In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Light. We find it useful. In order to be able to see in dark places and spaces, or to see at night, humans have devised and used all sorts lights powered by different fuels: oil lamps, like the one on our bulletin cover, oil-burning torches, and oil-filled candles, like these in the Sanctuary; wax candles; matches of wood and paper; liquid-filled lighters; the light of fires produced by wood or gas; and electric lights, both alternating current, like the lights from the ceiling here and in your home, and direct current, battery-powered auto headlights and flashlights (or as the Brits call them, torches), like these. And there are varieties of electric lights: incandescent (traditional light bulbs), fluorescent (like many street lights and shop signs), lasers, and light-emitting diodes, or LED’s, like these flashlights. In the brightness of daylight, or a fully lit room, these little lights may not seem very bright. On some of those crime-scene investigation shows, detectives will use a flashlight like this to search for items and clues. Have you ever lost something small, like a coin or an earring, and in your hunt for it, it’s easier to find without the bright light in the whole room and just a good little flashlight in hand?
As much as we try to pierce the darkness and effectively extend the daylight hours into the night with our lights, the lights we make cannot compare in power or durability to the original natural lights made by God, “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night,” the sun and the moon, “and the stars,” which He created on the fourth day of the Creation week (Gen 1:16). For that matter, we may try to make our lights beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, nice to look at; but, our lights can in no way compare in beauty and inspiration to the lights God made: the sun, moon, and stars, the nebulae and galaxies, and even the living things that produce light. Before He placed the particular light-giving bodies in the heavens, though, God first made the physical substance of light, the primeval light, when He said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen 1:3). As modern physics now understands it, light has two natures. It is energy—visible light, infrared light (also known as heat), and ultraviolet light being on the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation —and it is matter, consisting of particles called photons. And light is not just useful; it is vital. Light is essential for life. That’s by the Creator’s design. What are the things needed to sustain this life? Air, water, and food, for starters. How is oxygen put into the air so that we can keep breathing? Plants produce the gas as a byproduct of photosynthesis, the light-driven process by which plants produce their own food. Animals eat plants; we eat plants. Meat-eaters also depend ultimately on plants for food. The earth’s water cycle is also driven by the sun’s energy. So life depends on light. Indeed, in the beginning of his Gospel, St. John says of Jesus the Word of God, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:4).
Light and life, darkness and death. Scripture makes the contrast over and over. Righteousness versus sin. Life versus death. Light versus darkness. Truth versus falsehood. Wisdom versus folly. Good versus evil. This darkness is not the natural darkness that God put into the created order, the cycle of days and nights. For of this separating of light and darkness, day and night, His Word says, “And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:18), and of the whole creation, including Day and Night that He named on day one, it says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (v 31). Physical darkness and the night are not evil or sinful by nature. This darkness of which the Bible speaks in connection with death, sin, falsehood, folly, and evil is spiritual darkness, a darkness that is opposed to all this is godly, all that is of God, as the Apostle John says in his First Epistle, “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5).
God is the Source of both physical and spiritual light. He is spiritual Light in His very essence, as we confess of the Son begotten of the Father in the Nicene Creed, “God of God, Light of Light.” So if God made the light and ordained both the physical light and the physical darkness to serve His good creation, and He saw that it was all “very good,” then why is there spiritual darkness at all in the universe? Why do so many people prefer to live and remain in that darkness? Oh, that is a mystery, a great and confounding mystery indeed! What could ever lead a perfect heavenly creature to turn against God and seek to usurp God’s throne? We call that one the devil and Satan, the slanderer and accuser of both God and man; but, what was his name before? Lucifer, the light-bearer. St. Paul reminds us that “Satan [still] disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). And why, oh why, did man, who knew the Light and Truth and Wisdom of God, why did he—why did we—turn away from that to the false ‘light’ of the father of lies? While we would like to point to the darkness in others, the darkness in the world out there, and the darkness of the devil, the truth is, we are conceived and born in that spiritual darkness, and we have been participants in it, too, as the Light of the Word of God reveals:
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken (Ps 82:5) [… and …]
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isa 5:20) [… and …]
If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. … If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us (1 Jn 1:6, 8, 10) …
“And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19).
There is the saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” It’s also said that, as soon as you turn on the light, the cockroaches scatter and head for cover of darkness. So too, sin hates the light, the light of the holiness of God and His Word. The light of God’s Law reveals just how awful and corrupting sin is. In the light of His Law, we must confess our sin, the darkness of our hearts, the foolishness of our minds, the evil of our deeds, the deathward drift of our life, the lies with which we deceive ourselves into thinking, “I’m not that bad. I’m pretty good. Besides, all that Law stuff was Old Testament. I’m focused on the New Testament, ’cause that’s Jesus and love and feeling good and stuff.” News flash: Of those four passages you just heard, only the first two are Old Testament, Psalm 82 and Isaiah 5; the others are New Testament, 1 John 1, and Jesus Himself in John 3, speaking to Nicodemus. The light of the Law shines forth in both Testaments, in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, because we still need that harsh light to reveal the depth of the darkness of sin, death, falsehood, folly, and evil that remains in the Old Adam in us, until the day we die and depart this dark valley of sorrows, tears, and death.
From before the foundation of the world, the True Light, the Light of God, His grace and mercy, love and forgiveness toward us, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, has shone forth. “In the beginning”—that is, the ‘beginning’ ‘before’ time—“was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:1, 4). The Psalms sing of Him who is the Light and Word and Wisdom of God, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. … Even the darkness is not dark to You, O LORD; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You” (Pss 119:105; 139:12). Our Psalmody for tonight (Ps 18:21–30) is truly His prayer, what He couuld have been praying in Gethsemane. Through the Prophet Malachi the LORD promises, “But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:2), and the priest St. Zechariah sings, “the Sunrise from On High shall visit us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78–79). Who is this Sun of Righteousness, this Sunrise from On High, rising with “healing in His wings”? Let me ask you: How do you sneak up on the sun?
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden [How can you hide out in the open from the sun?], she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk 8:42b–48).
The Hebrew word for wing, kanaph, also means the rays of the sun, and the fringe of a garment. So here is the Sun of Righteousness risen with healing in His wings! And this woman, desperate for cleansing and healing, for her life to be restored, sees Jesus for who He is, “sneaks up from behind” on the Sun of Righteousness, in faith and hope touches His kanaph, His wing, His ray, His fringe, and His healing light flows through her, body and soul. “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
St. John’s First Epistle says, “God is Light,” and “God is Love.” John’s Gospel says, “The Light [is] the Life of men.” In the womb of the Virgin, the Light took on two natures, the Divine and the human, God and man, for you. In the darkness of Gethsemane, the Light of the world is in agony and distress, sweating great drops of blood, not for Himself, but for you. In the darkness of Gethsemane, the Light of the world is praying. Oh, we hear His prayer for Himself, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Yet that is immediately followed by His prayer for you: “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done.” The Father’s will is that His Son, the Light of Light, the Light of Wisdom, the Light of Truth, the Light of Life, the Light of Love, the Light of the world, submit to the darkness of our sin and death and folly and evil and falsehood, for you. And so He did, on the cross, as darkness fell over the face of the whole earth. Was it the triumph of darkness, sin, and death over light, righteousness, and life? No, it was the Father forsaking His Son, the Light turning away from the Light, God forsaking God. How is that even possible?! And yet it did happen. And the Sunrise from On High rose again, with the ultimate healing in His wings, the resurrection to life eternal for you, to raise you soul and body on the Last Day, the Day that will be light without end. He has given you the pledge and seal of your resurrection in Holy Baptism. He continually gives you Himself, the Light and Wisdom of God, in His Word written and proclaimed. He gives you His light, His energy, as you eat and drink His Supper, His body and blood in and under the bread and wine, the fruit of wheat and vine. And from the polluting darkness of the world and its sin, the Sun of Righteousness absolves you: “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.” “Son, your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And He says to you, “You are the light of the world,” reflecting His light as the moon reflects the light of the sun, “so let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14, 16). Shine His healing, death-defying, life-giving, truth-bestowing Light to your neighbor, into the world around you, and be the wise who “shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3). And the Threefold Light Eternal will smile upon you and bless you: “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you (turn His face toward you in grace and favor) and give you peace.”
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.