Continuing our series on the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John, our good friend and recently retired Seminary professor, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston, will speak on Jesus’ declaration “I am the Light of the world”.
Kevin, for years a beloved teacher and colleague at Tyndale, is currently Pastor of Clairlea Park Presbyterian Church in Toronto. The title of his message is “Light in a Dark World”.
Well, friends, what a joy and delight to be with you in this beautiful chapel again, this chapel of light. When I say the word light, what comes to your mind? Maybe, if you were standing where I'm standing, it's these bright lights shining down on me. Maybe it's, on brighter days, the light of the sun outside. When I say the word light, what comes to your mind? I think of a good friend of ours, who lives downtown, who suffers from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD? Have you ever heard of that? Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that's related to the change in seasons. People with SAD develop symptoms that start in the fall and can last throughout the winter months, and it's caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Maybe it's, the experts think it's a lack of serotonin. And it's prompted by the shorter daylight hours, and less sunlight in winter. So as the days get shorter, and the darkness gets longer, people experience a shift in their biological clock that can cause them to feel out of step with their daily schedule. People with seasonal affective disorder can have feelings of low energy, and depression. They can have trouble sleeping and concentrating. They can feel moody or hopeless or anxious. Now that may sound like some of you students, as you near the end of term with exams and papers to write. But seriously SAD is a big problem for many people. Do you know what the main treatment is for sad? It's called Light Therapy. You sit in front of a light box, a bright light, exposing yourself for 10 to 15 minutes every day. There are other ways of treating SAD, but light therapy is the most effective. Being in the light, seems to help people. And as I, as I thought about my friend downtown, and about our text today from John's Gospel that you've just heard George read to us, it got me thinking that in a very real sense, our whole world has a kind of spiritual, seasonal affective disorder.
We feel out of step from the kind of persons we know we're meant to be. We feel anxious, or fearful, or just overwhelmed with life. We can feel so disconnected, especially in COVID times, so disconnected from each other, from ourselves, maybe most of all, even from God. But here comes Jesus declaring himself in front of a crowd of religious leaders to be the light of the world, in whom is the light of life. Why did Jesus choose that particular metaphor to describe himself? What does Jesus mean when he compares himself to light? Well, our passage is set in the courts of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus, you know, has been ministering across Galilee, healing and teaching, and announcing God's coming Kingdom. And now the festival of Tabernacles was coming. A great, week long, autumn celebration, to thank God for the harvest, and remember God's faithfulness for delivering his people from their slavery in Egypt, and leading them to the Promised Land. Imagine the Festival of Tabernacles like this week long worship conference and Thanksgiving meals every day.
Jesus was not very keen to attend, because the religious leaders were threatening to kill him, but his disciples finally persuaded him. If Jesus has a message for the world, they reasoned, why not use this opportunity to get the message across? So halfway through the festival, Jesus made his way quietly into Jerusalem, and up to the temple courts, and he began to teach. And immediately, as was so often the case, arguments broke out. People were divided over who Jesus was, and if you read the rest of John chapter seven, you'll see how everyone was arguing over what to do with Jesus, who seemed to stir up controversy wherever he went. At the beginning of chapter eight, the religious leaders try to trap Jesus, by bringing a woman who'd been caught in the act of adultery, asking Jesus to pronounce his judgment on this poor woman who'd been dragged there. And you remember what Jesus did next? Without saying a word, he stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger, and then uttered those fateful words. "Let any of you who is without sin cast the first stone", and all the women's accuser sculked away. And he spoke words of forgiveness to her and sent her on her way and freedom. Friends, that's what's been happening.
That's the backstory to our text, when Jesus speaks again to the people in the temple courts, filled now with throngs of people celebrating the festival. And he chose that strategic spot at that particular moment to make the astonishing claim. I am the light of the world. So Jesus speaks these words in the middle of the festival of Tabernacles. But what I find amazing is that there was a special ceremony connected to this festival, that makes his words all the more poignant and vivid. Maybe that first slide can go up. Thanks. On the evening of the first day of the festival, there was a ceremony called the illumination of the temple. It took place in the temple courts, right in the center of the Court of the Women surrounded by throngs of people, there were four massive golden candelabras that rose high into the air. Each of the candelabras had four branches. And at the top of each branch was a large bowl filled with oil, and then the oil in those bowls was ignited. Picture that. 16 blazing, dazzling lights, leaping up into the sky from those golden lamps. And remember that the temple was on top of a hill, above the rest of the city, the Temple Mount. So the glorious glow of those flaming lights was a sight the whole city could look up to and behold. Next slide. In addition to the flames of light, the temple musicians played their harps, and lyres, and cymbals, and trumpets to make joyful music to the Lord during the celebration. And as they played, the people of Israel, the holiest, the wisest, the greatest, and the least, they danced before the Lord and sang joyful songs of praise to God. What a glorious celebration, what what a festival of praise and worship, it must have been. That light was to remind them, the people how God's Shekinah Glory had once filled his temple, the very presence of God in their midst. And now listen to Jesus again. Maybe he's standing right under one of those magnificent candelabras, as he declares to the people. You've seen these burning candelabras of our temple piercing the darkness of the night, but I am the light of the world. And for the man or woman who follows me there will be light, not just for one exciting night, just, not just for a week long festival, but for their entire life. The light in the temple is a brilliant light, but in the end, it will flicker and die. But I am the light that lasts forever. You see friends, in the person of Jesus, the glory of God was present in the temple again.
Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. What does Jesus mean by that? How is Jesus like light to us? Well, for one thing, light helps us see. And we believe that Jesus illuminates and helps us see the truth about who God really is, and who we really are. The truth about the purpose of life, and our origin, and our destiny. How is Jesus like light to us? Light guides us when we travel, like headlights on a car at night. And Jesus is our shepherd. He's our guide, directing us as we make our way through life, all the way to our heavenly home. How is Jesus like light to us? Well, light of course, is essential for the survival and growth of living things. That's what biologists call photosynthesis. And through the light of Jesus, we too, are given life. Jesus's is the one who promises to bring us fruitful, and abundant, and eternal life beginning right now, and stretching into eternity. How is Jesus like light? Well, light warms, and comforts. Think of a beautiful fireplace, like a warm, welcoming hearth, on a cold, dark night. And Jesus welcomes us home, and shares his warm hearted embrace, like He did with Mary and Martha in their time of grief and loss. How is Jesus like light to us? Light dispels darkness. And Jesus pierced the darkness of sin, and of death, and conquered them both. All the darkness in the world can't put out one little candle flame. And Jesus the Son of God cannot be overcome by evil. He triumphs over it for us and for our salvation.
The early Christian church described Jesus in terms of light. Melissa already referred to it in that first reading she gave, the apostle John at the beginning of his gospel describes Jesus as the light, the true light coming into the world that gives light to everyone. And in Luke Chapter Two we read about an a devout elderly old man named Simeon, longing to see the Messiah with his own eyes. And when he saw Mary and Joseph bringing in the baby Jesus into the temple, he takes the child in his arms and praises God, saying, my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. So friends, this is Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus, the sun of justice. Jesus, the bright morning star. He is the light that illuminates and gives light to all humanity. Because we human beings with all our wisdom and sophistication, remain trapped in the darkness of sin. But Jesus says, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Friends, without without Jesus, we are held captive by the powers of sin and of death. We are prisoners of darkness. But Jesus came to liberate us from the realm of night. He is the light of the world, and those who follow him, no longer walk in darkness. When Jesus, through His Spirit, comes into our lives, we're changed. We're transformed. We receive a new heart, we receive a new mind, a new name, a new family, a new citizenship. We become children of the light. We live in the light, we walk in His light, and we can walk safely and securely through this life and then into eternity, towards the very light of heaven itself into God's presence. All because of Jesus.
Back in Pasadena, California when I was in seminary many years ago, I lived in an old apartment with my roommate, Doug from Arkansas. And we had cockroaches. Do you know what cockroaches are? Yeah. They're big, ugly, dirty bugs. They would come out at night when it was dark, especially in our bathroom. And when you'd flip on the light switch, then you'd see them scatter in all directions. You think that's bad? It was even worse when sometimes I'd go into the bathroom, and not flip on the light switch, and suddenly hear crunch under my bare foot. Yuck. Do you remember what Jesus said in his famous dialogue with Nicodemus in John chapter three? This is the verdict. Light has come into the world. But people love darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. All those who do evil, hate the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth, come into the light.
Friends our world reveals God's beauty, and love, and truth in a million ways. Just watch a sunset. Listen to a bird singing. Watch my grandson take his first steps in Boston. And you'll experience God revealing Himself through His creation. But this world, as we know it, is also plagued, plagued with with spiritual and relational decay and darkness. That's the state we're in. That's what poor and oppressed people suffer from, around the world today, a result of human selfishness and the curse of sin. But hear these words of our Lord. "I am the light of the world. My light goes into dark places. And as far as it penetrates, I will dispel the darkness." I hope those words sound like good news to you, they sure do to me. That, says Jesus, is how it should be with his disciples. As we cling to Jesus, the light of the world, we will reflect Christ light to others. By the way we live, by the way we speak, and the way we listen. By the way we give, by the way we forgive. Dear friends at this, in this dark world, let's embrace the light. Let's cling to Jesus, and reflect His light and His love to the world. Amen? Amen.
Let's pray. Oh God as you cause the sun to rise, bring the light of Christ to dawn in our souls and dispel all darkness. Give us grace, to reflect Christ's glory, and let His love show in our deeds, His peace shine in our words, and His healing in our touch. That all may give Him praise. Now and forever. Amen.
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