Let your light shine before everyone
A little girl asked her mother, “Mummy - please turn out the dark”. Sir Edward Gray said in 1914 as the first world war was soon to begin, “One by one the lights are going out”. Some of you may remember The Sun newspaper’s headline the day before the 1992 General Election. With a photo of Neil Kinnock, widely expected to win, were the words, “Will that last person to leave Britain, turn out the lights”. Kinnock lost.
Christmas lights are there for a purpose. They are not just decorations nor are they there to banish the mid-winter darkness. They are signs of spiritual light. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. The centuries from about 700 AD to 1200 AD are sometimes referred to as The Dark Ages. What is meant is moral and spiritual darkness - not having the light of Jesus Christ burning in your life, seen in your eyes, obvious in your conduct. We think of oppressive political regimes as times of darkness and we put light and freedom together in our minds when liberations occur. Of course, comparing yourself with Jesus is like having a light shine on you - and - it may not be that welcome. Within all of us are bad qualities like greed and evil, hypocrisy and bitterness - and few of us are exempt from suffering and sorrow. Many have depression and anxiety. And the addictive aspect of our nature finds expression in many ways through abuse of food, drink and drugs and the loss of perspective in what concerns us. Christianity calls Jesus The Light of the World. That’s quite a claim. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus described Himself as such. The strange thing is that this extravagant claim is borne out 2000 years later by Jesus’ continuing influence and example. He alone is the Prince of Peace. Christianity at its best - being true to Him - is non-violent and peace-making. His teaching on how to live cannot be bettered. His birth and later lifestyle contradict the values of wealth and power typical of so much history impersonal aspiration. This is light for our pathway through life indeed and it works.
The light of the star brought the wise men from the east to Bethlehem to recognise Jesus as a future king though even they while not fully understanding his role gave him along with gold and frankincense, myrrh - ointment used for burial. A poem gives words to Mary, 'What is this flesh I purchased with my pains, this fallen star my milk sustains?' Jesus told his followers “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before everyone that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven”. The letter of John says, 'God is light : in him there is no darkness at all'. And John’s Gospel tell us, 'The true light that lights up everyone was coming into the world'. For us it is better to be light than darkness. Who are regarded as the great heroes of the twentieth century just passed? They are Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. They stand above people like Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Mikhael Gorbachev. The spiritual life transcends the political life. Your spiritual life transcends your social life. What you stand for, how you conduct yourself - these are greater than you own concerns. We each of us affect others more than we know. We can shine light on them and for them or we can turn away and let them stumble or worse lead them in the wrong paths of life.
This is indeed a bleak mid-winter. The worst weather for a century has visited us and we were unprepared. There is also economic hardship and the cost of living is jumping exponentially. This is a time of confinement and restriction. It is for some a time of oppression and of fear. But we should not lose heart nor succumb to dark thoughts. In 1809 this country was at war with Napoleon and the outcome was uncertain. In that year the following people were born, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Chopin, William Gladstone and Alfred Tennyson. In that little village Bethlehem on that holy night, in poor circumstances was born the most extraordinary and most significantly influential life ever lived, that of Jesus. In the high echelons of the Roman Empire, families were murdering one another to get absolute power for themselves.
King Herod of Judea was a terrible person and a terrible king. The Sadducees hated him because he had terminated the rule of the old royal house to which many of them were related. The Pharisees despised any ruler who despised the Law. His subjects resented his excessive taxation. It comes as no surprise that Herod sometimes had to revert to violence, employing mercenaries and a secret police to enforce order. He had 10 wives. Herod's reign ended in terror. The monastery at Qumran, the home of the Essenes, suffered a violent and deliberate destruction by fire in 8 BCE, for which Herod may have been responsible. When the king fell ill, two popular teachers, Judas and Matthias, incited their pupils to remove the golden eagle from the entrance of the Temple. After all, according to the Ten Commandments it was a sin to make idols. The teachers and the pupils were burned alive. The story about the slaughter of infants of Bethlehem in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is not known from other sources, but it would have been totally in character for the later Herod to commit such a terrible act. Shortly before his death, Herod decided against his sons Aristobulus and Antipater and they were executed in 7 and 4 BCE, causing the emperor Augustus to joke that it was preferable to be Herod's pig than his son - a very insulting remark to any Jew. Herod was buried in one of the fortresses he had build, Herodion. Few wept.
Contrast the life of light that Jesus lived and left the world. Think of the billions who will share in his birthday at this time. Remember the Christian martyrs of today Here are the astonishing numbers. In 1900 - 34,400; 1970 - 377,000; 2000 - 160,000; 2005 - 169,000; 2008 - 175,000. Do you have anything or anyone in your life worth dying for? These Christians did. The great battles of life are moral and spiritual battles. We are all tested - sometimes beyond our strength. It is worth it to take the hard road of obligation and self-denial, of self-giving and considering others before self. We should remember that we celebrate not a boy nor a boy nor a man though Jesus was all of these, not a figure of history though he was nor a great religious leader though he could be called that too. We celebrate the birthday of the living Lord of creation. We are bought with a price - a high price - Jesus’ self-sacrificial price - His redeeming death on Calvary. This Jesus is alive to us and for us. Let you light shine before everyone and let that light be the light of Christ.