Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Light Has Come

As I mentioned in the explanation of the Nativity icon, the light of God from on high enters the darkness of the world; Christ is born in a cave in Bethlehem. I’ve written about light and darkness before, but it seems appropriate to return to that theme during these holy days.

St John said of the incarnation and manifestation of Christ: “the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9). But this “light” is not some vague or impersonal force or energy that merely creates positive feelings. New-agers talk a lot about the “light,” but what they mean falls far short of the dynamic, personal presence of the Eternal Word of God made flesh. Jesus called himself the “Light of the world,” and this light is not primarily a feel-good experience but a powerful proclamation of truth and life.

St John puts it in terms of judgment: “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds are done in God” (3:19-21).

When Jesus was born, says St Matthew, the magi saw the light (first in the form of a star, which led them to the Light in person). They were good men, if not yet fully enlightened, so when they did at last find the True Light, they rejoiced and worshiped Him. If we are open to truth, the Spirit of God will lead us to it, and we will recognize it and rejoice. But Herod was one of those whose deeds were evil, so he feared and hated the Light. He would not come near it, but wanted to extinguish it, lest his power be threatened or his evil exposed.

A text that is often repeated during our Christmas services goes like this: “Your nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world. Through it those who had worshiped stars learned through a star to worship You, O Sun of Righteousness, and to recognize in You the One who rises and who comes from on high. O Lord, glory to You!” The coming of the Son of God in the flesh enlightened pagans and poor shepherds, and all persons of good will who had a place in their hearts for truth and love.

But the darkness is often stubborn. It wasn’t only Herod who wanted to kill Christ—to put out that searching, convicting light of truth—but many others in positions of power and influence plotted against Him, and finally they succeeded in killing Him. But they didn’t put out the Light, for the Sun of Righteousness rose again, and all the world will have to come to the Light and be shown for what they are. If we find that we are afraid to come to Him, it is time to see if there is something within us that cannot bear the light, that does not wish to be exposed. All wounds must be honestly presented to the Healer, so that they will not fester and cause greater damage. Nothing could be worse—especially at the final judgment—than to feel compelled to flee from the Light.

Therefore now is the time to embrace the Light, to welcome Christ more fully into our hearts, making room for Him in all that makes up our lives, so that we are guided by his wisdom, encouraged by his love, healed by his mercy, and strengthened by his grace. The Light has come. Let us go to Him, that it may be clearly seen that our deeds are done in God.