Matthew 5:14 – 16
Pastor Chris Tweitmann
For most of the rest of the world, Christmas but a distant memory.
But within the Christian tradition, at least for the last fifteen hundred years,
the celebration continues beyond December 25th for twelve days
– a tradition from which is, by the way, the song
“The 12 days of Christmas” comes.
The endpoint of Christianity’s annual observance of Christmas,
the twelfth day of Christmas in the Church is called Epiphany.
The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek language
and means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”
Distinct from and yet related to the focus of Christmas,
what happened that night in Bethlehem, specifically, the birth of Christ,
Epiphany celebrates the revelation that comes from that birth,
the glory of God revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Epiphany reminds us the gift of Christmas is
one that continues to be unveiled to us
and beckons us deeper into the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation.
Throughout this holy season we have been focusing a lot on
appreciating the coming of Christ through the imagery and the theme of light.
In the anticipation and arrival of Jesus’ birth,
the Bible repeatedly speaks of the Light
that has come into the world and into our lives
Not just any light but THE Light
– the Light of God’s person and presence,
the Light of Life – the Light by which all life
has been, is, and ever will be created.
– the Light by which we can see and know who God is
as well as God’s plan and purpose for us
– which is to cast away all our darkness and to lead us onto salvation
– back into perfect, everlasting communion with Him
and with each other.
But there’s still one more aspect
to appreciating Jesus as the Light for us to consider…
In the modern usage of the English language,
we use the word “epiphany” to speak of having
an illuminating realization or discovery.
With today’s message, the final in our Advent series,
I’ll be leaning more on this understanding of “epiphany”
as together we will gain an important revelation or an insight
– that recognizing Jesus as the Light,
believing in the Light of Christ and following Him,
should lead to us bearing the Light of Jesus Christ
through our lives in this world.
Let’s listen carefully to this reading
from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5.
This brief passage is an excerpt from
Matthew’s first collection of some of the teachings of Jesus.
Covering three chapters in total,
it’s a discourse otherwise known as the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus begins this sermon with a segment of teaching
known as the Beatitudes – the declaration of a series
of unexpected blessings towards the kind of people
who are otherwise overlooked and discounted by
the rest of the world but who are favored by God.
And immediately after this, right out of the gate,
Jesus makes a startling proclamation: “You are the light of the world.”
It is a surprising pronouncement because up until now
the operating assumption has been that Jesus is the One who is the Light.
Elsewhere – as recorded in John’s gospel –
there is a pivotal moment in fact when Jesus
openly proclaims Himself to be the Light of the World
– not once but twice.
And yet here, Jesus turns this assertion around and points to us
– you and to me – and announces this naked truth,
that it is our calling to be light – “the light of the world.”
The obvious question is how we be the light if Jesus is the light?
Now, we ask ourselves, who exactly is light? Christ or us?
And the answer is both.
To understand how this can be the answer,
we need only look to how God created our world to function.
In nature, the planet Earth receives almost all of its light from two sources. During the day, we receive light from our primary source, the sun.
However, at night, we receive a little bit of light from the moon.
The moon does not create its own light;
instead, it reflects light from the sun to us.
It takes the light it receives from the sun and passes it on to earth.
In much the same way,
we are not the Light of the World
in the same sense that Jesus is as the Son – the Son of God.
We are not ourselves the source or the means of the Light.
Jesus is the source and the means of our life.
The Light of Christ is the life of all humanity
– the divine spark of our creation,
– the holy fire of our salvation, and
– the sacred radiance that enables and empowers us to be changed
– to be transformed into our best, eternal selves.
Jesus alone is the true light of the world
– revealing to us who God is, who we are,
and both guiding and enlivening our steps
on the path of renewal and restoration
the Lord has prepared for us.
Every single one of us is blind
without the Light of Christ.
Without the brilliance of Jesus,
humanity is wandering around in the dark.
This is why we celebrate Christmas each and every year.
Apart from God, from Jesus,
we have no true source or means of light in and of ourselves.
We all need the Light that only Christ brings, that only Jesus can give.
However, once we receive the Light of Christ,
we become light bearers of Jesus.
Like the moon reflects the light of the sun,
we, as children of God are called to reflect the light of the Son of God.
Jesus here doesn’t tell us to be the light or to generate our own light.
Rather Christ declares we already are the light.
We already are the light because the Light of Jesus
has dawned on us – piercing the darkness and filling our lives.
The light we are, the light we have to share
does not belong to us but is an overflow
of God’s truth, love, and grace.
Digging a little deeper, let us ask ourselves
what it means for us to be the light.
On an elementary level, light exists,
light is defined as a source of illumination.
In the natural world, light reveals what may be hidden.
Light enables us to see things as they really are.
Light provides direction as we move forward.
Once again, we understand the Light that Jesus is,
the Light that Christ brings functions in the same way spiritually.
The person and the teachings of Jesus help us
to see everything more clearly – including ourselves
– revealing how things truly are as well as how they can be.
And the work of Christ – how he lived, how he died,
his resurrection from death,
and the illumination of his spirit at Pentecost
– provide direction and take us somewhere
– leading us into a new, dynamic future
of forever dwelling with God.
Our calling to be the light involves reflecting
both the person and work of Jesus in and through lives.
Through our testimony as followers of Jesus
—in our consciousness of our own imperfections
– through our humble confession and repentance of our own sin
—in our daily professed need and reliance upon the grace of God
– through our generous expression of love and compassion
—we enable others to see the reality of our darkened world
as well as illuminate the transforming truth of the Gospel.
In other words, our calling as the light is
to shine the goodness of God, the glory of Christ
through everything we say and all that we do.
Jesus reinforces the importance of shining as His light
as He goes on to make the comment that no one
lights a lamp only to put it under a bushel or a bowl.
What Jesus points out here would have been obvious to his original audience.
It would have been nonsensical to put a light under a bowl
because light was a precious commodity to them.
In our modern day and age, it is difficult for us to imagine
a world without light.
But in the ancient world, when it was nightfall, the darkness predominated.
While there was some recourse against the darkness of the night
– the fire borne of torches and oil-based lamps
– the people of Jesus’ day were still, by and large,
at the mercy of the natural light.
But we who live in a post-Edisonian world – in the age of electricity –
tend to take the presence of light for granted.
In our age marked by the pollution of artificial light,
we are almost never at the mercy of wherever the sun happens to be.
Because we live in illusory control of light
– that we able to manifest it with the flick of a switch
– we only notice light when it is absent
– when the lights won’t come on,
when a match has to be struck,
when the beam of a flashlight
or the faint flicker of a candle is
the only illumination we have.
Our perceived modern mastery of light
makes Jesus’ words here much more provocative than obvious.
Jesus underscores that light is meant to be seen, light is intended to shine.
This is the purpose of light.
In coming down to us in Christ, God turns on the light
– lights up our lives and this world spiritually –
with the intention of that light
– the Light of Jesus always staying on.
This light that God gives in Christ is intended to
push back against, to overcome the darkness.
And the only way this light – the light of Jesus goes dark
is if we turn off His light in our lives –
if we hide or obscure the presence of Christ
in and through our lives.
That important insight Jesus gives here is
lights don’t end up under bowls by accident.
The light Jesus describes is a light
that is not snuffed out but covered up.
It is a light that is not extinguished
as much as it is rendered ineffective
because it is being dampened.
The only way for the Light of Christ
to be dimmed or diminished in our lives
is through all the junk we put in front of it or over it.
And what Jesus is implying here is
we might as well not have this light
if we are going to cover it up.
The brilliance of the Gospel,
the revelation of Jesus,
the illumination of the Kingdom of God
– the Light given to us in Christ is not meant
to be turned on and off depending our mood,
our comfortability, or our level of need.
If we are turning on and off our relationship with Jesus
depending on our circumstances, then the light we
are offering is artificial light
—and not the light of Christ at work in and through us.
This light of Christ that brings life is meant to shine brightly
– never going out, never being dimmed but rather
constantly, defiantly but graciously breaking through
the darkness of our lives and of our world.
2020 has been a year marked more than any other
in a long time by the presence of darkness.
It’s something that’s been brought up countless times already.
We all know what I mean – the tensions and frustrations, the chaos and confusion, the persistent animosity and the violent, growing divide
– visible in every news headline or neighborhood conversation.
The question is – have we as followers of Jesus
– been reflecting the Light of Jesus in the midst of all this darkness?
Have we been contributing to the darkness or shining the light of Christ?
Take a moment and let us consider our words,
let us consider our actions over this last year
– what have we been the most vocal about,
what have we most visibly reflected through our actions?
The demand for our rights? The insistence upon our freedom?
Doing what we want in defiance of what we have been asked to do?
Ridiculing and mocking those with whom we disagree or oppose?
But isn’t the light of Christ
– what we see in the life and work of Jesus
– doesn’t it look completely different?
If we are reflecting the light of Jesus – of the Gospel and the Kingdom
– shouldn’t our words be marked more by forgiveness and love
rather than scorn and animosity?
Shouldn’t our actions be displaying compassion and generosity
– a willingness to sacrifice our rights and our freedoms
for the good of others and not just ourselves
– even for those with whom we are at odds?
Have we as Christians been reflecting, shining the light of Jesus
or covering up His light and instead contributing to the darkness of the past year?
Will we dare to honestly answer this question?
Please notice, I said “we.”
Make no mistake, as much as this is a question
each of us must ask ourselves as a light bearer for Christ,
we must also ask it of our community as a whole – as the Church.
When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,”
the “you” in this sentence is plural.
As they might say, down South –
“Y’all are the light of the world.”
Or to be even emphatic,
“All y’all are the light of the world.”
Get the picture?
Jesus is talking about all of us together.
Jesus is calling everyone in the community of faith,
His Body, the Church to reflect His light to the world.
So, the question is not just “How you doing?”
It is how are we doing Church?
What has the Church been known for in 2020?
Have people see the light of the person in Christ
in how we’ve conducted ourselves?
Would Jesus have fought so aggressively and defiantly
for our right to gather in a building for worship?
Didn’t Jesus condemn the religious obsession with the building – the Temple of his day – especially when it came at the expense of caring for those in need, for those who were suffering?
Beloved, this past year,
in our institutional self-absorption,
have been so busy desperately trying to reclaim
our sense of community as the Church in our buildings
that we have missed the opportunity to bring
the Light, the community of Christ into
the dark places of our neighborhoods around us?
Would Jesus have spent as much time and energy promoting, defending, and even fighting for a Supreme court nominee or a Presidential candidate?
Didn’t Jesus reframe a question about political concerns
– giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – as being minor and insignificant compared to advancing the vision and the agenda of the Kingdom of God
– of acting justly and loving mercy?
Beloved, this past year,
in putting more of our faith in our politics
rather than submitting our politics to the calling of our faith
have we as the Church by taking sides
in the division of this world forsaken our calling
to shine the Light of Christ in order to bring our world together?
I think we’ve forgotten something as Christians who are Americans.
As light bearers for Christ, our focus, our calling is
not just to one nation under God – but to all nations.
Jesus calls us – we who profess to follow Him – the Light of the world.
The Greek word here for “world” is our word, “cosmos.”
We are to reflect the light of Jesus before all creation
– before every nation, before all the earth, and even beyond.
The implications of this are tremendous.
First, this means the Light we have been given
is not light for us to primarily keep to ourselves.
When light truly shines, light spreads.
The light of Christ comes into our lives to be shared
– for its brightness to shine into the lives of others.
We are true light bearers for Jesus only
when we pour out His light for the sake of those living in darkness.
Second, that we are the light of the cosmos
– means we are offer the Light of Christ to the whole world.
In other words, no one is to be excluded.
The inclusionary nature of His intended light is magnified as Jesus speaks of putting a light on a stand so that it lights up the whole house.
Light, when it appears, is always elevated, always rises—is put on a stand
—so that the throw and influence of that light can have the maximum impact
—so that ALL can benefit from it.
In the same way, Jesus is making it clear our light—the light of Christ in us
—is intended to be visible, to be raised up, to shine brightly
in order to bring good—not just to some or a few—but to EVERYONE.
No matter their nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, or age,
all are included in our calling as the Church
to share the warmth and acceptance,
the heat and the healing,
the energy and the empowerment of the Light of Jesus.
It is not by accident that Jesus frames our identity
in being the reflection of His light through the image of “a city on a hill.”
It was a metaphor with meaning in the time that Jesus first gave this sermon.
Cicero, the great Roman orator and politician had described the imperial metropolis of Rome, the politically dominant city of the day,
as being a “light to the whole world.”
It’s been popular still in our times for politicians
to pull this image of “a city on a hill” to speak of America.
But Jesus counters this framing as he asserts His light,
the real light for the world is not found in any one geographical location,
it is not exhibited by the power and might of any worldly empire.
No, the Light of Jesus is reflected by those who follow Him
– those shine for Him, those who pour out the content of His light
– His person, His life and work – for the sake of others.
And Jesus goes on to make it perfectly clear,
shining or pouring out His light isn’t merely
sitting back, receiving the grace of God, and
simply telling others what a great abundant, sweet life we have in Him.
Jesus gets very specific here as he directs us:
“Let your light shine before others, so that
they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
In other words, shining or pouring out the Light of Christ
necessitates action and not simply proclamation.
But it is more than living the kind of life
that makes a positive difference for others in the world.
It is living like Jesus more than just talking about Jesus.
More than mere moralism, it is reflecting a life of trust in God.
It is abiding in the blessings of the Lord
and living out of a sense of gratitude for God’s presence
and provision rather than acting in a perpetual state
of demand or challenge before the Lord.
It is understanding breaking a commandment
isn’t as much breaking a rule as it is
rejecting the promises of God
– denying that the Lord’s way of life is
better than our way of living life.
Shining the Light of Christ is following the way of God
and in so doing, teaching and inspiring others to believe in Jesus
and leading them to walk the same way.
Shining the Light of Christ is reflecting the goodness of God
so that others might see the shape of God’s goodness
and thus, recognize the Lord’s many blessing – specifically, the giving of Christ.
Shining the Light of Christ is recognizing any good works we do
are not ours in that they do not belong to us.
For we are not the source of such good works.
We are not the source or means of the light – that is Christ alone.
We are only the conduits of God’s righteousness,
reflections pointing to a greater reality of the Son,
lights shining the way to God’s righteousness and glory, not our own.
Notice the present tense as Jesus tells us
as His followers they we are light now,
not in some distant future – but here and now.
We don’t have to generate the light.
We don’t have to turn on the light.
We just have to let the light of Christ shine in and through our lives.
Together we just have to be willing and courageous
to bring the light of Jesus in this city, here in this neighborhood.
In the darkest places of our communities,
before those who are lost, confused, forgotten or afraid,
through our example in service and sacrifice
—even in the face of personal suffering and persecution,
we are to be conduits of the justice and mercy,
the grace and hope of the saving presence of Christ.
When we see a beautifully lit city on a hill,
we don’t discuss the lights; they talk of the genius of the architect.
When we gather around a well-lit table for a feast,
we don’t praise the light by which we eat;
instead, they give the credit to the one who prepared the meal.
So it is when the light of Christ
—our relationship and commitment to Jesus shines upon those around us
—when others witness the beauty of our good works
and when strangers feel the warm of our hospitality and care.
As we dispel the darkness of ignorance, prejudice and selfishness,
people will perceive the reality of the Light that comes from on high
—the Light that has come into the world that the darkness cannot overcome.
When we are the light of Christ to others and for others, God gets the credit.
God will be glorified. They won’t talk about us. They will talk about Jesus.
Like an impressionist painting, the more others look upon the face of Jesus illuminating through us, the more light they will see and the more they will be transfigured by the person of Christ until eventually they will meet Jesus for themselves.
We are, without question, living in anxious and uncertain times.
Many of the most vulnerable among us are truly living in darkness
– in fear for their future.
In the strain and struggle of this long valley we are walking through,
all of us are being tempted to give into the darkness within ourselves
to yield before the deep divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our humanity rather than realizing we are in this together and more importantly, we are not alone.
the encouraging thing about being the light is a little bit goes a long way.
A little bit of light can make a big difference.
It is not about the amount, but about the potency.
We aren’t called to save the world. Jesus has got that.
But we are called to make a difference for Christ – to be a part of His light
that is overtaking this world, that is overcoming all its darkness.
No matter where we are in our relationship with Jesus,
thanks to the grace of God,
we have the capacity and the power to be generous
in sharing the illumination of the hope that we all have in Christ.
Before the darkness within and all around us,
may we shine the Light of Jesus – filling every space, every moment, with the promise and possibility of His truth, His love, and His amazing grace. Amen.