Yesterday I went to church and was given a gift: at the end of the service I, along with all the other members of the congregation, was given a candle – technically it was a ‘votive candle’, although I would call it a ‘tea-light’. Our instructions were to take our candles home – and only light them once we had done an act of kindness toward another person. The challenge was to ensure that we performed this act of kindness within the next seven days! In this way we were to express our calling to be “light for the whole world”.
On my return home I checked out the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. I was particularly attracted by the translation offered by Eugene Peterson in The Message – although The Message is a paraphrase, here it well and truly hits the spot:
Let me tell you why you are here…. You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light-stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hill-top, on a light-stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, the generous Father in heaven.
Christians are called to be ‘light-bearers’ by the way in which they live their lives – and not least by the way in which they perform “good works” (NRSV). It is through our good works that people are to encounter God. In the words of one commentator: “The ‘job description’ of a disciple is not fulfilled by private personal holiness” (RT France); rather, we are to let our light shine through the “good things we do” (GNB).
Christian mission is in the first place about how we live our lives. Wow! That is a challenge to some of us Evangelical Christians. All too often we equate mission with evangelism. But the reality is that the world will never listen to the good news we have to share until they see the light of Christ reflected in our lives; lives for instance marked by such qualities as openness, generosity, and hospitality. Only in this way will people be “impressed by what God is currently doing” (John Nolland).
One other thought came to me.. When Jesus said “you are the light of the world”, he was not speaking to his disciples as individuals, but rather as a group. In the underlying Greek of Matthew’s Gospel, the second person plural, not the second person singular, is found. In other words, along with the individual challenge, there is also a corporate challenge to let our light shine by the way in which we live our life together. This surely was what Jesus had in mind, when he spoke of “a city built on a hill” (Matt 5.14). In the words of Marcelino, a peasant living in the Nicaraguan town of San Miguelito:
A lit-up city that’s on top of a hill can be seen from far away, as we can see the lights of San Miguelito from very far away when we’re rowing at night on the lake. A city is a great union of people, and as there are a lot of houses together we see a lot of light. And that’s the way our community will be.
Or to quote another commentator:
It is only as the church genuinely proclaims Christ as Lord, that is, not by mouthing theological platitudes but by manifesting his life in its life, that the church can truly be the light of the world (Douglas Hare).
So in this season of Advent, let’s ensure we let our light shine!