CELEBRATING THE LIGHT

(November 27, 2022) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, reflects on God’s light…

Ministering in England years ago, I was teaching about Jewish faith and practice. To help give my church members a better understanding, I asked a nearby rabbi if he would kindly give us a tour of his synagogue and explain various things done during their worship services.

Very pleased to do so, when we arrived on a suitable date, he was most welcoming, telling us to ask as many questions as we wished. We had a great time!

Later, a week or two before Christmas, he called saying that they were celebrating the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah and invited my church along. I readily accepted. The Jewish congregation sang some Hanukkah songs, and then the rabbi invited us to sing some Christmas carols which we did – with much enthusiasm! 

A wonderful meal followed that contained many delicacies that are traditionally eaten at Hanukkah.  It was a memorable experience.

Hanukkah 
This is celebrated about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles, and lasts for eight days. Another name is the ‘Festival of Lights’ and this year will be between December 18 and 26.

Although not mentioned in the Old Testament, a reference is in John 10:22, where it is called the ‘Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.’

What is its background?  In 167 BC, Greek king Antiochus ruled over the region of Israel and outlawed Judaism worship. He erected an altar in the temple on which pigs were sacrificed to the pagan god Zeus, which Jews were ordered to worship. Traditional worship practices banned, and scriptures burned, Jews who objected and did not comply with the mandates were punished. As many as 80,000 were killed and thousands more were sold into slavery!

Eventually a group, led by Judas Maccabaeus, organised themselves into a guerrilla group that attacked their oppressors.  After three years, they reclaimed Jerusalem and cleansed the temple of all the vile pagan additions.

When Maccabaeus wanted to illuminate  the temple with the large menorah, he found all the oil had been contaminated apart from one small jar with just enough to keep the menorah burning for only one day. Miraculously that oil illuminated the temple for eight days until new consecrated oil was found! That is why Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights.

Its theme dovetails perfectly into the Christian festival of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus who described Himself as ‘the light of the world.’  It is significant, I believe, that John particularly referred to Jesus’ presence in the temple when the Festival of Lights was celebrated.

The theme of light is predominant in scripture so let’s consider some of the things it signifies. Light…

1. Exemplifies God’s presence
Light is first mentioned in Genesis 1:3-4, ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.’ 

Referred to frequently throughout scripture, as it was mentioned in the Bible’s first chapter, light is also mentioned in its last. ‘There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light…’ (Revelation 22:5).

God gave Moses instructions about furnishing the wilderness tabernacle, and spoke about a massive 7-branched menorah to be displayed prominently so as to ‘…light the space in front of it’ (Exodus 25:37). The tabernacle’s menorah, and later the temple’s, not only provided illumination, but a powerful symbol of the light of God’s presence in the darkness.

The menorah’s lighting at the first Hanukkah symbolised that God was present among His people. The message is that light will always triumph over darkness as affirmed in John 1:5, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Here is a word of hope – regardless of the intensity of darkness God’s presence cannot be erased.

This is a lesson we need to hold on to in these days when the darkness of lies and perversion deepens and God is derided and His values dismissed!

2. Causes life to exist
Apart from light there is no life. The first thing that God addressed was the darkness because life cannot exist without light. He said, ‘Let there be light and there was light’ (Genesis 1:3). And because of that light a world full of potential came into being. 

Apart from light, the earth would be a dead planet on which no living thing could ever exist.  Extinguish the light of the sun and all life on earth would come to an end. Life is dependent on light. The power we need to enable life to exist doesn’t come from within our planet earth but from the light of the sun. Every dog you pet, every bird that flies, every bee that makes honey, every blade of grass that grows – every single thing that has life on this planet is totally dependent on light.

Without light everything would die, every human would be extinguished and there is nothing we could do to prevent it. Without light there would be no life and emptiness would reign. Life is inseparable from light. Its precondition is light and is wholly dependent on light. And the source of all light is God. 

3. Expresses God’s character
1 John 1:5 says, ‘… God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.’In describing God as light, John was affirming God’s absolute purity and integrity.

There is no dark side to God, no deceit, cunning, or pretence. In James 1:17 God is described as ‘the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’

All that is good comes from God and His faithfulness and goodness never change! William Barclay wrote, ‘To say that God is light is to say that there is nothing secretive or furtive about Him. He wishes to be seen and to be known by men.’ 

The old hymn makes this affirmation:
‘Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, My Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.’

God is totally dependable and consistent. We can wholly trust Him, the only constant in an ever-changing world!

4. Expels darkness
See the source imageWhat an undeniable truth – darkness can never extinguish light but light will always expel darkness! Light the smallest birthday candle and take it into the darkest room and the darkness always retreats.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’  affirms John 1:5. This is both an observable fact and a spiritual truth.  Natural darkness retreats in the presence of light, and spiritual darkness ultimately yields to the light of God’s presence.

The phrase, ‘the light shines in the darkness’ in the Greek literally means that the light shines continually in the darkness.

5. Exposes evil
A story about a desert nomad tells he awakened during the night feeling hungry, lit a candle and started eating figs from his bag. On biting into the first fig, he saw it contained a worm and threw it away. A second fig also had a worm, which was thrown away too. Still hungry, he blew out the candle and eat the figs in the dark, not knowing if worms were in them or not! So he ate the figs, ignoring the worms!

That is what many people do today! They prefer to live in the dark and try to ignore evil that surrounds them impacting their lives.

We do not need to live in the dark for there is a light available to us! ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’ (Psalm 119:105). That simply means that God’s word provides a light in the dark as we walk on life’s road. Many things can trip us, make us stumble and cause great harm! A small stumble can have great consequences. And how true this is for us in these dark days in which we live.

This is a time when God-given values have been reversed, evil is promoted as good, Christians are publicly rebuked and penalised for their faith. Increasingly, in today’s culture Christians are being vilified and reprimanded when they affirm biblical ethical values and obvious truths that have always been core aspects of our faith. And increasingly corrupt sexual deviation is promoted and esteemed.

We should not be surprised at this! Jesus clearly stated in John 3:19, ‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.’ It was happening in His day and it is so evidently happening today!

So what do we do? Rather than ignore evil that is rampant in today’s darkness, Christians need to remember who we are, whom we represent, and stand firm in our convictions.  Jesus said to His followers, ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house’ (Matthew 5:14-15).

Paul reinforced this challenge when he wrote, ‘You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light!’ (Ephesians 5:8). That’s the challenge God gives us in these challenging days!

6. Exhibits Jesus’ personage
John 1:9 describes Jesus as ‘The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.’ In Jesus the character of God is personally and authentically revealed. Jesus is not in the same category as other religious leaders. He is unique and authentic, the true and incomparable light who reveals the profound love of God for humankind, the only real answer that can contend against and overcome the darkness in which we live.

Jesus said, ‘I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness’ (John 12:46).  Apart from Jesus we are in spiritual darkness, spiritually lost. And that’s precisely where Satan wants us.

At Christmastime we have historically celebrated Jesus coming into a dark world. And, just as many rejected Him then, many still reject Him today. Have you noticed that in many Christmas cards the ‘Happy Christmas’ greeting has been replaced by ‘Happy Holiday’? It seems as if Jesus, whose birth and mission we celebrate at Christmas, is deliberately being excluded from His own birthday celebrations!

As Christmas approaches this year let us not ignore the fact that Jesus is the true light of Christmas, and He is offering everyone His precious gift which is nothing less than the light of life which includes forgiveness of sins, a relationship with God, and eternal life!

Christmas is a reminder that whatever happens in the world and however deep the encroaching darkness appears to be, Jesus’ light still shines and nothing can ever put it out! The wonderful news of Christmas is not that when Jesus was born a flickering flame of truth entered a stable but that an inextinguishable blaze of truth and love entered the world. His light still shines today and can never be extinguished.

Challenge
Do you have a relationship with Jesus, the true light of the world?
  Many go through life without truly knowing Him – including many churchgoers!

I urge you to reflect on your life, asking yourself if you have responded to God’s appeal to you and stepped into the light of His love and forgiveness.

______________________________________________

Dr Jim McClure has authored several books and Bible studies. Offered free in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is highly recommended.

Questions seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives are welcomed. Link: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
 _____________________________________________

One comment

  1. An ‘enlightening’ article, Jim. Thanks also for sharing that lovely story about meeting with your Jewish neighbours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s