If the local paper is to be believed, most people in Chelmsford do not approve of the Council’s recent decision to turn off the street lights at midnight. I am not convinced. Having lived two years of my life in Central Africa where there were no street lights, it is not an issue for me. There if you needed to go out, you took a torch or lamp with you. The other evening I returned home late, and as we drove into Chelmsford all the lights went out – it was different, certainly, but not a frightening experience. Yes, I appreciate that late-night revellers in the city’s night-clubs would prefer to have the lights on – but I do not see why for the sake of a small minority the rest of us , at a time of real austerity, should pay to keep the lights on. As my elderly mother reminded me, people of her generation had to live with the black-out year upon year. Maybe there might be room for some compromise, so that the lights are switched off at 1 pm rather than midnight itself. But there comes a point when it is right to save money – and use the money saved for the good of the community as a whole.
What seems to me as a Christian minister bizarre, is that most of those protesting against the switching off of the street lights, at another level are living in the dark the whole day long. They are living in the dark in the sense that they haven’t got a clue about the meaning of life. For them life is just one meaningless round on a treadmill – one day follows another, one week follows another. There just is no point. “Here we are” said Jean-Paul Sartre, “all of us, eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence, and there’s nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing”. Yes, many people are just ‘in the dark’ as far as life as concerned. Life just happens.
But when a man or woman encounters Jesus life suddenly gains purpose. Jesus once said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8.12). It is as if the light has suddenly been switched on. Yes, we still continue to go through the same old routines of eating and drinking, working and playing, but we now have a sense of direction in our lives. We are no longer in the dark – we have a God to serve, and a kingdom to build – we know that God is working his purpose out in our lives and in the life of the world.
Toward the end of his life Bernard Levin, a celebrated columnist in the Times, wrote an article called: ‘Life’s Great Riddle, and No Time to Find its Meaning’. In it he said that, in spite of his success, he feared he might have “wasted reality in the chase of a dream”. He went on: “To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die?…. I have not managed to answer the question yet, and however many years I have before me they are certainly not as many as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late… Why do I have to know why I was born? Because, of course, I am unable to believe that it was an accident; and if it wasn’t one, it must have a meaning”. Life does have a meaning. We don’t have to live in the dark. Following Jesus throws a new light on life – without him there is nothing, while with him we have everything to look forward to.