Exodus 13; John 1
2nd Sunday of Advent
St Barbara’s (8am); 4.12.2022
Rev Jeremy Bevan
In these dark, cold December days, it’s good to have the opportunity John’s gospel gives us
to reflect on the theme of light. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject. But I want to start
by thinking about some of the ways light plays a part in our lives today.
Amid the current uncertainty about energy supplies, there’s been talk of power cuts, for the
first time since the early 1970s. Back then, my parents kept a torch handy so when the lights
went off, they could find the matches and candles, and we could get on with our homework.
Good advice for today, perhaps: check the batteries and keep the torch handy so it will light
your path when you need it.
Light can send out a message, too, especially at this time of year. Walking around the parish
recently, I spotted the first Christmas tree and a hedge festooned with lights in Stanley Road
over a month before 25 th December, announcing that Christmas is on its way. The brightest
light in the world, apparently, is the Luxor Sky Beam. It shines up into the sky from the Luxor
Hotel in Las Vegas. Brighter than 130,000 standard lightbulbs, it’s visible from Los Angeles,
nearly 300 miles away. It says, unmistakeably: Las Vegas this way.
Light is also good for our health, especially at this time of year. Being bathed in light is good
for vitamin D levels and our mood. You may have seen pictures of, or perhaps experienced,
some of the light shows this Advent at cathedrals like Salisbury and Peterborough. They are
celebrations of light, an immersive swirl of riotous colour, reminding us of the splendour of
the light of Christ.
We cannot live without light, for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps that’s why the Bible has so
much to say about it. All those lights I’ve spoken of have their counterparts in the Bible. The
psalmist says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path”, declaring the truth
that in the Bible and in prayer, God guides. The pillar of fire by night that led the people of
Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt in that Exodus passage sends a message: God
Supremely, John’s Gospel celebrates Christ as the one by whose life the lives of all of us are
illuminated, the one in whose light we are bathed and immersed. In showing humankind the
truth about itself and declaring that our purpose is to love God and neighbour, he gives our
lives meaning, and direction: in his light we see light. But John chapter 1 also acknowledges
that despite his coming into the world, there is still considerable darkness. The darkness has
not overcome the light. But if it’s to shine bright, we have to play our part in helping it do so.
How do we do that? Picking up on some of the things Sarah touched on last week that can
help our light shine that bit brighter: we can ponder those daily devotions Tulo is sending us
this Advent season; or take a moment in a busy day to ask God to be with us, shedding light
on a difficult situation; seek the illumination of God’s Spirit as we read the Bible; pray that it
would be a light to our path when we have hard choices to make.
If you’ve been following the news over the past few days, you may have seen coverage of
the census results showing that fewer than half the people of the UK now call themselves
Christian. This is apparently the first time this has been the case for 1500 years. A journalist
this week accused the present-day Church of England of being lacklustre, literally lacking in
light or having lost its shine. If that remark stings, despite what John’s gospel says about
darkness not overcoming the light, we might ask ourselves: how do we keep the Christ-light
shining this Advent, this Christmas so that it attracts those around us?
You might recall Jesus’ words elsewhere in John’s Gospel: I am the light of the world. Those
words came from his lips at the Feast of Tabernacles. It celebrated the day when Moses led
the people of Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt all those years earlier. At the festival,
great lights would be lit in the Jerusalem temple, visible across the whole city, bathing it in
light. “I am all that light stands for”, is Jesus’ claim. “I bring freedom from all that you do to
keep yourselves in chains, bound by habits, past, circumstances, and all that other people
do to keep you there. Follow me and discover what it means to be loved by God and to live
your life in the light of that love.”
Jesus also said to his followers “you are the light of the world”. Spend time in the sun, and
you’ll get a tan. The more time we spend basking in the swirl of Jesus’ amazing light,
immersed in it, the more likely it is we will grow to be like him, reflect something of his glory
– and glow with his love for each other and our neighbour. That, says John’s first letter, is
truly living in the light. If we do justice and act with compassion, our light will break forth
like the dawn, says Isaiah. A bit like a tan on the inside, shining from the inside out (to quote
the song), we begin to reflect the light of Christ, attracting to him those around us, family,
friends, neighbours who so need his life-giving light. We have it in us by the grace of God to
be the light of the world. Not lacklustre, but shining in the darkness, that will never