Homily for Sunday, February 5, 2017Published:
Two weeks ago, we had the gospel describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and at the time we heard very dramatic language. Jesus’ coming was nothing less than a great light breaking upon a land that before had been in perpetual gloom. It shone upon a people who had been accustomed to living and walking in darkness, and it was utterly captivating. In Jesus, people could see that they were meant for far more than just a humdrum existence, that there was far more to life than just surviving and moving through another day, that God’s plans for them were life not death, that each of them has the potential to receive the glory of being a child of God. And He showed them what that looked like. As the gospel of John says, what came to be through Jesus was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
What is this darkness? It is a darkness of not knowing how to live in a way that produces enduring joy, and instead pursuing transient pleasures, that only end in emptiness and pain. It is a darkness of not knowing how to be fed by God, and so eating food that is unsatisfying and unnourishing. It is a darkness marked by anguish and distress, and all the human sufferings of the heart. Ultimately such darkness is caused by humanity’s turning away from God, and looking at other things instead. As St. Augustine famously said, our hearts are restless, until they rest in you, O God. Now it is true, human beings are also very capable of causing anguish and distress to each other. But the person in this case has first turned away from God, as a necessary precondition. And then he or she is simply spreading the darkness that is within them to others, in the same way that we can spread the light that is within us to others. And so, it leads to the same conclusion: ultimately the cause of spiritual darkness is a human being’s turning away from God. How often it is that human beings fall into darkness. As in the time of Jesus, so it happens today as well.
And thus we have today’s readings. They are our marching orders as followers of Christ, the great Light of the human race. The problem before us is that when people fall into darkness, it is often the case that they cannot find the light on their own. Someone has to show them the light. Someone has to bring them the light. In God’s plan, that someone is us. Jesus came first and showed us how to do it, and now He asks us to do the same.
What does a human being that bears the light of Christ within them look like? What is it that we are supposed to be like? That is the teaching of our first reading today and of many other scriptures. The person who bears the light of God within them does not seek to take advantage of others or to use others for selfish purposes, which is the complete opposite of love. This person opposes and does not tolerate oppression, the cruel and unjust treatment of others. This person does not engage in false accusation and lies about others. This person does not engage in malicious speech: gossip and detraction about others, either for ridiculing amusement or revenge. This person acknowledges God before others, and is not ashamed of identifying themselves as a follower of Christ. This person speaks with wisdom, not foolishness. This person, in engaging with other people, leaves them better off for having had the encounter, imparting goodness, peace, and joy to others, and in some cases even healing. This person is charitable and generous with people around them, especially those in any need, because ultimately this person is a child of their Father in heaven, and is therefore filled with the love that comes from their Heavenly Father.
So, when we leave this church, and go out among the world, engaging all of the people whom we encounter, family, friends, and strangers, do we shine? Perhaps one danger is that we simply extinguish ourselves when we leave here, and blend in with others, even those who live in darkness. After all, it can be difficult to stick out and draw attention to oneself. In certain circles, it might even make one unpopular. And the fear of rejection is a very real fear. And so people do cover themselves with a bushel basket, and pretend to be as unlit as all of the people around them. To those who would do that Jesus says: your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. For they are depending on you to see the light. If they do not see it in you, they may not see it at all.
But another possibility is that we are not actually fully lit yet, perhaps we are burning only dimly. Apart from Christ, the world can be a cold place, and if we separate ourselves from Christ, we can indeed become dim or even extinguished. To be a true light in the world, we must become light itself. Jesus said, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a great fire of love in the heart of Christ. It is the true source of His light. If we are to be lights, we must spend time close to the fire that is Christ. The flame of his heart will melt our hearts, even if they be of ice or stone, and they too will ignite. There is nothing that can resist the force of His love. The more time we spend in spiritual reading, in thinking about God, in talking to God, in helping God in our neighbors, the more time we will be spending close to the fire of Christ’s love, and the more blazing we will be. If we are fully ablaze, we will be like the saints, who are nothing less than direct extensions of Christ’s love present in the world. Their impact in the world is like that of sparks passing through stubble. Everything they touch catches on fire. That is nothing less than the impact that each of us can have, is called to have on the people around us.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus today tells us that we are to be the light of the world. As in the days of Christ, there are many people today who walk in darkness. Will we do our part to shine and show them a different way? Or will we leave them in the darkness? The choice is ours.
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