If you go right back, all the way to the beginning, it was dark. The way the story is told in the first verses of the Bible, the first thing God did was to create the light. God said: Let there be light! And right from that moment, God and light were inextricably linked.
We are talking poetry here. Even when there is physical darkness and literal light, the spiritual darkness and the light of life are so much greater. You have to tap in to your imagination, you have to root yourself in your feelings and fears and hopes. Because that is where darkness and light make sense.
Remember the fear you have felt in deep night when you are alone. Remember the anxiety when everything is going wrong and your life feels dark. That is the darkness we’re talking about.
Recall those moments of light when the sun is shining on a landscape, or you suddenly realised that you are loved by God, or you see something clearly in your mind’s eye for the first time, and we say that the light is switched on. That’s what it’s like when we encounter the light. It’s not just an outside thing, it affects you deep inside.
We pick up the theme of darkness and light in the prophets. Remember the prophecy of Isaiah that we have at Christmastime:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. ….
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. ..
And there shall be endless peace …. With justice and with righteousness.
In some of the paintings by old masters from the renaissance era, they painted images of the nativity, showing the world as dark, but with light shining from the baby in the manger onto the faces of those who come to see him.
We have just passed Candlemas, when we remember how the baby Jesus was brought to the Temple for the purification of his mother Mary. Simeon saw the family and prophesied that the child was the light to bring light to the gentiles. So in days past, the church would have had a procession with candles, to remind us of the light that has come into our lives.
Later on, we get the wonderful story of how Jesus was transfigured in light on the top of the mountain. We get another glimpse of who Jesus is.
And in John’s Gospel, the adult Jesus proclaims that he is the Light of the World. Those who follow him will never walk in darkness but have the light of life. Jesus IS the light, and he brings light into our lives. There is a famous painting by Holman Hunt called “The Light of the World” and it shows Jesus knocking on a door in a dark wood at night. Light shines from Jesus and from the lamp he is carrying. If we open the door and invite him in, then we come to know the light, and the light shines in us.
At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, the theme of light is still strong. John prophecies a new heaven and a new earth where there is no darkness, no night, no mourning, no crying, no distress, but where God will dwell with his people and He will be the source of light, the one true light.
We find the theme of darkness and light in the culture around us. There is a song by Leonard Cohen – it was played quite a lot when he died recently – called Anthem. It acknowledges our broken world, where we cannot make a perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, and, Cohen continues – that’s how the light gets in. We live behind our masks and build walls against the light, but when things go wrong and our lives crack up, that’s when the light gets in.
Give thanks to God. Thank God for Jesus who is the Light. Thank God for the light He brings into our lives. Thank God that when everything is dark, we have hope, because the light is never far away.
But there is more. Today’s Gospel reading takes it further. Jesus is teaching his disciples on the mountains. He is explaining what it means to follow him. He tells them: You are the light of the world. You have to let your light shine to others, so that they can see what God is doing. It’s not just Jesus being the light of the world – now we too are the light of the world. And we mustn’t hide away, because we are too scared to let our little lights shine.
When we receive the light, we are blessed. What a privilege it is to know Jesus who is the light and who bring us into the light! It is a privilege that brings responsibilities, because we need to be conscious about bringing the light to other people, even when we are broken and the light is only shining through the cracks, especially when we are broken and the light is only shining through the cracks.
The Old Testament lesson we heard just now helps us to understand the light a little better. It says: if you remove the burdens that other people are carrying, if you offer food to those who are hungry and help those who are suffering, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. Living in the light is about how we treat other people, how we show love and kindness, how we stand up for those who are persecuted and support those who are in need.
Jesus says: You are the light of the world. Let your light shine.
And he’s saying it to you.