One of the enduring symbols of our faith is ‘Light’. I have always been fascinated by lighthouses and the role they have played over the centuries in keeping sailors safe on the seas as they navigate in treacherous waters close to land. The theme of light runs through the whole Bible from the beginning when God said, ‘Let there be light’ to the very end of the Bible in the Revelation where we read, ‘the city has not need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb’.
I still remember as a little child wanting the bedroom door to be left ajar so there was a peek of light to keep the dark away. Of course ‘darkness’ comes in many different forms, not only ‘night’; it’s a symbol of all that can overpower, undermine and threaten to destroy us. Which is why light is such a powerful metaphor, and why the psalmist uses that image again and again for God: The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
I lived for several years in the north of Scotland where in the middle of winter it is dark by four in the afternoon, which could be dangerous if you are walking on icy footpaths on your way home, so having a torch is vital. Throughout northern Europe candles have been placed in windows not simply for light, but also for comfort, for the friendly flicker of warmth they provide. I remember visiting a Swedish family once who immediately lit a candle in the room when I came in. When I asked why they did that, they told me that it was an ancient practice to remind us that wherever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, he has promised to be present.
That leads me to our Gospel reading today, because it is set in John’s gospel at the time of the feast of Dedication. Do you know the significance of this feast? You might if you knew its other name. Today we call it ‘Hanukkah’, the festival of lights. The festival marks a victory in the history of the Jewish people. As the story goes a Greek General called Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem which prompted Judas Maccabeus to mount a successful rebellion. In purifying the Temple the great candelabra holding night oil lamps burned miraculously for eight days even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. The festival is held in the very heart of the northern winter when it is at its darkest point, and each day of the festival another candle is lit.
Our Gospel reading is set in the darkness of winter where Jesus, the Light of the World and the Good Shepherd, the true leader of God’s people, comes to the Temple, not just to rededicate it, but to replace it as he offers the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life. He is the place where God and humanity meet. Jesus came to show us what God is like. The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.’
Whenever you feel threatened or overwhelmed by the darkness remember that Jesus is the light, a light no darkness can overcome. Remember too his invitation, ‘Come to me and I will give you rest’