Let there be light….
St. David’s Uniting Church, Pontypridd. 26/01/14
- Dark days affect me more now more than ever! (SAD etc..). I hate the clocks changing! Not as bad as some BBC shifts in winter when I didn’t see any daylight! We’re used to having artificial light… even sun-like light! We expect it! Very rarely do any of us with sight experience absolute darkness (e.g. Trehafod or Big Pit!). Light was available to ancient peoples after sunset but not in the quantity and quality that is around now (we even have lamps that supposedly replicate real sunlight!) … and most people were utterly dependent upon sunrise and sunset for life’s rhythm of work, rest and play….
- So it’s no surprise that light features massively in all major religious literature and experience over 1000s of years (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism all have festivals of light – e.g. Divali in the Autumn).Being more dependent on nature and living closer to it informed the symbolism and spirituality of most faiths…
- The Old and New Testaments are bathed in light from beginning to end.. Genesis 1:3 Let there be light on the first day to Rev 22:5 There will be no more night – and loads in between.
Burning bush for Moses in desert, pillar of fire for Israelites in desert, songs (Psalms), prophets
e.g. Isaiah 9, Malachi 4 – reflecting the destructive (apocalyptic) tradition in Malachi 4:1-2 –
Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.
Angels on hillside announcing Jesus’ birth, wise men following star, Jesus = Light of the World (John 8), transfiguration (shining in past and present glories), not hiding your light under a bushel (bowl or basket), Christ is the morning star in Rev 22.. … Damascas Road blazing conversion for Saul/Paul.. leading to temporary blindness the glare was so strong!
Traditionally, light banishes darkness (John 1)… whatever the source.. and can lead to a change of heart, direction… even life itself…
- Isaiah – 8th century BC prophet based in southern kingdom of Judah… there had been a split of the peoples or tribes into north and south several generations before… linked to land, power and faith…. Many of those writing the scriptures from a southern perspective were critical of the north because they had a seemingly more plural view of religion and had accommodated other shrines and systems…. Though Isaiah… like many other prophets… was critical of all parties… as they were often prone to stray, compromise, fall prey to the temptations of power.
- Isaiah 9 and its use in Matt 4 reflect a region in the tumultuous, rebellious Northern provinces! They had a reputation in Naphtali and Zebulun for having to fight their own battles against waves of invasion.. both militarily and religiously.. The people were more mixed socially and ethnically… toughened by being on fertile, strategic and disputed land (the painful relevance oozes out!) …. And this area of Galilee was Jesus’ home stomping ground… an economic and cultural cross roads of the ancient world…. A bit like Ponty!?
- Isaiah 9 is one of those oft used passages! Advent, Christmas, Epiphany…. And has developed a life of its own! But…
- It has disputed origins, though many would argue there’s something of the 8th century relief that King Ahaz has gone and King Hezekiah is coming! Darkness into light… but this could also reflect 100 years later when King Josiah, a great reformer, is welcomed (and a time when these scriptures appear to have been edited)… and it could also reflect a much later time after the people have returned from exile in Babylon when they’re losing direction and yearning for a new King David… a Messiah…
- And, of course, we have used this and similar passages a bit like the gospel writer, Matthew, as proof texts… demonstrating that the Old Testament is not really about the time in which it was set but predicting in detail the New Testament coming of Jesus and even 21st century events in meticulous detail! (Dangers!)
- In one sense… these could all be right! Our 21st century Western minds might recoil from the messiness but re-telling, re-applying or re-birthing the great stories is a feature of the Biblical tradition! The stories of escape from Egypt or Exile are told and retold and become the backcloth for the new beginning and Kingdom teaching of Jesus… His words aren’t in a vacuum… but neither are they simply like Sky +…. replaying old themes in the hope we won’t notice they’re repeats!
- So what?!? Three points emerge for me at this time…
- The language of darkness into light still resonates! Light bulb moments! Critical moments! New beginnings, the shaking of personal and community foundations are still shocking, exhilarating, exciting, empowering, earth shattering, amazing, comforting, challenging… Such language occurs in my current role.. without wanting to force faith on people, without saying they’re signing up to a particular faith…. Powerful personal stories when education, social and emotional changes, employment… have had a transformative effect… some descriptions are like testimonies!
- The false dichotomy (beloved of so many in the West).. of individual or corporate change.. (or salvation) is challenged! Personal, community, political, societal matters are interconnected and matter! It’s ok to talk about this in an amazing array of circles! I see it personally and on Facebook! ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…’ Understanding it may be impossible…but
- The challenge to myself and others which I throw out regularly to community members, professionals, politicians and bureaucrats…..Is change possible?!? If not, let’s go home now and veg in front of the telly!! Not meant to be glib! Never easy! We’ll never know all the answers and more questions will burst through… but we know enough to do something now (e.g. re. poverty and educational attainment)… Will we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Spirit?!
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