Longing for the Light of Christ – Br. Mark Brown

Isaiah 60: 1-3, 18-19; Psalm 36: 5-10; 1 Peter 2: 4-10; John 1: 1-5

If we know someone is coming, we wait for them.  After a while, waiting becomes longing.  Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light.  Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.

We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years.  Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.

“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70]  For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional.  The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things.  Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life.

The Bible picks up on this connection and is filled with the language of light and life.  When, in the beginning, God creates life, God begins by creating light. We heard in the Psalm [36] that “for with you [O Lord] is the well of life, and in your light we see light”.  John, in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, makes the connection with Jesus explicit: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

John boldly asserts that Christ—the very Word of God–is the light and life of all people. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” We sing in an ancient hymn that “wherever love and charity dwell, God himself is there”. God is present wherever love is present, because God is love [1 John 4: 8].  Likewise, wherever light and life are present, Christ himself is there, because he is light and life.  Even when we don’t know him by name.

He is light, he is life. He is also Truth [John 14: 6].  Wherever light and truth are, Christ himself is there.  Light, life, truth: wherever these things are, Christ himself is there.  He promised that his Spirit would lead us into all truth [John 16:13]—and truth is light and life.

At the personal, individual level, we recognize the life that emerges from the light of truth.  Acknowledging the truth about ourselves, saying true words about ourselves, intellectual honesty, emotional transparency, are a source of life.  “For with you [O Lord] is the well of life, and in your light we see light”.  The Psalms are full of truth about ourselves, full of emotional honesty and transparency—even the truth about our ugliest impulses. Rage, resentment, violent retribution, even the cursing of others: it’s all there in the Psalms.  If we pray with this kind of honesty, and live with this kind of truth telling, we approach the presence, the presence of light and life.  Truth telling—shedding some light on the situation, as we say—leads us toward fuller life.

Our common life in the family, in the church, in the body politic partakes of the same dynamic.  The light of truth is the light of life.  Although there are many places on this earth where the light of truth and the light of life are desperately needed, I have to tell you about where I’ve just been.  I still have the dust of Jerusalem on my shoes.  Jesus still weeps over the city, as he did once from the Mount of Olives [Luke 19: 41-43]: “If you, even you, had recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  He says, weeping over the city.

Having seen, yet again, what can be seen in Jerusalem, I need to say something about it.  Speaking the truth, as best we can, brings light. And light brings life. A grim subject for a time when we’d rather be decking the halls with boughs of holly, but I’ve been to the Holy Land ten times now and silence is not an option.  I’ll try to distill a very complicated subject into a few key points.

If you go to Jerusalem you can see why Palestinians have reached a point of deep frustration, even cynicism (although things seem to be relatively calm these days). The State of Israel’s project of building enormous settlements on confiscated Palestinian land has continued unabated, with total disregard not only for the Palestinians but also for the international community which condemns the settlements.  The sheer size, the grandiosity, of the Israeli settlements ringing Jerusalem on confiscated Palestinian land is eye-popping. Gilo, Har Homa, Ma’ale Adummin, Modi’in—I could go on.  Then there is the Wall, built ostensibly for security, but often deep inside Palestinian territory, effectively annexing land and aquifers to Israel. And there are the hundreds of Israeli settlements deep inside the West Bank, often with access roads for Israeli use only that effectively destroy territorial contiguity for the Palestinians. And the Israeli settlements right in the middle of Arab areas of Jerusalem and cities like Hebron, which then require the presence of the Israeli military.

Now, I need to pause to make a clear distinction between the policies and actions of the State of Israel and Jewish people in general.  The Jewish people deserve our deepest admiration; the Jews have contributed enormously to the human enterprise, out of all proportion to their numbers, and often in the face of tremendous suffering, often at the hands of Christians.  But, to speak with an unvarnished truth, the State of Israel strikes me as being stuck in a stage of arrested emotional development, with a kind of self regard that can only see itself as the center of the universe. The State of Israel does not represent the kind of wisdom, justice and compassion that I associate with the essence of Judaism. (Of course, our own country has had its stage of infantile narcissism—we look back in horror at the way our indigenous peoples were pushed out of the way, justified by the so-called Doctrine of Manifest Destiny—and motivated by commercial interests and sheer greed.   The parallels to present-day Israel are striking and deeply disturbing.)

There are many Jews in Israel and around the world who are horrified by what the State of Israel is doing in their name—I know some personally. But these Jewish advocates of justice and compassion rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, are actually being cut off at the knees by our own congress—a congress under the thrall of an enormously powerful lobby that demands complete submission to the right wing agenda of the State of Israel.  With the collusion of our congress, the State of Israel has become a rogue state, accountable to no one.  Again, I stress the distinction between the Jewish people in general and what is being done in their name by the State of Israel. And I need to mention the formation of a new Jewish lobby, called J Street, that seeks to restore authentic Jewish values to the political process.  The J Street lobby is opposed to the military occupation of Palestine and the building of settlements not only for humanitarian reasons, but also because these things are toxic and corrosive to the soul.

Jesus surely weeps over Washington, D.C as he does over Jerusalem. “Darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.” The behavior of the State of Israel at least can be seen to have roots in the horrific sufferings of the Jews: the abused (some of them) becoming abusers.  The enabling of Israel’s self-absorption by our own congress has its roots in sheer greed and the lust for power.

So we see some of the dynamics, some of the moral failings familiar to us from our personal lives being played out on a global scale—microcosm and macrocosm.  In our personal lives, seeing truth, speaking truth as best we can is essential to the dawn of light and life. Likewise, in public life, seeing truth, speaking truth as best we can, is prerequisite to the dawn of light and life.

And we know this light, this peace, this truth, this Word of Life by name.  We await his coming.  We long for his light and life in these hearts of ours.  We long for his light and life to illuminate the world around us.

Come, then, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Come with your Spirit of Truth. “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus: your people need you.

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  1. Gwendolyn Peters on January 15, 2016 at 10:33

    Thanks Brother Mark for your insight. It really makes me think about myself and where I am in Christ.

  2. Christina McKerrow on November 30, 2015 at 09:06

    Thank you Br. Mark for your thoughtful Words. You, and responders take your own country to task for past treatment of your indigenous people. But, unfortunately, all overwhelming powers are similarly guilty; we only have to look back in history. European countries who have been World Power have mistreated those over whom they ruled. My own background – the British – have a dark history in the countries they ‘developed’ (or subjugated.) Whats more, the English – look at the battles that took place between them and the Scots – culminating in Culloden. Not just the mowing down of the Scottish soldiers who were outnumbered, but following the battle the surrounding homes with mothers and children were slaughtered.
    As the Scottish poet wrote hundreds of years ago: Man’s inumanity to man, makes countless hundreds mourn/weep. R. Burns – words may not be quite right.

  3. Susan Dowds on January 13, 2014 at 08:57

    A global theology would recognize that the way God wishes the world to be does not include ghettoization and persecution of any people–Jews, Palestinians, Native Americans, South Africans, or any others. No version of apartheid is acceptable. Perhaps the light that is meant here is the inner light of vision, not the light of the sun.

  4. The Rev. Victoria L. Collins, Deacon on December 31, 2013 at 00:04

    I once asked a renowned New Testament scholar, who lived in the Mideast for some 40 years, why the Jewish State is so draconian in its treatment of the native Palestinians. His response: “It is a classic case of the abused becoming the abuser.” How wise . . . and how sad!

  5. Mark on December 30, 2013 at 13:28

    I acknowledge the depth of injustice in contemporary Palestine, and your courage in continuing to draw attention to this critical issue in our time. I also wish, however, to draw attention to the hegemony of Northern theology which sees the world solely from its point of view. Half the world has celebrated their longest and most light-filled day of the year while the North observes its darkest. The metaphor is strained, and colours much of our Northern-oriented Church’s theology. The parallels with the current attitude of the State of Israel seem apparent to me. We need a global theology, with a global understanding of the world.

  6. Sandra Porter on December 30, 2013 at 12:43

    Your views of the Palenstine is somewhat short sighted and not understanding of the reality which the state of Israel exists. Where was this attitude when pogroms against the Jews have occurred throughout history? Where is the compassion that was absent all those many times.
    It is always a disappointment to me when I hear terms of either “left wing” or “right wing”. Both are igniting terms which describe multifaceted groups and serve to

  7. Susan Dowds on December 30, 2013 at 08:37

    Thank you, Br. Mark, for mentioning the J Lobby, a sign of hope, and for your astute reference to America’s inexcusable treatment of its indigenous people, which continues to this day. Human beings seem to have a very hard time learning that the subjugation and isolation of an entire people, be they Jews, Palestinians, or Native Americans, places the souls of the perpetrators in great darkness. May the Light of Christ penetrate the darkness, and soon!

  8. Ruth West on March 27, 2013 at 23:59

    Thank you, Br. Mark, for your candid views of a locked-up situation.
    With a touristy trip to Israel, one cannot see below the surface to the
    unrest and utter pain of the two occupants of this region. I have a lovely
    Palestinian friend in MO who came here about twenty years ago. She is
    a Christian college professor. Her family has been driven from their homes
    and treated horribly. Its so wrong to generalize about the people. Not all
    Israelis are merciless; not all Palestinians are peace-loving. May God have
    mercy and restore peace to Jerusalem. When we were there in 1996, shots
    were being fired between the West Bank and Israel. It would be great if there could be two sovereign states with no conflict. Thanks for your insight.

  9. Martin Wheeler on March 19, 2013 at 03:53

    “in your light we see light” Psalm 36 is also translated “by your light we see the light” in the New Jerusalem Bible. This phrase reaffirms my sense of the gift of Spirit available whenever I read this and other meditations in the Lenten sequence and experience greater clarity and groundedness or feel challenged to think beyond my usual and well-worn conceptions of prayer or God’s action in the world. Thank you, Brothers, for your clarity and articulation. Spirit is palpable in your words.

  10. Eileen Pittenger on March 18, 2013 at 16:40

    Thank you brother Mark Brown for your helpful commentary. I feel a very real presence behind your words, yours and Jesus’. I’d like to say more but I want to pray now.

    Thank you again.

    Eileen Pittenger

  11. Melanie Zybala on March 18, 2013 at 16:21

    Thank you for being so forthright about situation in Palestine right now.
    Jewish friends of mine in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are very concerned about this
    situation, but the peace with justice movement is very weakened. The more
    American Christians know about this, the better.

  12. Polly Chatfield on March 18, 2013 at 09:45

    Oh, Mark, thank you for saying this out to the world. I, too, have been to Jerusalem, though only twice, and the daily suffering of the Palestinians sits like a lump in my heart. May your words be widely and more widely heard!

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