As the longest night of the year approaches, I began to think about light. I’m looking forward to the days starting to lengthen again. For the past several months, the world has felt pretty dark and scary because of political uncertainty and increasing daily death counts from the pandemic. The possibility of brighter days seems possible as a new president’s inauguration draws closer and vaccines are beginning to be distributed. It seems like a good time to reflect on how vital both light and darkness are in our lives.
Light was one of the first things God created in the Genesis story. The Message, in Genesis 1:1-3, describes what was before the light by saying, “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.” Then God said, “Light!” And, light came into being.
Imagine God looking at the light. Was the light just a glow? Did it have a shape? What color was the light before there was sky and clouds and atmosphere through which we see a broad spectrum of light colors? Was it the soft yellow light of sunset or bright like the sun at noonday? At this point in the story, we’re not told the source of the light. It’s hard to imagine light without a source.
Can you see God looking at the light, smiling, or even laughing with excitement? The light must have been breathtaking when everything had been nothingness and empty before that moment. Now there was light and dark with all the gradients in between. God names the time of darkness night, and the time of light was given the name day. It was great!
The Effect of Creating Light
This one act of God set into motion the light and the darkness that enables measuring time. Darkness lets our bodies know it’s time to produce melatonin so we can rest. The processes within the body that incorporates our short-term memory into long-term storage can occur. Our cells have the opportunity to repair and new cells to be formed.
Later in the Genesis story, the light seems to gain more definition and shape. Specific lights, stars, and suns were set into place; planets and moons were set into motion. Because of this, the seasons and tides came into being. The stage was set on earth for the growth and lifecycles of plants and creatures. Larger trees created cool spaces at midday for animals to rest and a shade loving plants to thrive. Wide-open spaces turned rocks into warm sunny spots for lizards and dried out the soil so cactus could grow. God had to be delighted at what had been set in motion – the opportunity for continuous creativity. Each living thing could flourish within their ecosystems because of the light.
What can we learn from the Genesis story of the creation and impact of light? How can it help us interpret what Jesus meant when he said, “You’re here to be light” (Matthew 5:14, The Message)? What kind of light should we be? Some moments in life call for shining a bright noonday sun to bring an injustice or harm into the open. A light slowly increasing in brightness like the dawn could encourage awakening to new ways to live life. The soft glow of the light at sunset might be appropriate for times of reconciliation or to help alleviate suffering. The moon and stars’ steadfast light encourages us to be with each other as we inevitably endure times of pain. Recognizing the light within ourselves and knowing how to reflect that light in ways that help others is a creative process.
The second part of Matthew 5:14 refers to “bringing out the God-colors in the world.” Jesus adds, “God is not a secret to be kept.” In addition to the creative work of sharing light, we can play a role in noticing and pointing out all the ways God is working in the world.
- Noticing the daffodils poking their heads out in early spring
- Seeing the gleeful face of a child playing with their wriggling puppy
- The peace and stillness of a foggy morning
- A harried mother pushing a cart of groceries
- A man experiencing homelessness sitting at the bus stop shoulders hunched to the wind and rain
The light that is God is within each of us. Together, our unique expressions of light can be used to illuminate and spread compassion, mercy, and justice in the world in the same way that light from each candle we light on Christmas Eve brightens the church.