LIGHTING THE CANDLE
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Psalm 36: 7-9
In the northern hemisphere of the earth, when the sun passes the fall equinox on September 22, the hours of darkness in a day begin to exceed the hours of light. By the time we enter the season of Advent we are in the shortest days and longest nights of the year. Light becomes an especially meaningful symbol for our lives. Every time we light an Advent candle or switch on our Christmas lights, we proclaim our faith that the darkness will not overcome God’s light.
Light is a universally important symbol because of the many associations we have with it. It is light that shows us the way when we are lost in the dark. It is light that can help us find what is lost, and light that reveals what is damaged or dirty. We also use light to warn of trouble, as a lighthouse points out dangerous rocks below, or a traffic light flashes dangers ahead. We also use light for celebration, as with candles on a birthday cake, or fireworks on the Fourth of July.
But most of all, light is such an important symbol because it is essential for life and growth. As darkness is a natural symbol for death and destruction, so light is a natural symbol for life and its blessings. We learned as young children that when the lights go out in our rooms, the monster crawls out from under the bed!
Again in today’s scripture, we find the psalmist David facing deep darkness. From the opening verses of the psalm (Psalm 36:1-4), Bible commentators suggest that David is either fleeing for his life from King Saul, or fleeing from his son Absalom who has mounted a palace coup against him. Whichever the setting, it is clear that this is a dark chapter in David’s life. David begins the psalm wailing against the attack of his enemies: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts; there is no fear of God before their eyes” (36:1).
Yet, David finds courage in reminding himself of how precious is God’s “steadfast love”, and that “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Then, finding refuge in the Lord, David celebrates God as “the fountain of life”, in whose “light we see light.” Here we see that true life and true light are interwoven and cannot be separated.
In one of the most theologically rich and revealing lines in the Bible, David says to God, “in your light we see light.” David knows that it is not by looking to himself, or to human teaching, or to searching for information, that we can make sense of God’s creation. There is first the light Who is God, then the light God imparts to us. Through God’s light we gain understanding of the world around and within us, and can answer questions that perplex us. It is only because God is light, that we see light, and that the world then becomes intelligible to us. This verse stands as the basis for all research and progress, and is thus the motto of Columbia University. Without the personal and infinite God of the Bible, nothing makes sense: “in your light we see light.”
The eternal God whom David praises as “life” and “light”, took on our human flesh, making Himself “the life and light of all people” (John 1:4). Life is in Jesus and light is in Jesus, so that He can promise, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Early Christians wrestled with how to express the great mystery of God’s life and light becoming one with us. What marvelous words they pass down in the Nicene Creed for our God:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
We praise you Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, and Savior, that you are the light and life of the world. You are Light from Light, sent into the world to lighten our darkness and give us life. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might experience more of your light today, and reflect your light to those around us. Amen.