Let there be light

God said, “Let there be light.” God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

This is the season for light.

I was at a diocesan committee meeting last Thursday at another Episcopal Church. Our group likes to think that we do some important work in the diocese, and we have been trying to create a better atmosphere in the room where we meet. So each month someone brings something nice to eat, and we take turns creating some intentional time for opening prayer. Thursday, I brought some candles, thinking that would make the space more conducive to our work. But I forgot the matches. I asked the person in the church office if she had any, and she said oh, no, you’re not allowed to light candles. No candles in the church? I checked in with the priest, who said oh, go ahead, of course you can light candles. Then he asked his parish secretary to call the diocesan insurance administrator. She did, and I learned something new: it’s okay to use candles for liturgical purposes, but not decorative purposes. So now you know.

What followed in our group was a lot of raucous conversation about what passes for liturgical versus decorative when it comes to candles. We concluded that any meal, anywhere, was a liturgical occasion, as was any kind of meeting that includes prayer, and some meetings that don’t include prayer. And so on.

This is the season for light.

At our 12th night party we heard the Epiphany story of the wise men following the star, which miraculously stopped to shine its light over the town where the Christ child lay. Light led them to Light. As we prepared for the party I put out a call for Epiphany poems. What was amazing to me was how dark many of them were, poems about fear and angst and longing.

There’s W.H. Auden’s “Christmas Oratorio”:

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.

And T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”:

Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’

This time of year is never easy to navigate, even for the three wise men. And even though the days are getting longer and Christmas is over and past, this is still a dark time of year.

This is the season for light.

There is perhaps no light brighter, no light more important, than the light I cannot help but imagine accompanied the Spirit descending like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. If light could talk, I think it would say something like “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Those words mark Jesus’ anointing: he is God’s beloved, God is well pleased with him, and he and God have work to do.

So at our baptism, the light of Christ, the light of God’s Spirit comes into our lives and hopefully we, too, hear the voice of the Holy One saying to each of us: You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased. And, with God, through the example of Jesus and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we, too, have work to do. In a dark world, we are to bear light and to be light.

What is this work, and how do we do it? How are we to be light? How are we to bear light? The work for which we are anointed is to continue the ministry of Jesus as proclaimers of good news, peacemakers, reconcilers, and healers, as people who break bread together and pray together. In a few minutes, we’ll renew our baptismal covenant, our condensed version of the playbook for being a Christian.

When we follow Jesus through the waters of Baptism, we promise to follow him in very specific ways which we reaffirm each time we renew our baptismal promises. This is how we live out our anointing to God’s mission, our belovedness.

Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. He does it anyway. He does it in order to lead the way into and through the baptismal life, so that we, too, might see the heavens open, and know that we, too, are God’s beloved.

This is the season for Light.

There’s a beautiful Christmas collect which we didn’t pray this year because the Feast of the Holy Name fell on a Sunday, but it’s worth praying, and it goes like this:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.

This new light is with us whether or not we are faithful at every moment, whether or not we feel enveloped by the darkness of fear or loneliness or cynicism, whether or not we feel God’s presence. We all know what it’s like not to feel God’s presence: when we yell at our kids or think bad thoughts about the person in line at the grocery store or otherwise fail to live up to God’s call to us as followers of Jesus. It makes no difference. We are God’s beloved. As a friend recently wrote to me: light is light.

God said, “Let there be light,” God separated the light from the darkness, and God saw that the light was good.

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