“Step into the Light”
Have you ever visited a cave? I’ve been in a few, but most recently I’ve been through Wolf Cave at McCormick’s Creek State Park. A friend and I ventured in, but neither of us had thought ahead and brought a flashlight. I’m not claustrophobic, but this was the closest I’ve ever been to being so. Wandering through that cave without any light was the thickest darkness I’ve ever experienced. The narrow passage with its unseen bends and turns seemed to close in on us, even starting to play with my mind. When we finally saw the glow of light from the other side, I felt relief and a sense of something lifting from me.
How similar is spiritual darkness! In it, we become confused, blinded, and cannot find our way.
One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Isaiah 9:1-7, which is full of light, hope, and joy, but the verses just before that (8:19-22) paint a stark contrast:
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” –Isaiah 8:19-9:2
What a contrast, and what immense hope this picture paints!
We know, of course, that no one is excluded from God’s offer of this light. This Advent, in reading Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the birth of Jesus (Mt. 1-2, Lk. 1-3), I have enjoyed looking at how the small, the outsiders, the unimportant, even the despised are included in these introductions of the coming of Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12).
Matthew opens his account with a list of Jesus’ forefathers that includes patriarchs, good kings, bad kings, and five women, at least three of whom were Gentiles, and one of whom was a prostitute. How shocking Matthew’s condensed version of Jesus’ genealogy may have been to the Jews, who put much stock in the quality of their ancestry. Herod the Great, himself a half-Jew, reportedly ordered the destruction of official Jewish genealogies because he was so embarrassed that his name did not appear in them. According to Greene’s commentary, “The Jewish man thanked God each day that he had not been created a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.” Yet, people of all varieties are noted intentionally in this list.
Next, we have Mary and Joseph, who were no one of note except that they were one, most likely two, of thousands who could claim David as an ancestor. An angel announces to them that the child Mary carries is the Savior.
Enter shepherds, the bottom rung of the social ladder, dirty, smelly, and alone except for their woolly charges. To them, a host of angels appear with news so wondrous that they set aside their responsibilities immediately and go in search of this child, finding him just as he was described to them.
Months pass, and “wise men” from Persia—possibly priests, possibly astrologers who advised kings, likely not kings themselves as the traditional carol suggests–wander into town after a months-long journey, drawn by what they saw in the stars. What had God revealed to them? Did they have any sort of faith in God? They at least knew that someone of extreme import had been born, and that this baby had been born king of the Jews—differentiating him from those who had been appointed as a king or who had inherited the throne. Their appearance may have been a sort of “state visit” in acknowledgement of a royal birth.
The next player is Herod the Great, the part-Jew ashamed of his non-Jewishness, who has the opportunity to rejoice in the long-awaited fulfillment of a prophecy given to these people with whom he wanted to identify; instead, his instinct is to move to squash any possibility of its happening because it threatened his high position. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3).
All of these people had the opportunity to receive the light of life. “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:7-9).
Receiving the light of life is a choice, however. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21).
Questions to chew on: Are there people “on the fringe” that I discount? Am I living “by the truth,” in the light? Is God’s handiwork plainly seen in my life, or do I keep that light to myself?