Jesus calls himself “the light of the world” and promises the light of life to all who follow him. The occasion when he said this, in St John’s Gospel, makes it all the more vivid. Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness when, guided by a pillar of fire at night, they could see how important was light. The lamps were lit when darkness had fallen and suddenly the crowds saw such bright light that it was said to illuminate every street in Jerusalem. That very moment was the one chosen by Jesus to assert that he was the light of the world; that the light was not in the great candelabra but was present in God’s son, living his life among people. Here he is claiming to give the light of life, while always acknowledging his dependence on God, to know his will and to do his work always.
We all appreciate that light is utterly different from darkness. It shines out to conquer gloom, reveal a situation or show the way. Jesus said his followers too were lights for the world, their good deeds would shine out for the glory of God (Matthew, ch.5, vv.14-16). Behind his followers at all times is the perfect love and justice of God the Father. All this we take on as we try to be followers of our Lord Jesus. St Augustine expressed his conversion as “a light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
It can be hard for us to recognise and maintain the light of Christ within us. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes Christians as like plain pottery jars that hold a candle. Our lives may look ordinary but we contain the light of Christ. The same God who said, “Let there be light.” has now placed the light of Christ in our hearts. What a gift!
Many years ago, my family and I were on holiday on the Atlantic coast of south-west France. In many small churches, if 2 francs were placed in a slot machine, the whole altar lit up for a limited time. It was immediately transformed into a gilded pattern of images. What had been dark and difficult to see became a sharp image lit to give beauty and inspiration.
Unfortunately 2 francs, or its modern equivalent, won’t fill us with instant light. We have to work hard to achieve this. Jesus’ description of himself as “light of the world” is significant. Light is the most revealing thing in the world – it shows people things as they are – as Jesus did. Light is the greatest guide on an unfamiliar path and we have no greater guide than Jesus.
There is also an unconquerable quality in light – not all the darkness in the world can extinguish the smallest light. As we try to follow Jesus, we can move out of darkness into light, to live in and through the Light. We put our money in the slot as we read the Bible, pray and contemplate, and all is light. An interesting aspect is that we don’t do this in isolation. When money is put in the slot, the altar lights up and I am not the only one to see it. Everyone in the church at that time cannot help but share in the wonder of the light. As Jesus said, “God’s people are like a light for the whole world.” We should learn to let that light shine out to others. It must be shared.
Perhaps there has never been a time like now when the world is in such need of God’s light. May we persevere in attempting to be a light for the whole world; and perhaps to bring just one more person to share in the light and know God.