Have you ever been to one of those amazing baroque palaces in Europe, like Versailles? What struck you about it? The large halls? The splendor?
Just for your trivia knowledge, I’ve always thought it’s a kick that they built this enormous, gorgeous palace in Versailles – and forgot to put water chambers in it.
Every decent palace of course needs a ballroom. If you’ve read Jane Austin, you know that balls, dances, were the main form of entertainment in the days when people had to cars, no movie theaters, no TV, no computers. And: no electricity.
Looking at vast halls and rooms in those great palaces always left me with one question: how did people keep warm in the winter? And: how did they light up all those enormous rooms?
I once took a tour of a smaller castle in Germany, and, of course, it had a nice sized ballroom. The guide pointed at the walls of that ballroom and said, what do you see? So, we looked, and said, mirrors. The guide then asked, Do you have any idea why there are all those mirrors? For the ladies to constantly check on their looks? Hm, well, maybe.
Do you happen to know what the function of all those mirrors was in those days? I was just fascinated as the guide explained how those mirrors would be installed to reflect the light of the candles burning, thus brightening up the room much more. Genius! By the way, all those beautiful crystals on fancy chandeliers have the same function, to reflect and increase the light. And for those of you who can better connect to car talk than ballroom talk, if you take the headlights of your car apart, what’s around the bulb? A mirror!
As I already pointed out during the sermon last Sunday, we are now in the season of Epiphany, and Epiphany is the season of light and enlightenment. But then light is one of the central images in the entire Holy Scriptures. If you think about the creation story in Genesis one, what’s the first thing God says? Let there be light! What’s one of the last things we hear in the Bible, in the Book of Revelations? We hear about the New Jerusalem, and how there will be no need for sun, moon, stars, or other lights, because God is the light. The presence of God and the Light are the bookends of those scriptures we consider holy.
In the books of the prophets, we find the reoccurring image of God bringing light into the gloom and doom of God’s people. Some of the most recognizable words from the Bible are taken from Isaiah and read every Christmas: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light – those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them, light has shined!’
God is identified with the light. Wherever God is, there is a ray of hope and life.
By the light of a star the magi are led to the newborn King, Jesus. And in the first chapter of the gospel according to John, we hear: ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’
The true light is Jesus, but John definitely gets his moment in the spotlight. He’s the one who prepares the way, he’s the one who testifies to the light, he’s the one calling the people to repentance. Some even muse, is HE maybe the Messiah? And this, of course, upsets the authorities, and by the time today’s Gospel unfolds, we hear that John has been arrested. Out of the spotlight, out of the public eye, into the darkness of the dungeon. He’s finished.
It’s time for the torch to be handed over. It’s the time for Jesus to shine. And this involves several things. First of all, Jesus moves, away from Nazareth and his family and family business, to Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Then he picks up the message John previously proclaimed: Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near! Well, and just on a little side note, guess where this message will get Jesus eventually – it got John incarcerated, and it leads Jesus to the darkness of the tomb.
I think it is very interesting that Jesus doesn’t just let his light shine, brightly and unaided. No, before he starts his ministry, before he heals the sick and preaches good news to the people, he? Recruits disciples.
Jesus is the light, and the light shines in the darkness, but: he gathers followers around him, people who, like those mirrors in fancy palace ballrooms, catch and reflect the light of Jesus and make it shine more brightly in the vast darkness God’s people is in. People who eventually themselves will preach and teach and heal in the name of the Lord; people who spread the word and the good news of God and God’s kingdom come near to all who long to hear it.
You’ve probably seen mindboggling images of an object in a mirror reflected in another mirror. What happens? The reflection becomes infinite, being thrown back and forth and back and forth.
I like to think of the history of Christianity that way. The light of God being reflected forth and reflected back and so on and so on. It was reflected in those first disciples. Then in all the people of the young congregations Paul and others write to. In all those church fathers and mothers through the ages. Prominent saints like Nicholas, Valentine, Francis, Claire. People like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. But then we mustn’t forget that the light of God continues to be reflected. Today, it is through you and me – and countless others who let their light so shine before others.
And we may feel inadequate. We may think, how could we reflect the light? I am just small and insignificant. But think of it this way: even if each of us is but a tiny piece, like in a mosaic – as we are community, the body of Christ together, if we all put our little lights together, we still shine brightly. There is no excuse for us not to reflect the light of Christ, with the particular gifts and talents we have been given.
In a nutshell, this is what being a Christian and being a disciple is all about: turning to the light of God, which shines on us regardless, but pointing our mirror in the right direction, so to speak, and to reflect it back into the world. To give hope to people who have lost hope. To love those who feel unloved or are neglected. To speak a word of healing where there is hurt. To be with someone who feels lost. Letting the light, God’s light, shine – this is evangelism. This is spreading the good news that God is our light and salvation, and there is nothing to fear. The good news that, though we may walk in darkness, we have seen a great light.
God’s light shines in the darkness. However, as the story of Jesus gathering disciples around him shows, it takes others – it takes us – to reflect this light and let it shine in all the dark corners of this world. This is what our call as disciples, as followers of Christ, is all about. So let your light so shine before others – use your specific strengths and gifts that you have been given – so that they may see your good works – your patience, your tolerance, your generosity, your healing word or touch – and give glory to your Father in heaven.