Harrowing Of Hell
December 31, 2023

Let Christ’s Light Shine

The Rev. Pam Tinsley

To watch the sermon click here.

Merry Christmas! I love to say “Merry Christmas” throughout the twelve days of Christmas. At home, we continue to practice our family tradition of decorating our tree on Christmas Eve and taking it down on Epiphany. And, although we’ve not embraced the practice of giving a gift on each day, we have begun to place an extra gift for each grandchild under our Christmas tree and then watch our granddaughter Sienna’s perplexed expression when she notices the unopened gifts after Christmas, and that one has her name on it!

This year, our baby grandson Briggs’s extra gift was a book. It’s one of those board books – you know, the kind that’s ideal for a teething baby to read, mark, and inwardly digest! If you’ve walked through the undercroft here beneath the church nave, you’ll have noticed that there’s always a selection of preschool books on display. And, just before Advent, You are Light[1], was the title of one that caught my eye. The cover got my attention, as well. It looks like a painter’s palette, with translucent pastel colors arranged in a circle! If you hold the book up to the light, the light shines through in the different colors!

Given the title – You are Light, the attractive cover, and being a firm believer that no one, not even a baby, can have too many books, I bought it. Briggs loves it! Captivated by the colorful images, he actually sits still and listens to me read it, and so far, it’s not one of the books he’s decided is ideal for teething!

The story begins with the light that brings the dawn. Then each page – with a new color – tells of ways that light nourishes the earth; creates the wonders of the world; and even lights the moon. Linking light to life throughout, the story culminates with the words, “This light is you. And you are light.”

You are light. We are light.

And don’t we desperately need light these days? Not just because we’ve barely passed the winter solstice and still have only 8½ hours of daylight each day. As this little book teaches, we need light for life – for water to be “sipped from the sea” and to fall as rain; for plants to grow to serve as shelter and as food; for animals, creatures, and for humans to thrive; and even so that the “moon can kiss the night!”

More significantly, as Christians moving through Advent to Christmas, we become deeply attuned to light’s spiritual qualities. We reflect on the glory of the Lord shining around the shepherds; the light of the star that leads the Magi to Bethlehem; and, above all, the light that came into the world on that first Christmas over two millennia ago.

Now, here we are on the cusp of a new year. So, these past weeks I’ve been pondering what Christ’s light means for us today. Often, it feels as though our world is sitting in darkness, deep darkness. At times it feels as though the darkness has overcome the light.

As I read the news reports, they seem to suggest hopelessness: Our country is being torn apart by political divisions with threats of violence and with our democracy in peril; wars rage around the globe, including in Ukraine, in Israel/Palestine, in Sudan; the poor become poorer; the marginalized are increasingly marginalized; and climate change threatens the survival of our planet.

We desperately need light – spiritual light – in this dark world with all its human tragedy and natural disasters. Maybe this hunger for light is why embracing the full twelve days of Christmas is so meaningful – and why we feel that we must seek the light.

If you were in church on Christmas morning, you heard the poetic and mystical words from John’s Prologue about light. Then today, on this seventh day of Christmas, we hear these same words again, proclaiming: The true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Clearly, this is a message worth repeating!

The light we hear about in the Gospel originates in the Beginning, Beginning with a capital B. The Beginning when God spoke all Creation into being through the Word. That’s Word with a capital W.

This is the True Light, the light that is life itself. The light that flows from God’s profound love for us, a love so unfathomable that God chose to become flesh – incarnate. A love so unfathomable that God chose to reveal God’s love and compassion more fully by living among us – despite our persistent human sin – our turning away from God. And some even rejecting God. Acting out of pure love, God chose to live with us. Despite the hostility of a world that neither knew nor accepted him – a world that ultimately crucified him – God’s response was Resurrection. In a world where so many are turning their backs on God, God’s response is love. Always love.

Because God’s Love never fails.

Because, as John emphasizes, the light and life that is Christ changes – transforms – everything. Although the light in “You are Light” is a source of life, it’s not the true light. Christ’s light is the true light and the source of true and abundant life – new life – everlasting life.

And part of that new life is our new relationship with God through Jesus: Jesus came into the world so that those who believe in him might be born of God and become children of God. Through God’s Son, God calls us into a new relationship. We don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love. Instead, God’s love is grace, pure gift, and we’re God’s children who inherit God’s full promise, God’s promise of salvation and eternal life.

We’re born into a relationship with God because we are not here by accident. Just as in the beginning God spoke all creation into being, God has spoken each of us into existence. God authors us into being, and we have a particular purpose within God’s eternal story, a story that transcends all time, all place, and all space, as Doyt reminded us several weeks ago. Each one of us is a word in a sentence, in a paragraph, in a chapter, in God’s eternal story.

As I reflect on God’s love and our part in God’s eternal story, I can’t help but be awestruck. Yet, as lovely as it might feel to sit and bask in God’s love and light, our Gospel calls us to more.

 Like John, whose role was to testify to the light, we, too, are called to respond, to act, to serve as witnesses to the light. This is our common vocation as Christians: to be Christ’s light, to be children of light. The newly baptized are often given a candle, lit from the Paschal candle, with the words “receive the light of Christ” as a sign of this commission.

When we bear Christ’s light into our dark and broken world, we offer hope through our words and through our actions. We do this together, in community. Like Jesus, we minister in community into which God draws us together – spiritually and physically.

That’s why I love being here with you at Epiphany, whether for Sunday worship or for other occasions. I experience first-hand how God helps us affirm one another on our respective spiritual journeys and how we point to one another as light bearers.

When we help each other turn to God’s light, we become God’s hope in a world that sometimes feels the opposite.

Through hope, we hold fast to God’s vision of peace and justice. So, yes, we are light. We are Christ’s light. We are Christ’s light in the world because we are made to be the hope of the world.

As we turn the page of our secular calendar to a new day, to a new month, to a new year, remember that you are God’s child whose life is precious and meaningful. I invite you to look at one another – those you know and love and those you encounter in your daily life – with the same love that God looks upon you.

And let Christ’s light shine through you as an instrument of hope, of love, of joy, of peace.

[1] Becker, Aaron. You are Light (Somerville: Candlewick Studio, 2019)