Arise, shine; for your light has come

By now many of us will have put up our Christmas lights. But the origin of this festivity which we link with Christmas is more complicated than it may first seem. The pagan festival of light on the 21st December welcomed the return of light at the winter solstice acknowledging that all beginnings emerge from darkness. Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time” or “Yule season”) is a festival historically observed by the Germanic people. Many present-day Christmas customs and traditions such as the Yule log, Yule goat and Yule singing stem from pagan Yule traditions. For Christians this all has new meaning, as the light we look to is that of Christ who overcomes darkness with new life.

Isaiah 60: 1-6 NRSV

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. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”

Reflection

In the Old Testament the great Prophet Isaiah sees the hope of Israel as a brilliant light that will reach the darkest corners of the earth and human experience. In the New Testament, the Gospelers recognise that Jesus is that promised light, which john describes as: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This light, which we celebrate in Advent in anticipation of the great feast of Christmas is first known inside a person, in the womb of Mary the mother of Jesus. Following the announcement of the angel Gabriel, God overshadows Mary, and she conceives within her womb the Emmanuel, which simply means, ‘God is with us.’ Mary is the first Christian, the first person to carry the light of Christ and share that light with everyone, the light that enlightens the nations. For the truth about the Incarnation, the God-event when the very light of the creator chooses to dwell among mortals, is that God does not stand aside but actually engages in what it is like to live, to know life, love, and all the emotions and experiences of being alive. The light comes among us. At the start of John’s Gospel (his prologue) he introduces another prophet – John the Baptist. The people ask, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (John 1:22,23)

John acts as a bridge between the Old and New Testament – he points beyond himself, like Mary ever Virgin, to where the light truly dwells. But what about us? Do we long to dwell in light? Do we look forward to longer days and new life? Are we people of the light, who point to God and Jesus in all we say and do? Do we seek to bring the light of love into every situation?

As we decorate our homes and community with lights, to change the darkness of December into the hope of new light and life, may we remember how God chose to come among us, to bring his light into the darkness, just as Isaiah reminds, the light has come – his glory appears! (Isaiah 60:1)


Lord, the light of Your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining

Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us, set us free by the truth You now bring us

Shine on me, shine on me.

Shine Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory

Blaze Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire

Flow river, flow, flood the Nations with grace and mercy

Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence, from the shadow into Your radiance

By the blood I may enter Your brightness, search me, try me, consume all my darkness

Shine on me, shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness, so our faces display Your likeness

Ever changing from glory to glory, mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story

Shine on me, shine on me.


Lord, you have shown us the way from darkness into the light. May all who struggle amidst the darkness of this present age, see the light which is your love among us. Grant us all the grace to see a way forward through the present challenges of our time, illumined by your love. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Is my son to be the one good Shepherd?

David Howard is Director of Music at St. Mary’s Church, Thorpe

Zechariah 10: 3-12

“My anger is hot against the shepherds and I will punish the leaders for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them and they shall be as though I have not rejected them; for I am the Lord for God and I will answer them. I will signal for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them and they shall be as many as of old. I will make them strong in the Lord and they shall glory in his name” says the Lord.


Reflection:

Often, the image of Jesus the good Shepherd is one of cosy sentimentality and we miss the true significance of the title; particularly living as we do in a society so very different from that out of which that title sprang.

In the Middle East today, shepherds and their flocks are still very much an integral part of society and the point of our Lord’s title can in that setting be forcibly brought home.

The Shepherd rises at dawn, sometimes having slept on comfortably out in the cold night air. He leads or drives his flat to the nearest water hole, and then to some scrubby pasture. In the blistering heat of the day he keeps the perpetual watch for predators. He rounds up and searches for the thirsty and lost stragglers in the evening. It is emphatically not a job for the weak, but one for the strong.

The image of the Shepherd is that of a strong ruler, who cares for his people and is concerned for their protection and safety even at risk to himself. It is no surprise therefore that in the old Testament God’s care for his people is expressed many times in terms of a shepherd’s care for his flock. “The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore shall I lack nothing” is the most familiar example of all. God cares for his people with the same care that the Shepherd has for his flock and with the same costly devotion.

And yet, with all the gifts we have from our planet Earth, we continue to squander them, make waste that changes the climate, affecting us now as well as all future generations.

Go outside and take a slow, ponderous, in-focus look at any part of nature. The result of evolution is truly wondrous.

In much the same way as the planets circle the Sun in our solar system, atomic particles circle the nucleus of atoms – the awesome building blocks of matter. The difference is simply a matter of scale. Consider where you fit in terms of scale in relation to God.

Verses from Psalm 80

Here are the Shepherd of Israel, so that lead is Joseph like a sheep.

Show thyself also thou that sittest upon the cherubim.

Before Ephraim Benjamin, and Manassas.

Stir up the strength and come and help us.


A Perspective from Mary:

Why I wonder does God continue to love his people? Certainly he has earmarked them and set them aside whilst giving choice to the whole of mankind. Since our descent from Adam and Eve, man continues to choose badly, to make the wrong choices, not through ignorance of the correct path but through the ignoring of the Divine Will.

If the shepherds lead gods people along the path of the wicked for their own corrupt ends, is judgement not likely to be swift and sure?

Is my son to be the one good Shepherd?

Final thoughts

Let us take steps always to make choices that are right. Let us ponder God’s creation; nature itself, considering the microscopic atomic level and its relationship to the macroscopic level of the solar system and what is beyond. Such steps start in our daily lives as we make everyday choices about how we live our lives and a focussed choice about our belief.

Amen