We have all had experience of the difﬁculty of ﬁnding our way in the dark, especially when you are looking for the bathroom in the middle of the night and you don’t want to wake other people in the house. Why is it that you always seem to stub your toe on the sharp edge of the door? Then someone turns on a light and the way you should be taking becomes plain.
I remember that I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped when I was younger, and that there was a similar, although more dangerous situation faced by young David Balfour when he went to visit his miserable uncle Ebenezer. Strangely I cannot remember anything else about the book. His Uncle has sent him up a tower of the house to get a box of documents, warning him to keep near the wall because there are no bannisters.
“It was so dark inside, it seemed a body could scarce breathe; but I pushed out with foot and hand, and presently struck the wall with the one, and the lowermost round of the stair with the other. The wall, by the touch, was of fine hewn stone; the steps too, though somewhat steep and narrow, were of polished masonwork, and regular and solid underfoot. Minding my uncle’s word about the bannisters, I kept close to the tower side, and felt my way in the pitch darkness with a beating heart.
“The house of Shaws stood some five full storeys high, not counting lofts. Well, as I advanced, it seemed to me the stair grew airier and a thought more lightsome; and I was wondering what might be the cause of this change, when a second blink of the summer lightning came and went. If I did not cry out, it was because fear had me by the throat; and if I did not fall, it was more by Heaven’s mercy than my own strength. It was not only that the flash shone in on every side through breaches in the wall, so that I seemed to be clambering aloft upon an open scaffold, but the same passing brightness showed me the steps were of unequal length, and that one of my feet rested that moment within two inches of the well.”
This is the kind of picture we should have in mind when we read in the Prologue to St John’s Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (NRSV Jn 1:1–5)
Without the grace of God which has been revealed in Jesus Christ our lives can be directionless and without a vision of God’s purpose for us. Without him, we may ﬁnd it difﬁcult to see the purpose in life, we may ﬁnd it difﬁcult to understand the things that happen to us, and it is hard to avoid the many pitfalls which can lead to doubt and despair, to hatred and unhappiness. As Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (NRSV Jn 8:12)
So we give thanks to God for the light of Christ in our lives — for the love which he has shown to us, for the forgiveness which he extends to us, for the wholeness which is ours in him. However, the message in today’s readings takes us one step further, it takes us beyond our own personal salvation to our responsibility in the world around us.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
We are God’s reflectors, the extent to which the light of Christ is present in us will be clear to the world. What an awesome responsibility this is. But how are we to show the light of Christ in our lives? Is it through the quality of our religious observances or is it by some other means? This is where we ﬁnd guidance in today’s Old Testament reading from Second Isaiah.
The prophet is commenting on those activities which will make the people righteous in God’s sight. He rejects the performance of religious activities like fasting when they are accompanied by oppression of the vulnerable or by quarrelling and ﬁghting. He asks: “Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”
For him there is no question about the answer, so he goes on:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, . . .”
The season of the Epiphany is about the Light of Christ, as the aged Simeon sang when Jesus was presented by his parents in the temple:
He was to be “. . .a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
(NRSV Lk 2:32)
Our readings today remind us that we are responsible for making this light shine in the world.
What sort of light shines from each one of us? What sort of light shines from the Parish of Strathalbyn?” If the light of Christ is shining brightly, and not being hidden, why aren’t more people being drawn to that light right now?
At the moment we are being presented with a set of proposals from the Bishop and the Diocesan Council which it is said will improve the effectiveness of our witness and ministry.
As we make our response we must ask: Will this loose the bonds of injustice? Will this help the hungry and homeless? Will it cover the naked? Will our light then break forth like the dawn? Will our light then shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven?