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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lighting the Candle

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of
the earth will bring their splendor into it.
On no day will its gates ever be shut,
for there will be no night there.
Revelation 21:23-25

This evening at 5:30 (Coordinated Universal Time) the northern hemi-sphere of the earth tilts its farthest away from the sun, and we enter the longest night of the year. From ancient times people have carefully calculated this moment and lit fires, chanted, danced, and railed against the darkness threatening the sun. In societies that were primarily agricultural, they worshipped the sun as the source of life and “god” of the heavens and earth. The first day of the week, or Sun-day, was especially sacred to them. Whether it was the Egyptians worshipping the sun god Ra, the Greeks worshipping Helios, or the Romans worshipping Sol, this moment of the winter solstice was fraught with terror. Even where I live in metropolitan Phoenix, or the “Valley of the Sun”, Native American tribes have warily watched for this cosmic moment.

It was against the backdrop of a world worshipping the sun as supreme “god” that Genesis relegated it to simply one of the “lamps” the Creator placed in sky:

And God said, “Let there be lights (Hebrew: “lamps”) in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars (Genesis 1:14-16).

Genesis treats the sun as incidental and subordinate to God’s purpose for humanity. Along with the moon and stars, it is to “serve” as a visual reminder to those on earth of God’s glory and majesty. Thus, the Gospel of John triumphantly proclaims Jesus Christ God’s light for all people: “Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:3-5).

The English hymnist, Isaac Watts, celebrated Christ as Lord over all, in the hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign”:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

God’s grand story of redemption, begun in Genesis, now hastens to the eternal Day, when the dawning will overtake the darkness. There will no longer even be need of the sun when the glory of God and the Lamb are revealed. To those who grieve, who battle with pain, who struggle against the darkness, God’s promise is sure: “There will be no night there.” The seasons of Advent and Christmas stir our longings for Christ’s coming again. We make the prayer of the first Christians to be our daily prayer: “Maranatha, Our Lord, come” (I Corinthians 16:22).




Our heavenly Father. Sometimes we live as though this world is everything. We live for and work for only this world. We place all our hopes and dreams and fulfillment here. Lord, help us today to live and look for Christ’s new day. Our Lord, come! Amen.

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