The following is one of the meditations I shared at my Advent programs this year. The theme for the evenings was light. Let’s pray for one other during this holy season of Light!
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If you spend enough time with the Scriptures, you’ll notice a pattern emerging. The pattern goes something like this: God loves you. Now what are you going to do about it?
It’s along the same lines as that iconic advice of Spiderman’s uncle: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Or maybe it’s better said like this: God, who created the vast universe, created you in his own image, speaks to you with his own voice, knows how many hairs are on your head, knows when you sit and when you stand, holds you in the palm of his hand, hides you under the shadow of his wing, suffers for you, dies for you, rises from the dead for you, redeems and remakes you in his image, gives you a share in his life, treasures you above all things, speaks your name, calls you forth . . . will never leave you nor forsake you.
And you . . . what will you do about it? What will you do with all of this creation, redemption, calling forth, holding and dying and rising? What will you do with all of this . . . love?
The pattern is clear. Jesus himself employed it quite frequently. He said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you! And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Those words “I chose you” feel so good. But “go and bear fruit”? That’s harder. St. Paul wrote, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. But don’t use this freedom for self-indulgence, but through love, become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13). We like our freedom. But using our freedom to love others? That’s harder. St. James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17). Faith is abstract. Works, actions, are concrete. And as we know, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). But he also said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We’re very comfortable with Jesus being the light. But us? That’s harder. It requires effort, work – bearing fruit, serving others, actions. It isn’t abstract. We either do it or we don’t. And we sometimes fail. We don’t like failing. So sometimes we’d just rather not be asked. We’d rather not be asked to be light.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).
Jesus, the Light of the World, dazzles us – as an infant in a manger, an itinerant preacher, a healer, a wonder-worker, a dying man, a Risen Lord, an ascended King, in heavenly bread, or returning to us in triumph – he dazzles us with his light. But we look at ourselves, and we may not be so dazzled. We look at each other, and we may not see the light.
Thomas Merton wrote about what he called a mystical experience. He said that one day he was standing on a street corner in Kentucky – it was in Louisville on the corner of Fourth and Walnut – and he writes: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine, and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…. Now I realize what we all are. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander).
My brothers and sisters, it is no different here among us, in this church tonight. I see all of you shining like the sun! We all give off a different light. Some of us kind of glow. Some of us are a little more laser-like. Some of us twinkle, and some of us strobe. It doesn’t matter. We all shine.
And we don’t have to worry so much about failing to shine, failing to act, failing to bear fruit – not as long as we always have God by the hand, not as long as we love Jesus and we let him love us. Let him count the hairs on your head (Matt 10:30), let him hide you under the shadow of his wing (Ps 17:8), let his heart be ravished by one glance of your eyes, one bead of your necklace, as the Song of Solomon says (4:9). Let his compassion toward you grow warm and tender as he promises in the book of Hosea (11:8). Let him set you free as he promises his Truth will do (John 8:32). Because if you let God do these things, then you will shine. Because your beauty comes not just from you – that would be unbearable pressure – but your beauty, your light, comes from Christ. It’s unique, it’s your own, but it’s the light of Christ shining in and through you. So you never shine alone.
And you don’t have to be perfect. Remember the line from the Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem). It’s also how the light gets out. I can see the light of Christ shining even through your imperfections. I hope you can do the same for me.
You are the light of the world. Don’t hide under a basket. Set yourself on a lampstand, give light to all in the house. And then, Jesus says, your light will shine before others and they will glorify not you, but your heavenly Father (Matt 5:16).
Advent is a time of self-examination. That self-examination is not meant to become self-loathing or navel-gazing. It’s meant to open us up, to let the light in. If there’s a crack in everything, including ourselves, then let’s let the light into every crack, every imperfection, every opening, every need. Christ is coming – and he will be born not only to us but in us! So let’s be ready to bear Christ our light into the darkness of this world. Our winter, our darkness, our waiting needs this light. It’s time to be what we are. It’s time to be the light of the world.
St. Ann Church, Milford, CT
St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Windsor Locks, CT
Reflection: Light has a purpose. It doesn’t just shine. It shines on something. It doesn’t just warm. It warms something. Where does your light shine? Are you letting the light of Christ into the cracks in your life, so his light can shine through you?