have tried to block the light, even to keep Christians from reading the Bible?  There are churches today that try to prevent scientists from doing research and to control what children are taught. And that’s not surprising  because truth can be dangerous and if you are insecure,  you don’t want new ideas and possibly different ideas filtering in and raising questions.  North Korea is the ultimate example today of a government afraid of light, afraid of knowledge,  afraid of information.  Russia used to be that way.

It’s understandable that people in power  would try to control what people know, to limit information,  to prevent asking questions and to inundate people with their own point of view so they will agree with them and support them. Well, you know, it’s annoying to have people disagree with you. It would be so much simpler  if they would just ask your opinion and go with it. You are ready to give them the light  and they seem to prefer the dark. You have to wonder why.

We celebrate tonight a Festival of Light because we are celebrating the Epiphany, and the very word means “showing forth,”  “enlightening,” specifically “enlightening the Gentiles,”  showing forth God’s light to the rest of the world, even to us. And however much light may threaten some of us,  our God is a God of light, relentlessly shining into the dark places,  relentlessly challenging us to look and to see and to understand.

God is not threatened by the light.  God made the light. God the all-powerful is not threatened  by those of us who have doubts  and questions to ask.  God wants us to see.  But look at what God shows us about God. First at Christmas:  a child is born, God comes into this world as a helpless child. That’s a lot of light right there, an enormous revolution in our knowledge of God.  The Bible speaks of God as “dwelling in light inaccessible”  and a modern French spiritual writer,  Simone Weil, once said, “God out of love withdraws from us because If we were exposed to the full radiance of his glory without the protection of space, of time, and of matter, we would be evaporated like water in the sun.”  But it is that unknowable, inaccessible God  who created a billion suns who nevertheless comes in the simplicity and helplessness of a newborn baby and comes, not to compel us but to draw us and love us, not to overwhelm us  but to speak to us at our level, in our life, where we can see without being blinded and come without being overwhelmed. God wants us to see,  God wants us to know.  And so we have Christmas and we learn something more of what God is like.

And then we have the Epiphany, the manifestation to the Gentiles, the shining out to the rest of the world, the breaking down of barriers between nations and races and religions.  We don’t know who these magi were, these wise men from the East who are often shown as kings, but east of Bethlehem is Jordan and beyond that is Iraq and beyond that is Iran and it’s perfectly legitimate to see a message here about the overcoming of divisions: God throwing some light on the darkness of our divisions, our lack of understanding of all our human differences  God shows us, enlightens us, on the insignificance of our differences  in the light of the glory of God.  God is not afraid –  it seems strange even to have to say that –  God is not afraid of knowledge,  of otherness, of differences,  of questions.  God created us in all our wonderful diversity and we do God no honor  by trying to close minds or close books or build barriers.  There’s no reason to fear questions, no reason to tell scientists they’re wrong  about evolution or climate change. If they are, they’ll find that out themselves but it’s likelier that what they find out is something more about the glory of God.

There was a time when human beings imagined a universe no bigger than the solar system and now we know that we would have to travel for years at the speed of light even to get to the nearest star and no one knows or can know  how far the universe stretches beyond that and that enlightens us, that tells us something about the glory of God.  Who would ever want to go back to the tiny, narrow  universe Christians once imagined? Yet there was a day when Christians tried  to block that knowledge as if somehow a smaller less glorious God  were preferred.  Whatever we learn, whatever we know, is knowledge of God, is the light of God’s glory.

We are fortunate, you know, to come from a tradition that has tried to be open and inclusive and respect the opening of the mind and the expansion of knowledge.  Lots of Christians came to this country to limit knowledge and escape the clash of ideas. The Puritans and Pilgrims were brave and principled people but they wanted to live in a state where everyone agreed and that remains a very strong strain  in American Christianity. It’s unfortunate that some of the loudest voices  in American religion still take that perspective and give non-Christians the idea that that’s what Christianity is about,  that we are afraid of knowledge, afraid of new ideas, afraid of change.  We need to do everything we can to let people know there’s a difference, that Christianity at its best  Is not afraid to ask, not afraid of freedom.

We’re just at the beginning  here at this festival of light but we’re setting the tone for the rest of the year. Week by week we follow the story and we see Jesus teaching and healing and reaching out never controlling, never fearing the questions,  always open and ready to come where we are and give us the light we need: the knowledge of a God  who is light, who wants us to know and to ask  and to understand.  And the climax, of course, is that great burst of light that we call the Resurrection  when we see that death is not the end, that God’s will for us is life  and that life is stronger than death and light is stronger than the darkness.

When we understand that, we need to do everything we can to shed light ourselves, to make known in our lives the kind of God revealed to us in Jesus,  a God of light, of life, of love,  of openness and compassion, who seeks those farthest away, those most in need, those least likely to be here on Sunday but not beyond the reach of God, not beyond the light.

It’s appropriate that it’s dark outside and that the light from these windows penetrates that darkness. But it doesn’t go far enough, not nearly far enough.  So we go out from here like rays of light to penetrate that darkness, to show others something of the light we have seen  and absorbed and carry with us.

St.  Paul our patron saint once wrote  “Walk as children of light.” That’s our task this year  and every day and every year: to walk as children of light. Take the light with you  and let others see something of what we have seen  and what guides us and transforms us.  You can’t shine the light into a box and close the box and keep the light inside but you can carry it with you  and light up your home and your neighborhood  and the place where you work.  So let the light of God shine through you  into God’s world and among God’s people.  Let that light shine in you  because we are called to be children of God, children of light.

Leave a comment

Your comment