A hush descends as the lights are switched off. The congregation is bubbling with anticipation. A young child says, ‘It’s dark!’ to muted laughter. We watch as an Elder lights the candle held by the person at the end of the row, and they light the candle next to them, and so on. Little glowing circles move down the rows until all the candles are lit and, faces aglow, we marvel at the beauty of light dispelling the darkness.
Light is warming, comforting and heralding, and God as the source of all light is a rich theme in the Bible. Indeed, light is the first thing that God creates in the Genesis account – even before the sun (Genesis 1:3–4). God then reveals himself as a light to his people, such as when he appeared to Moses ‘in flames of fire from within a bush’ (Exodus 3:2) or as a bright cloud or a pillar of fire (see Exodus 13:21–22).
In the New Testament, Matthew in his gospel says that Jesus fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matthew 4:16). We might feel overcome by the darkness around us – the diseases, betrayals and injustices – but God shines his light on us through Jesus.
Similarly, John starts off his gospel with an affirmation of Jesus being the light of life: ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:4–5). We live in a world permeated by darkness, but the black clouds and oppressive sense of nothingness will not win out against the light.
One of my favourite memories is of Christmas in Scotland when night closed in by late afternoon and on Christmas Eve I went through the darkness and the lightly falling snow to enter a Church full of brilliant light and the sound of Carols carrying the message of peace and goodwill.
Throughout the years the church has encouraged us to invite the light of God into our lives through the practice of spiritual reading called Lectio Divina. It’s a way of reading a Bible passage slowly and marking what word or phrase strikes us. I normally write that word or phrase down…. and then read again the same passage asking what is it about that word or phrase that captivates or disturbs me … mull over that … for a while. It’s a bit like putting the gravy on a low heat and occasionally stirring it until it thickens. I read again a third time with the question in my mind, ‘What is God saying to me, asking of me, calling me to be or do…?
Why not try this practice of divine reading at home and learn to hear God speaking to you.
If ‘Lectio divina’ is about reading the bible in a way that helps us attend to the voice of God, the practice of gazing at a picture or of the natural environment is another spiritual practice called ‘Visio divina’ – it’s Latin for “divine seeing”. Some people use a candle, others an Icon or a painting and asking God to speak to us through it.
Christmas is almost upon us and with all the extra expectations and demands we place on ourselves, preparations, choosing gifts etc., take the opportunity – even if for just five minutes – to ponder the glory and power of light – and of Jesus, the light who has come into the world.