A Light in the Darkness

I have always enjoyed a good mystery – Elizabeth George’s Inspector Linley, Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes have given me many hours of reading pleasure.

Of course, not all mysteries involve British detectives solving complicated murders. The Bible has even deeper mysteries that cause me to pause and ask, “What’s that all about?”

One such mystery is found in the familiar Epiphany reading from Isaiah 60, which begins:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Here the mystery is that there was light where there should have been none.

For ancient Israel around 580 BCE, life was defined by the darkness of Exile. During their Middle East war, Babylon had not only won, but the enemy had so thoroughly defeated them that they had lost all semblance of being a nation. Leaders had been killed or were in prison, the Temple had been destroyed and many had been taken into Exile to Babylon where they would serve new masters.

It was assumed that whatever light shone in the darkness of Babylon, it was not for these defeated Israelites. Glory belonged to the Empire and its dominant culture.

Except for light that came from an unexpected source – little more than a poem, really. A prophet, in Exile like everyone else, spoke an oracle into dark:

Arise, shine; for your light has come. Are you kidding, where? would have been my response!

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Yeah, right!
 
They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim  the praise of the LORD. Now you’re going waaay too far!

But this little poem, this oracle, this little light, continued to shine, and soon there was the kindling of hope. A few among this defeated people began to act as if some day they could go home. They began to collect and save the scrolls of Torah, record the oracles of prophets and sing the songs of poets and psalmists.

They even prayed the ancient prayers, even though the Babylonians would have been quick to remind them that their God was a defeated, beaten God.

Hope is always a mystery, and once kindled can burn brighter and brighter, but only on one condition – if its centre is real. Was Israel’s? Look again:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you.

The source of this light is not the brilliance of their leaders, nor the eloquence of their prophet, nor the persistence of their people – this light came from God!

Here was a light no darkness could overcome! Now the mystery is revealed!

When God kindles a light, it SHINES!

As we begin 2014 may we find our hope in this light that shines in the darkness, the light darkness can never extinguish.

– Rev. John E. Boyd

Posted in General Forum