When I was growing up there was a street lamp just outside my bedroom. During the long Michigan winters the birch tree outside would be leafless for months. The barren limbs of the tree were in-between the street lamp and my room. During the cold winter evenings those limbs would make weird shadows on my wall. I am sure many of you remember nights like those as a child. You aren’t tired and your parents send you to bed. As you lay awake in your bed your eyes start to adjust to the darkness. The tiniest bits of light bring the room to life, sometimes too much life. Shadows start to dance and you don’t realize it is only the wind blowing the trees. Noises are heard and you can’t figure out where they are coming from. There you are in the darkness and terror starts to sneak in. Fear starts to capture you and your heart starts to beat very hard. You do the only thing you know how to do. You do the one thing you know will make it all better. You yell at the top of your lungs, MOM!!!!!!
Relief from this fear and terror comes, not when she walks into your room. Relief and peace comes when that light frames your door. That light that tells you the hall light is on and she is coming down the hallway or up the stairs. That light, that glowing splinter around your door, eradicates the darkness and sets all your fears, terror, and those dancing trees at ease. Everything is okay and your Mom hasn’t even gotten to your room just yet.
Light is a powerful thing. Light is a form of energy that makes it possible to see things. It is found in the sun, the reflection of the sun off the moon, from a candle, a match, a flash light, or now recently, the glow of a cell phone. To know the power of light we can simply look in the sky at night. Stars are other sun but light years away from us. All we know about stars is what we learn by looking at the light they produce. A light year is the distance it takes light in a vacuum to travel in a year. A light year is 5.8 trillion miles, TRILLION with a T. Light travels from these stars to us on earth and that is why we can see them. After our sun, the closest star is Proxima Centarui which is 4.24 light years away from our sun. Although we cannot see it with the naked eye because it doesn’t shine bright enough, the light from that star takes 4.24 light years to get to us. Think of it this way. If you turned on a flashlight really quick that light then travels 24.5 trillion miles until our telescopes can see it. And that is the closest star to us.
Sirius is actually the brightest star in the sky and it is 25 times brighter than our own sun. This star is so bright that it can be seen in the day at times. It is 8.611 light years away or almost 50 trillion miles away. The fact that it has to travel that far and can be seen in the day time, is pretty remarkable. That light travels through the darkness of space and is so bright that it can be seen before it is dark on our planet. WOW. It kind of makes you feel small and in awe all at the same time.
This sermon series is all about light because Epiphany is about light as well. Today we mark the start of Epiphany, really the day of Epiphany is tomorrow, January 6th. Epiphany is the day we mark the Magi coming to see the new King of Israel, Jesus Christ. What does the Magi follow, a star. The light of a star leads them to the baby that is born. Light is what brings the foreigner, the outsider, representatives of the rest of the world to the God child that is born. It is the light of a star that tells us that we are all welcome as God’s children to worship and see that God has put on flesh.
God uses light to bring us to faith all the time. The burning bush caught Moses’ attention. The pillar of fire led the Israelites out of Egypt during the night. The Psalms burst with light as a reference to God leading people. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” As we go on with this sermon series I will be talking about what light tells us about God and what that means for us as we follow God. Light is mentioned over 230 times in the Bible and is one of the most common metaphors when talking about God and especially Jesus (which we will get into next week).
Today we start in the beginning. We start in the ancient story of how God created the world. Genesis 1 reads, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.”
In the beginning wasn’t light, it was only darkness. Did you know you cannot measure darkness? Darkness isn’t a form of measurement, it is only the absent of light. The darker something is doesn’t mean there is more darkness, there is only less light. In the beginning there was an absent of light but God did not see that as a good thing and so the first words out of God, the creator’s mouth, is “Let there be light,” and there was.
Go back to that childhood bedroom. In the darkness there you cannot create light yourself. Although there is light in the room for the street light or the moon, the light you crave you cannot create. The fear of the darkness consumes you and the only person who can create the light is no there. If it was up to us humans we could not create the light we need. That only comes from God, the creator of the universe. The light that makes everything better in our childhood bedrooms comes from our creator, our mother or father. In the beginning the Father know that we could not live in darkness and so the first thing he created was light.
He created the sun to provide our world light, warmth and tells us when the day is done and the night is to begin. God created light because without what is there? What does the Bible tell us was in the darkness? It says the earth was without shape and without form. Another translation says it was “a shapeless, chaotic mass.” Another says it was empty. Whichever English translation you read you can get a sense that things did not make a bunch of sense in the beginning. There was no order or organization. There was only a mass that was shapeless, empty, chaotic, and without form. God saw this chaos and created order. God created something that made sense that gave us meaning and purpose. Day and night define who we are. It is how we count time, our lives, and make sense of the world.
There are places on earth that defined days and nights only exist some of the time. In Alaska, the days are extremely long in the summer because of the way our earth tilts. The sun can be up for 18-21 hours which means that during the winter the sun is only up for about 3-6 hours. I looked up what it would be like to live in that type of conditions and it took me to Alaska.net. This website answered questions people have about whether or not they would be willing to move there. Here is an actual quote from the website; “The most important thing to be prepared for, however, is not the cold or the snow, but rather the darkness. Mid-November to the end of January can be difficult weeks because of the lack of daylight, and many Alaskans take a one- or two-week vacation warm-weather vacation during this time. If you can do that, too, the lack of light probably won’t get to you.” So if you have the money to get away for a couple of weeks during the winter, DO IT, because if not the lack of sun can get to you.
When Alycia and I moved to England we didn’t realize the same thing is true about that area too. Now they aren’t AS high as Alaska but they are almost. I remember trying to sleep off the jet lag when we first arrived in August only to find it starting to get light out at 5am. Then during the winter it was hard to get going when the it doesn’t get light until after 8:30am and dark at 4pm. The winter became very long with only 7.5 hours of sunlight and we missed the usual 10 hours of light we have here in NC during the winter.
Without defined day and night, things get confusing, disorienting, and just like what is described in that first chapter of Genesis, shapeless, empty, chaotic. We can find comfort in knowing that God did not want us to be created in a world that is those things. God wanted to create order out of chaos, structure out of anarchy. God did not want us to be in darkness so he commanded, “Let there be light,” and light came into being. God saw the light and said it was good.
I am not sure about you but when you arrived in church it felt awkward didn’t it. Things didn’t feel quite right. There were no lights on and the sanctuary was darker than usual. How many walked in feeling confused? How many thought there was a problem? How many of you couldn’t stand it and wanted to turn on the lights yourself? Darkness does that to us. It confuses us and things feel out of order. Something is out of place. That was the same feeling that God had as the Spirit of God swept over the waters.
Here is the good news. We worship a God that is big enough to create something out of nothing. Where there was nothing but a dark void, God created light. God is the only one that can do that. Science can explain a lot but they cannot explain were something came from. Sure, God may have created the universe in a big bang and science can tell us a lot about how that happened, but they can’t tell us where that something that went bang came from. Out of nothing God called out; out of the darkness God commanded, “Let there be light!” and there was.
We worship a God who is all powerful and the source of our live. Light is the source of our life. Light is needed for the majority of the living things on earth to be in existence. God knew that and created light. God knew that in the darkness we humans feel empty and scared. We are afraid because we feel vulnerable and weak. God did not want to create us in that type of world and so he said, “Let there be light.” God wanted everyone to come and see his Son. He invited shepherds and animals. He invited angels and Mary and Joseph. Though a light in the sky he invited the Magi to travel to see what the light illuminated.
Today we give thanks that we can worship in the midst of this light and in the midst of this awesome God we worship, the creator of the universe. And all God’s people said…Amen.