Having been a religious studies major in college, I learned that there are a few symbols that are universal in most religions. The duality of light and darkness is present in almost every belief system. Light universally represents that which is good, while darkness represents that which is bad or evil. The universality is most likely due to our life experience as humans. We are not nocturnal creatures and our sight is limited to that which is in the light.
Scripture is full of the images of light and darkness. The prophet Isaiah used these images when telling the people what it would be like when the Messiah comes: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) The Gospel of John begins by telling us that Jesus is the “light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 4b, 5) Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, is himself the light. In today’s text we hear him say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
There is an old story about the sun and a cave. One bright sunny day a cave and the sun struck up a friendly conversation, during which the sun said to the cave, “Why don’t you come outside and see my beautiful light.” The cave was certainly intrigued by the sun’s offer, for living underground as he did, he had never before seen light at all. So the cave ventured outside and was amazed! (I hope by this point you have discovered this is not a true story,) The cave cried out, “Your light is the most glorious thing I have ever seen! I never knew there were so many colors in the world.” Wanting to return the favor, the cave said to the sun, “Why don’t you come under the ground with me and see the darkness.” The sun was very intrigued by the cave’s offer, for living in his light he had never seen darkness. So the sun left the sky, ventured underground and was astonished. He said to the cave, “I don’t understand. Your darkness looks exactly like my light.” For the sun’s light had driven the darkness away.
It is a simple story, with a very obvious point. Even though the story is from a Chinese Buddhist tradition, there is a universal truth in it that is even more powerful for a Christian. As a Christian reading this story, it is clear that our light is Jesus the SON, who drives away the darkness from our lives. Being Christians, there is an additional level of light added. As we abide with Jesus, and he with us, his light shines through us into the world. In Matthew 5:14 Jesus uses almost the same words in our text today to speak of us: “You are the light of the world…” You may want to say, “I thought that being the light of the world was Jesus’ job.” Indeed it is his job, but he chooses to shine that light through you and me.
There is a story, usually reserved for All Saints Day, in which the pastor invites the children to come forward for the children’s sermon. It being All Saints Day, the minister asked the children, “Who are the saints?” A small girl in the group pointed toward the saints depicted in the stained glass windows and responded, “The saints are the people who let the light shine in.”
So, break out the Windex and clean your glass, trim your wicks or whatever metaphor you choose to apply to yourself. As the followers of Jesus, we are called to be the light of the world, so that the world may know Jesus. Sing along with me, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”