The Lord, of late, seems to have been showing me a new theme in the New Testament: the light of Christ. I don’t mean that I’ve never seen it or heard of it before; it has simply risen as a prominent reoccurring theme for me in a new way. Granted, I’m a very thematically-focused person, and I have a good memory, but “the light of Christ” is not one I’ve ever dwelt upon until now.
A friend of mine named Jill once led a small group devotional from 1 John 1, and her main question for us was what it means to “walk in the light.” How do we actually do this? Somewhere I have a few notes from Jill’s study, not sure where, but what I’ve been realizing lately about this walking in light theme is very much connected to different aspects of the Gospel story. Please bear with me as I use the Church liturgical calendar as a framework for explaining this, as that is how God has been teaching me about walking in the light of Christ.
In Advent, the double focus of the season is preparation for the celebration of the first arrival of Christ (his birth) and preparation for his second arrival at the end of the age. In the first sense, we’re preparing for the coming of the light of Christ. But at the same time, we’re celebrating the light that has already come into the world and equips us to prepare for the end of the age. Consider this prayer from the first Sunday in Advent:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
In Christmas, we celebrate that the light has come into the world, and that the darkness has not comprehended it. That light is first and foremost, Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem to Mary the Virgin. Secondly, we receive that light when we receive him. Two of the Christmas prayers that I shared back in December touch upon this theme of receiving the light of Christ, you can revisit them here.
In Epiphany, that light of Christ goes out to all the nations. The major theme of this season is the epiphany or manifestation or showing-forth of Jesus as God. In other words, the light has not only come into the world, but has been made known to all the world! As a result there’s a particular emphasis on the mission of the Church to bring that light to all nations. One of the classic scripture passages that speak to this theme is Isaiah 60:1-22. One of the ways this gets expressed in Anglican worship is this prayer for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.
Even in Lent, the great penitential season, the light of Christ continues to be an important theme. One of the great biblical truths is that nothing is hidden from God, even the secrets of our hearts. As such, when sin takes hold of us, we do well to open ourselves to God, confess our wrongdoings and evil thoughts, and hand them over to Christ to deal with on the cross. This is another key part of walking in the light of Christ – we’re not hiding anything from God, not even our sins. We bring it all out into the light where God can take it away, rather than try to hide them in the darkness of our hearts. There’s an Ash Wednesday prayer that expresses this truth quite beautifully:
Father in Heaven, the light of your truth bestows sight to the darkness of sinful eyes. May this season of repentance bring us the blessing of Your forgiveness and the gift of Your light. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
In Easter, of course, the light of Christ returns as a powerful and prominent theme. The ancient and epic worship tradition of the Great Vigil of Easter has a lengthy section all about the light of Christ being rekindled. For, when Jesus was crucified and died, the light of the world was snuffed out like a candle. But on the third day, his Father re-lit that candle, and that is how we begin the Easter season – by kindling a fire, lighting a candle, and bringing it to the sanctuary where it begins to relight a darkened church building. A prayer in the course of this part of the liturgy says:
O God, though your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
That candle, known as the Christ Candle, then sits at the front of the sanctuary for the rest of the Easter season, symbolizing the resurrection life of Jesus, his forty days on earth before he ascended into heaven, his continued presence in our midst to this day, and so on.
Pentecost, then, is a necessary follow-up to the Easter themes of the light of Christ being resurrected and proved immortal. It’s one thing for Jesus to be that light to the world himself, but on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit began to powerfully indwell all God’s people. The following Pentecost prayer takes up that theme and applies it further:
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
The rest of the year, sometimes known as Ordinary Time, has no especially particular theme to it, other than the post-Pentecost and post-Trinity-Sunday idea of carrying on the mission of the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit and participating in the divine life of the Trinity.
So to summarize these thoughts on walking in the light of Christ…
- Advent reminds us that walking in light means living in active anticipation of Christ’s return.
- Christmas reminds us that walking in light means celebrating the presence of Christ already among us.
- Epiphany reminds us that walking in light means sharing the light of Christ with others.
- Lent reminds us that walking in light means we don’t hide or withhold anything from God.
- Easter reminds us that walking in light means we have complete confidence in Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
- Pentecost reminds us that walking in light means sharing Jesus’ victory, and, accordingly, living a Spirit-empowered life.