One of the great fascinations I had as a child, and still have as an adult, is light. Every year before Christmas, when I was growing up in Kenora, in NW Ontario, we would take an over-night trip to Winnipeg; we would invariably drive around the city and look at the lights. I loved the Christmas lights; I have always enjoyed watching the way light dances and moves—fire-light, sunlight, reflected light, moonlight, candle-light, shadows and light, starlight, northern lights are fascinating. In the summer these past few years, I’ve taken to waking up early and watching the sun rise—the way it plays first on Elephant Mountain and the 2 towers and then moves down into the valley. I loved the play of light in the Himalayas when I was there back in 2013, and in Palestine and Israel, too, especially over the Dead Sea.
One of the things I miss living here is the Northern Lights. We saw them frequently in Northern Ontario and they utterly fascinated me. Janet and I watched a program last month about a filmmaker who went out into the wilderness of Finland in winter to experience and film the northern lights. He spent a few nights in a tent and was pulled on a sled by a Reindeer. Because of poor weather, he didn’t experience the Northern Lights until near the end of his journey, and then there they were in all their dramatic intensity! A journey of light!
Far more than having a personal sense of God—that is, God experienced as a personal being—I experience God as light. I think for many cultures and traditions both within and without Christianity, God is experienced as light.
Is it any wonder, then, that light is announced right at the beginning of the Bible—in Genesis in the 1st chapter in the first few verses? “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, there was a formless void and darkness covered the deep… And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”
In our English language, light and the qualities of light, as well as the absence of light, are used frequently in a metaphoric way. When we seek clarity of purpose or vision, we talk about seeing something in the new light of day. In light, especially in the wee hours of morning, there is a renewed sense of hope. In the night everything appears confused and hazy—think dark night of the soul. There are too many shadows to distinguish shapes in the night. Rabbis teach that the Hebrew word for evening means the time when the shape of things appears confused and the word for morning means the time when we can distinguish various forms from each other. God chose to bring shape and clarity to the world, infusing the world with God’s own character, in creating light first.
In this moment in time, some argue that the world is experiencing a deep night in search of a new dawn. The events in Washington last Wednesday were frightening and deeply concerning and point to deep divisions in our world.
While I share the concerns about our political future and the deep political and ideological divisions that seem to exist in today’s world, I believe in the divine light that is in each human being and the God-light that exists to help us find clarity and a new dawn. As I’ve reflected over this past year, I realize that I often catalogued the world’s ills in my sermons. In this new year of 2021, I want to think about the many positive things that have happened in the world. For example, also last Wednesday, Georgia, in an unprecedented move, elected an African American pastor and a Jewish man as Democrat Senators. And the legislative process in Washington did eventually confirm Joe Biden as President.
Yes! Magazine identified stories that didn’t get a lot of press last year but are about this new dawn. Yes! Magazine published an article about how around the world, people were turning their yards into ecological oases; with more time, people gardened more and replaced grass with native plants to help the insects and local ecosystems thrive. Another article focused on how empathy thrived all over the world as people learned to recognize the eyes of others wearing masks, and to see the emotions in them—we’re getting better at recognizing other people while seeing their eyes, not their whole face. Another article focused on how the pandemic sparked a rebirth of local farm movements and a greater emphasis on local food security—more community gardens and collaboration between neighbours. Another article outlined how peaceful, sustained and ethical disruption of established systems can produce change; the article claimed that there is movement with respect to policy regarding climate justice and reducing Green House Gas emissions; and that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought pressure to bear on systemic racism and bigotry. Yes!Magazine published excerpts from an essay by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy; she wrote about how this pandemic can be a portal to imagine our world anew; she said;
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” 
There is light in our world—the light of new learning and new dawns, new directions.
Today, as we celebrate epiphany, the manifestation of God’s gift of love and light, let us look to our own lives to see the power of God to bring the light of a new dawn out of the night-times of our lives. Epiphany is God’s invitation to look into the heart of the universe to see God’s great compassion and to seek the light in others to work together in walking through the portal, as Arundhati Roy put it, leaving behind the dead-weight of the past. Epiphany is the simple gift and promise that God is at work bringing about a new day. And while many challenges still exist, the light of hope beckons us onward to a new future.
The festival of the birth of Jesus, which we have just celebrated, isn’t a one-time thing; as I said last week in my sermon, it is a birth that occurs over and over—in us and in the universe—a new beginning. It is an affirmation that life is sacred, to be cherished and that the light of love exists and burns brightly. We won’t let the light go out because with God there is always a new dawn.