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I wouldn’t suggest for one moment that I suffer from Seasonally Adjusted Disorder – but I really do struggle with the dark nights coming in so early during these Winter days. Are you like that too? There’s something about light mornings and light evenings that really lifts the spirit, isn’t there?
Light is such an important commodity for us.
And, of course, many religions in our country and throughout history have the idea of ‘light’ as a central metaphor in explaining spirituality. In Hinduism, there is the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, which commemorates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. In Judaism, candles are lit on a Friday night to mark the beginning of the Sabbath, and the Jewish Festival of Light is Hannukah, that lasts 8 days. In Islam, there is reference to the Arabic word ‘nur’, which means the light of God.
And, of course, in Christianity, light is a central metaphor that we use: Jesus being the light of the world, the distinction between light and darkness in spirituality, and the many, many uses of candles in our acts of worship.
I could go on giving examples but we know that light is such an important idea for us as we try, as human beings, to comprehend our relationship to God and how he interacts with us as people and the world he has created.
And in the first reading we heard this morning, from John’s letter, we heard these words: “Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him…if we live in the light – just as he is in the light – then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.”
I want to spend some time this morning thinking about this idea of the light of God.
For John, the idea that God is light and that Jesus is the light of the world is fundamental to his Christian understanding. And, in a real sense, our mission as Christians is to introduce people to the light, which is God, and Jesus Christ the Son of God, who is the light of the world.
But what does John mean when he calls God ‘the light’? There’s two ideas I want to draw out…
1. God as Light brings Good News
So Light is a very positive concept: it provides optimism and good feelings: whether that’s in a religious sense or just enjoying warm weather and long days or leaving a light on for the kids at night so they can sleep better, or whatever…Light is good news for our spirits and cheers us up no end.
And so, when John refers to God as the light, there is a real sense of optimism and good news about that: there is a positive value to light.
Why is light so important for us? Well, for a whole host of reasons but primarily because it helps us to reach what we need.
The light bulbs in the Car Park of this church keep getting fixed and then keep working only erratically and it is really annoying! Because it makes it difficult for people to get to their cars without fear of stumbling.
There is a certain threat in the darkness. There can be danger in the darkness. We can trip over in the dark or fail to get where we need to be.
There are times in our lives when it just feels like we are shrouded in deep darkness. Perhaps when we are sick, or we have lost someone we love, or we have financial worries or employment worries, or when a relationship is breaking down.
There are times in our lives when we cry out for light to dispel the darkness.
And I can’t offer any easy answers to this.
There are times when it feels like the darkness will last forever and when we are suffocated by it. I know through my own experiences of bereavement that it can feel like the darkness will be never-ending and the pain of loss will never recede. And there’s no answer I can give to that today that would sound anything other than trite.
But what I have learnt in my own life, and what countless millions of others will testify to, and what so many here this morning will testify to, is that the darkness does not last for ever. The light can and will break through our darkest hours.
Of course, when light breaks through, it does create shadows and so we live with the shadows for the rest of our lives. But the shadows will not over come the light.
When God is the light in our world, we can be led safely through our days and head with confidence and optimism to our destination, which is to live life in all its fullness with him.
It may not feel like it right now for some of us, but that is the promise of the Christian faith and the experience of so many of us. If we draw near to God, who is the light, then he can shine his light into the darkness which we often encounter in life. When we are sick – God can shine his light. When we are grieving – God can shine his light. When we are anxious or afraid – God can shine his light.
The darkness that we encounter can be overcome by the light of God shining in our lives and that is good news, and gives us reason to be hopeful.
Light is the promise of hope and joy and in God there is no darkness at all.
2. We are urged to live in the light
Then John moves on to encourage us to live in the light and there are real benefits to that, of course, verse 7: “If we live in the light – just as he is in the light – then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.”
Living in the light is the opposite of living in darkness. When we are in the light, we see things for what they are, we see God for who he is, we learn to love others for who they are.
Walking in the light is a transformative experience that fills our life with love and compassion and grace. And we want that for ourselves, we want that for other people and we want that for our community here in Enfield: that this would be a community hallmarked by love, compassion and grace.
This week, at the PCC, we ratified our new Mission Statement for the church, which you will find in the inside of the pewsheet. We have our new Mission Action Plan, ‘Towards 2030’ and our Mission Statement is us encapsulating all that information in one short, sharp sentence: one sentence that sums up everything we want to be and become as a church. And our new Mission Statement is this: ‘Building community together on the values of Jesus’.
We are building…on a journey.
We are building community…a family of love and kindness impacting our wider Enfield community.
We are building community together…each one of us playing our part.
We are building community together on the values of Jesus…our foundations are what Jesus taught and what he revealed of God to us and how he inspires us to reflect those God-values in our words and actions.
And those values of Jesus are, metaphorically-speaking, light in the world.
For ourselves, for others and for this community, we want to walk in the light, live in the light, and have the light as the permanent way of being where there is no darkness, no confusion or chaos or cause for stumbling. But what does that look like? John gives us two things to consider:
First, “we have fellowship with one another”.
We have thought many times about hospitality as the key to Christian living and the need for us to show hospitality towards one another because God has shown hospitality towards us. And, in a sense, fellowship is the living out of hospitality. When we live in fellowship with one another, we love one another and are prepared to live with each other’s failings, we practice forgiveness, constantly, we encourage one another in life and in the faith, we share our lives with one another.
If we are to grow as a church in Enfield, it is absolutely crucial – crucial – that we develop as a hospitable church. We absolutely must focus on the gift of hospitality: through love, tolerance, forgiveness, encouragement and sharing.
If we do not focus on this, we cannot hope to reflect God in our fellowship life. Hospitality is paramount – and must be the focus of all our efforts and our Mission Action Plan is absolutely geared up, in every part, towards increasing the spirit of hospitality at St. Andrew’s. And, as this gift increases in us, so others will want to be a part of that and our fellowship life will increase. The Christian community will grow ever stronger…
But, second, the other side of the hospitality coin is the hospitality that we receive from God when we walk in the light, verse 7 again: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.”
The greatest act of hospitality was the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection and his ascension through which we have been invited into the very heart of God. The greatest act of hospitality is that you and I have been invited to become children of God.
And this is our ultimate desire, not only for ourselves, but for all those we love and for the Enfield community; that more and more people will live in the light of God’s hospitality and know what it is to live as children of God. Surely that is what our Mission Action Plan is ultimately about? Surely that is our mission as a church in Enfield?
So this passage reminds us that God is the light and we are called to walk in his light. When we do so, darkness is dispelled and we experience hope and joy, our fellowship life increases as our hospitality increases, our experience of living as children of God increases as we grow deeper into the hospitality of God.
Our new Mission Statement sums this up in one, neat sentence: that we are “Building community together on the values of Jesus”. And as we work that out together over the coming few years, our hope and aspiration is that St. Andrew’s will bring transformative light to the wider community of Enfield.
God is light: he brings hope and optimism and fullness of life as he counters the darkness in our lives and the darkness that too often exists in the broken parts of our society.
God is light: so let’s work together to share that wonderful news with others in word and in action.