Epiphanies in Light and Shadow

John 12:35-36
February 7, 2016
Mary Hammond

As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the season of Epiphany more and more. It is a Season of Light, Revealing, Manifestation. This theme of “Light” is elemental to scripture from the first verses in the Book of Genesis, “Let there be light,” (see Genesis 1:1-3) to the final chapter of the Book of Revelation, “…they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (see Rev. 22:1-5).

John’s Gospel speaks deeply and often about Light. We read one such passage in unison today. Hear it once again, as I read it slowly: “For a brief time, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have, so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in [trust] the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light” (John 12:35-36).

I recently spent about two weeks contemplating these verses over and over, letting them wash over me and get inside me. Let me share today a little of what I have seen.

“For a brief time,” Jesus begins, “the light is among you.” What powerful words!

Can you imagine, being there with Jesus, interacting daily with his startling, radiant light? We can get all warm and fuzzy about this possibility, but most of the time, it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy experience at all. His disciples were slow to understand and quick to compete with one another. They were ready to dismiss all sorts of people–a group of children, a Gentile woman, a blind beggar, even a whole town! Furthermore, nearly all our understanding of Jesus’ relationships with his disciples is based on his interactions with the twelve men who, with Jesus, take center stage in the ongoing Gospel stories. Yet, there were those moments of wonder and awe when the twelve sensed the luminous reality that they were truly in Holy Presence. We have those moments, too.

Each of us encounter people who are so full of light, we simply just love being around them. I worked as a Nurse’s Aide at a Nursing Home during the summers when I was in college. There were lots of crotchety elderly people who lived there and complained about everything. There were also severely physically disabled younger men whose behaved badly around the female aides. There were folks in all states of misery, loneliness, physical and emotional pain.

Then there was Mrs. Bussee. All the aides wanted to be assigned to her. She appreciated us; she was delighted to see us and grateful for every bit of care she received. She just radiated.

There was something else unique about this woman. She talked about Jesus like he was her best friend, with her all the time. I had grown up in the church, yet I had never heard anyone talk about Jesus the way she did.

Mrs. Bussee was tall, frail, and thin. One day, I was transferring her from her room chair to a wheelchair. In an instant, the transfer went terribly wrong. She fell flat on the floor, face-up. I was terrified. I had no idea how badly she was injured. Yet with her radiant smile, she looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Jesus is taking care of me.”

Thankfully, Mrs. Bussee was OK. Once again, I saw her shine. That changed me, just a little bit, every time I took care of her. It had a cumulative effect on my searching, 18-year old self.

Jesus continues, “Walk by the light you have, so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going.”

The truth of our lives is that sometimes we do walk in darkness, and sometimes it does seek to swallow us whole Who hasn’t known that experience? Sometimes we absolutely don’t know where we are going. Ken Medema has a song that begins, “What am I doing here? I don’t seem to recognize the words they’re saying.” He’s singing about sitting at church, going through the motions, but feeling like nothing is making sense. Who has never had that experience?

Sometimes darkness is pregnant and full, slowly gestating the dawn of new life within us. And sometimes it simply hurts like hell. Yet, Jesus calls us to always walk by the light we have, however dim or strong. It may surround us in dazzling radiance, beckon us from a distance, or tease us with nothing more than a promise and a call to fidelity and perseverance. We can only walk by the light we have. And that, my friends, is enough.

Jesus continues, “As you have the light, believe in [trust] the light.”

The past couple years, we have been talking here and in Study Group about how the word “believe” as translated from Greek to English in scripture is really better translated “trust.” Our western enlightenment heritage too often associates “belief” or “believe in” with intellectual assent. “Trust,” however, is a more active word. It beckons our whole orientation of life toward one direction. To trust the light is to trust the One who is Light.

Jesus concludes, “Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”

There is a direct correlation between trusting the light and radiating the light ourselves. Mrs. Bussee trusted the light. She immersed herself in the light. She meditated on the light. She loved the light. And her light shined. Like Mrs. Bussee, we can be children of light.

I managed to take another Quiet Directed Retreat at River’s Edge in Lakewood recently. Anyone in northeast Ohio realizes that the winter sky is gray most of the time—brooding, hovering gray. But the first night I was there, I watched a gorgeous sunset replete with purples, pinks, grays, and oranges. The final morning of retreat, I went out before dawn to simply watch the sky. It was astonishing.

The sunrise began in the east, but it was one of those special days when the colors also reflected in the west. For about 30 minutes, the light show changed in hue, intensity, and location every couple minutes. I could barely keep up as I walked back and forth from the east driveway to the parking lot, then back again. By the grand finale, there was this huge, thick swath of pink nearly wrapping itself around the whole retreat complex. My Spiritual Director told me a couple years ago that pink is the color for “unconditional love.” I don’t know where that came from, but it has meant a lot to me over the years, watching the sky and needing some reminders about deeper spiritual truths.

The rhythms of sunrise and sunset themselves sing this Song of Jesus, a song of bearing light in the darkness. That morning, even the sky was a “child of light.”

As we conclude the Epiphany season–this time of illuminating, revealing, and unmasking–may we embrace the light we have with rich thanksgiving. May we trust that light. Maybe we walk in it. May we Shine. Amen.

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