“The Advent of God’s Presence: The Christ Light” (Part Four of Four) Matthew 4:12-17 & Isaiah 12: 1-6 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Dec 16, 18
So, how are your preparations going for Christmas? This is a question that will irk many of us as there always seems to be so much pressure to be ‘ready’ for the ‘Big Day’, doesn’t there? And in this season of stress to ‘be ready’, we come to church and you receive the same questions. I almost feel guilty for adding further pressure to people’s busy lives by encouraging people to “slow down, prepare, lest we forget the ‘reason for the season’”. Yet…long before the retail industry hijacked this holiday as a money-making venture, the church had long been encouraging people to prepare … to prepare for the coming of the Christ. And so, in this Advent season, we prepare a place at the ‘inns of our lives’ for Jesus to be born in beautiful and blessed ways.
This year, we have focused on preparing for the coming of Christ as we have been taking a deeper examination into the symbols that come forth each Sunday. As you witnessed, a number of symbols process forward, and as they come forward we find ourselves preparing our hearts to receive Christ in worship. This year, in the season of Advent, we took a deeper consideration into this practice by examining four of our symbols. We commenced with the Bible, then followed by the communion elements of Bread and Wine, and last week with the waters of baptism. And this morning, we conclude with examining the Christ light. It is interesting… of all the symbols, I think that the Christ light is the one that is most commonly shared. Many worship settings have the Bible on the table at worship, but not all. The bread and wine process, sometimes each week, but not in all churches. And even fewer will have the waters of baptism poured weekly. But it would be the rare, rare church which does not have the Christ light as a focal point for gathering. The Christ light is a focus on the table for worship, for a wedding, or a funeral. We see the Christ light at a church meeting, a study group, even a meditation gathering. This morning we will consider why this Christ light is so important to us. As I think on this, fundamentally, I think the Christ light is there because we are people of the light. I was at Ikea a while back purchasing a supply of candles for worship. I had quite a large supply in my buggy. (you get to know where the best deals on candles are over time). The person behind me made a joke: ‘planning a séance, are you?’ “No” I answered…“I’m a pastor and we go through A LOT of candles”. (what a way to kill a conversation)
So, why are we drawn to the light? Why are we ‘people of the light’? What is our universal attraction to this symbol of our faith? In some ways, perhaps our attraction to light began with our deep connection with the sun ~ that golden globe that increasingly evades us in this rainy winter season. In earlier times, people believed that the sun was the centre of the solar system and, thus, the light of the world. And, to be sure, the sun truly is incredible. Existing 150 million kilometers away from the earth, it would take a baby, travelling at 240 kilometres per hour, much of its life to fly there, arriving as a septuagenarian. Its diameter is 109 times larger than our own planet earth and it’s heat source radiates 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, despite the greatness of the sun in the sky, Christians are drawn, even more, to another son … the Son of God who we proclaim to be the “light of our world”. And so, we place the Christ light on the table as a symbol of its primacy in our faith.
For Jesus, he grew up in the dark shadow of the destructive kingdom movements. The Romans had conquered his homeland two generations prior to his birth. Jewish history was that of one powerful Kingdom after another overthrowing Israel, destroying their land and, in many cases, dragging them away into slavery. Countries like Rome, Assyria, Babylon and Egypt were all dark kingdoms that overcame, conquered and carried them away in chains. These were all powerful Kingdoms in their day whose way of darkness had overcome the Hebrew people. Yet, there was hope. Hope for a light that would come; a light that would come for all the nations; a light that would come and shine into the darkness. In the text from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus recalls Isaiah’s prophecy spoken centuries ago, offering hope for the arrival of that light now. Isaiah prophesied: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned”. The prophesied hope was of one who would bring light into the darkness of the times then; light into the times of the darkness now ~ Jesus is that light!
The problem with each successive Kingdom movement was that they would overcome power and darkness by exerting even mightier forms of violence. Each successive Kingdom would be constantly fighting the existing powers of darkness with their newer, stronger and darker ways of violence, force and oppression. A violent Kingdom would rise up; it’s power would increase; and it would overthrow the current powers of the day. This new power would maintain control until a new way of darkness would inevitably rise up and challenge the order. In the past, darkness was always fought with further darkness. What was so unique in the prophecy for Israel was that Isaiah foretold of a day when a new power…a power of light…would rise up and confront the dark ways of old. It would not be one of merely overthrowing the ways of darkness with new darkness; Isaiah prophesied of confronting the ways of the past from darkness into light. Gandhi saw Jesus as a wise sage and noted that “an eye for an eye will result in making the world blind”.
Matthew’s gospel uses an interesting Greek word throughout its telling of how Jesus responds to threats. In the ten episodes that Jesus encounters threats, the verb ‘anachoreo’ is used. In verse 12 of our reading, the text translates it as “withdrew”. Hearing that John had been arrested, “[Jesus] “withdrew” to Galilee making his home in Capernum by the lake in order to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet. Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned”. He does not confront the powers who had arrested John, he withdraws and allows God’s light to shine in and through him.
And what shines in Jesus is an entirely new way of life! Matthew is unique in his gospel in speaking, not of the coming of the Kingdom of God (as the 3 other gospels refer to), but rather of the coming of the “Kingdom of heaven”. At the time, the Kingdom of Heaven referred to a place ~ namely a place where people go after death. However, this made no sense in Jesus’ usage of this term. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be said to be approaching in him? How could the Kingdom of Heaven be arriving in him? How could it be arriving now? Jesus’ was giving them light to see an entirely new way of being, of living ~ the Way of the Kingdom of Heaven…arriving NOW! In fact, Jesus calls them from that time on to “repent”, which can be understood literally as being: ‘to change one’s mind’. The light has come and we are to change our minds, our understandings, our ways…we are to change our lives for the light of Christ is shining and there will now be Joy in every place!
The great church father from the 4th Century, St. Augustine of Hippo begins his famous book Confessions writing: “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”. I think that is why we are people of light. We will be forever restless, forever searching, forever struggling ~ fighting and rebelling ~ living in the dark until the Christ light touches us. We will be forever restless until we are touched by the light of Christ. We are people of light…attracted to Jesus’ light-ways of grace, light-ways of peace, light-ways of forgiveness. We are people of light…emanating those ways as we live the gospel on a White Gift Sunday where we reach out in amazing ways, and on a regular Sunday when we just live the ways of Christ’s light and a regular day in the middle of the year when we simply let our Christ light shine.
And when Christ’s light is truly taken in and reflected out, that is truly a time of Joy to the world for the Kingdom is truly coming near in Christ, in the church, in you, in me.
Joy to the world, the Lord is shining.