One of the themes that runs through our readings this morning is the theme of “light.” In our Old Testament Reading, the writer of Isaiah says: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” And our Psalmist says: “Light shines in the darkness for the upright.” Paul doesn’t mention “light” in his Epistle this morning, but the writer of Matthew makes up for it: “You are the light of the world…” and “let your light shine before others.”
“Light” would have been a very important thing in Biblical times. You didn’t just turn on a lamp, or find the flashlight when you needed to see something. I think any of us who have lived in this coastal area very long know that sinking feeling when in the middle of a storm, and in the middle of the night, the lights go out, usually from a tree limb falling or a transformer blowing.
Last year my lights went out in the middle of the night, while I was trying to deal with a big tree limb that had come through my window. I gave up and just went to bed and pulled the covers up over my head and pretended that none of it existed. I can remember thinking, “If I’m still alive in the morning, I’ll deal with it then.”
But usually when those lights go out, I stumble around in the dark trying to find a candle and a match, or a flash light – which in my house is never where it should be - and 9 times out of 10 has a dead battery when I do find it.
Darkness can be very disorienting. I’ve been going up and down the steps in my house for 34 years. But in real darkness, I never know where that bottom step is. I find myself hanging on to the walls, feeling with my toes to see if there’s one more step – or stumbling around at the bottom of the steps, sure that there’s one more step there. Someday I’m going to count the things… but then I’ll probably forget to count them again on the way down in the dark.
But finally, we find the candle, and we find the match, and we have a glimmer of light, and all is well. And it ALWAYS amazes me at how much light that one little candle can put out. One little candle in the right place produces enough ambient light that I can find my way around through a lot of the house.
When Sara was putting together the bulletin, I told her that I thought my homily would be on “light”, so she did a computer search for “light.” One of the many, many pictures that Google found was our bulletin cover this morning. It’s either the very beginning, or the very end, of a solar eclipse. Just that little tiny spot of light is breaking through the eclipse. You can really understand why an eclipse was such a frightening thing to the ancients, before they understood what happens in an eclipse. Was God putting out the light? Would it come back? Was God angry? Was the sun burned out? And ironically, a huge number of historically significant events happened during an eclipse. Somewhere in a file I’ve got a list of them. It’s really amazing. There’s just always been something very mystical about a solar or lunar eclipse. They are special events. And I still like to go out and watch them – especially a full lunar eclipse. But for the ancients, can you imagine the relief they would have felt as that little speck of light began to return, and they knew that it would be all right? The world was not coming to an end.
In some small way, it’s that same sense of relief I feel when I finally get the candle lit in a power failure at home. As long as I get just a little bit of light, I know everything will be all right.
Well – there are times and places where I think you and I are that little sliver of light that says: “It’s all right.”
In our Gospel, the writer of Matthew says: “You are the light of the world.” That’s part of what I think being a Christian is all about. One doesn’t HAVE to be a Christian, but it IS part of our calling to step out there for each other, and offer a little bit of light to help someone else find their way.
This world in which we live is not always a nice place. People we know can be lonely, in pain, discouraged, depressed, anxious. Life can be tough on some people. And things can get very, very dark.
But we can do something about that, for each other. And it doesn’t have to cost any money, or take a lot of time, or compromise our integrity. A smile. Just a little smile in the right place, at the right time, can be that first light of the eclipse. Just saying something nice, once in a while. Just taking a minute to listen, or picking up the phone to call and check in on someone. Just knowing that someone cared enough to call can be like that little candle in a big old dark house. “You are the light of the world.”
You know – I can do that. I can say “Good Morning” when I pass someone. I can smile when I see someone. I can do something a little special, once in a while. I can be that little glimmer of emerging light when someone is wondering if God is angry and has turned off the light. You see, those fears weren’t reserved for the ancients. It just gets expressed differently in our time and place.
From Isaiah: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” Isaiah wasn’t a Christian. If he was alive today, I’m sure he’d be an Episcopalian, and probably a member of Epiphany. How could he not be?
When we leave this building this morning, we will go out into a world that is sometimes full of deep darkness. Just a smile or a pleasant nod – perhaps to someone we don’t even know, or perhaps to someone that we DO know – can let our light break forth like the dawn and our healing shall spring up quickly.
If those of us gathered here right now all went out of this room committed to letting a little bit of light shine forth, I just wonder how much spiritual healing would happen in this world. I’ll bet it would be a lot. And if I can make someone else feel a little better, than maybe they’ll pass it on.
Wow! We could start a whole movement here.
From Matthew: “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.”
The Rev. Richard O. Bridgford, Rector
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, Va
February 6, 2011