What is your first instinct – your first act – when you walk into a dark room? Mine is to find a light switch… to turn on a light! I want to know where I am, to see where I’m going. I want to be able to find my way. In the creation story, the first thing God did was to flip on a light switch. God spoke, and light came. The earth was formless, dark and empty, and God spoke light into being. “God called the light Day and the darkness God called Night.” And then, in the dome of the sky, God “made two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars… to give light upon the earth… to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.” God did not do away with darkness when light came. God separated the two. Each had it own purpose.
Light and darkness are always a part of our world – a part of our experience – a fact of life. They’re made even more present with Daylight Savings Time/Standard Time adjustments as we try to chase the light and elude darkness throughout the year. Each has its gifts. This past summer, the Kalama Library, where I volunteer, had 75 children and their families, some in their pajamas, peering through a telescope at Mercury, Saturn and various constellations in almost total darkness, as we celebrated “A Universe of Stories” in our Summer Reading Program. Darkness shows us some things we cannot see in the light of day.
But we were not meant to live in total darkness. Else why would God have given us light? We long for light, for someone to “turn the light on,” when darkness overwhelms us. Our lives, the lives of those around us, speak of this truth. Scripture is full of these longings – and the need for and recognition of God’s light, even in deep darkness. The flawed but faithful King David sings in 2nd Samuel and is quoted again in Psalm 18, “It is you who lights my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.”
The prophet Isaiah spoke of this mystery [Isaiah 8 & 9] when he said “those who walk in darkness will see a great light.” This wasn’t just any darkness… Isaiah described distress, gloom, anguish, even thick darkness. Some would say that Isaiah could have been speaking to us, just now! Homelessness, sickness, death, poverty, war, political upheaval… Aren’t we living in darkness? Hasn’t darkness been pervasive? Haven’t these things been true throughout history?
Richard Rohr, a contemplative Franciscan priest, writes this: “The darkness of the world will never totally go away. I’ve lived long enough and offered spiritual direction enough to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s Gospel says, “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (1:5).
What is this ‘great light’ that Isaiah foretold that shines on those like us who walk in darkness, those that live in a land of deep darkness? Where the yoke, the bar, the rod, the trampling boot will be broken and burned? What is this light that John spoke of that shines on inside of the darkness – that will not be overcome by darkness?
Listen to God’s Spirit speak through Isaiah and John… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” “The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders.” “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” “And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” “All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the Light of all people.”
The principal founder of what became the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox, claimed that he had a direct experience of God. Having explored various sects and listened to an assortment of preachers, he finally concluded that none of them were adequate to be his ultimate guide. At that point he reported hearing a voice that told him, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” He felt that God wanted him to teach others that they need not depend on human teachers or guides either, because each one of them could experience God directly and hear his voice within. He wrote in his journal, “I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any.” Fox taught: that Christ, the Light, had come to teach his people himself; that “people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women” (this, the anointing they had received);  if people would be silent, waiting on God, the Light would teach them how to conduct their lives, teach them about Christ, show them the condition of their hearts… they loving the Light, it would rid them of the “cause of sin”; and soon after, Christ would return in his glory to establish his Kingdom in their hearts. Fox called the Light destroying sin within as the Cross of Christ, the Power of God.
Early Friends were often called ‘The Children of Light’. The Inward Light, for early Friends, evoked an image of people being illuminated by the light of God or Christ, rather than having a light of their own inside them. In the darkness of England’s Civil War, the Interregnum, the heavy tithes of the Church of England, and the misery of life as it was, the Inward Light of God’s presence broke into their darkness. And they did not have to rely on God’s presence or power coming from priest, prince, or pastor. God’s presence, God’s light, had come to them directly.
They carried God everywhere they went! They carried God within them. The same is true for us all today. We are filled, illuminated, by the Light of God within us. The Light of Christ is known in us. Each one of us is God’s Lantern. We are God’s Children of Light.
Do we tend the light? Do we pay attention to it? Do we wait for it to rise in us? When we enter dark places in our lives, do we look for the light of God? In that experience? In that person? Do we ignore the spark of God’s loving light in ourselves – in others – that might create a greater light even yet?
Friends emphasize that “what has come into being in Christ was life, and the life was the Light of all people,” as John wrote in his Gospel. We are not exclusive owners of the Light. Christ’s light is extended to all people – not the few, but the many. Not the only, but the other.
In our hymn this morning, Bernadette Farrell tells us that while there is a longing for God to come and be active in bringing hope and peace to the world, we share responsibility. Our desire to live into God pushes us to become a voice for those in trouble or despair. Hope, peace, joy, love… all those beautiful gifts of God to us, come. But Farrell sings to us that we have a responsibility to speak and shine light into the darkness.
Longing for peace, our world is troubled. Longing for hope, many despair. Your word alone has power to save us. Make us your living voice.
But, how do we do that? Again, from Richard Rohr: “The power of suffering is surely our creative and courageous relationship to it. Laws rush us to judgment instead of the slow sifting of prayer, context, and motivation. The most common way to release our inner tension is to cease calling evil what it is and to pretend it is actually not that bad. Another way to release our inner tension is to stand angrily, obsessively against evil—but then we become a cynic and unbeliever ourselves. Everyone can usually see this but us!
Christian wisdom names the darkness as darkness and the Light as light, and helps us learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us. If we have a pie-in-the-sky, everything is beautiful attitude, we are going to be trapped by the darkness because we don’t see clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are completely apart and above the darkness.
Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness, even our own—while never doubting the light that God always is, and that we are too (Matthew 5:14).”
Do we do this alone? Absolutely not. This is why we are meant to gather. To be strengthened and nurtured by our togetherness with others. As Paul wrote to those in Corinth, each person has their own strengths and gifts. What light do you carry? What gifts do you have to offer? What spark can you ignite in another, or can others ignite in you? When is it time for you to rest, and when is it time for you to act? These are gifts that attending to the Light that lives within each of us brings when we gather. This is an essential teaching of Friends. We must attend to God’s Light as it guides us and all people, and allow that Light to be shared.
This message was given to Spokane Friends Meeting by Ruthie Tippin on December 15, 2019.
Genesis 1: 1-5, 14-19 Light/Darkness, Sun/Moon First Day and Fourth Day
Psalm 18:28 “It is you who lights my lamp; the Lord, my God lights up my darkness.”
John 1:5,9 “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (1:5) “the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world (1:9)
Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light…” (NASB**)
Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 22-24.
“Christ, Be Our Light,” song by Bernadette Farrell; Upper Room Worshipbook, No. 114
Christ, Be Our Light; Song by Bernadette Farrell
- Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.
- Longing for peace, our world is troubled
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.
- Longing for food, many are hungry
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us Your bread, broken for others
Shared until all are fed.
- Longing for shelter, many are homeless
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us Your building, sheltering others
Walls made of living stone.
- Many the gift, many the people
Many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another
Making Your kingdom come.