Electricity is a great convenience. If we need light we flip a switch and there it is. Our smartphones even have an app that turns the screen into a flashlight. In this case we tap a screen, and we have light. In this part of the world there is a lot of light, so much so that there’s even a term for too much light called “photopollution.”
All this to say that when we read about “light” and “darkness” in the Scriptures, we might need to use our imagination in pondering the depth of its meaning and significance.
“Light” is used as an important image because light is important in and of itself. It is necessary for life. It allows us to move about safely and to interact with each other. It allows us to see each other and beautiful things about us.
In historical terms it has only been very recent that we have the luxury of having light whenever and wherever we want it. In biblical times, the only sources of light were the sun, moon, stars and fire. If you were indoors with no windows, the only source would be fire; and this would limited due to the need for ventilation.
We might want to ponder, for a moment, being in a dark place where there is no light coming from the sky, no fire and no artificial light. Perhaps think of being in a cave or cavern. Complete darkness surrounds us. Then all of a sudden someone lights a match – immediately our eyes fix on the light as a candle is lit. It is an intense experience. We start to walk. As we walk, our eyes are fixed on the light. The light is being carried by someone, and needs to be carried by someone, but our focus is the light.
The passage from the Second Letter of St. Peter that serves as the second reading for Sunday’s liturgy uses the image of light in darkness to describe the “prophetic message” that has been handed down. The “prophetic message” refers to all that is Jesus Christ or related to him. The author urges the reader and us: “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
The person and message of Christ Jesus is being proclaimed. We need to focus on him as we would focus on a light in the darkness. More to the point, it is Jesus who will lead us through the darkness of night to the break of dawn.
We celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration at this weekend’s Masses. Jesus is “transfigured” before Peter and the sons of Zebedee on the mountaintop. St. Matthew describes the event in these terms: “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” The brilliance of Jesus even overtakes the light of day. Moses and Elijah appear representing the law and the prophets; in other words, all that prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, and all that represents their covenantal relationship with God.
When Peter makes the suggestion of building three tents, it seems like he is putting Moses and Elijah on an equal footing with Jesus. It is at this point that a cloud overhead moves in from which comes the voice of God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
These words of the Father give us direction on how to keep our focus on Jesus who is the light – we need to “listen to him.” The “listening” is not only hearing but being obedient to him. How do we listen to Jesus today? There are many ways, one of which is to make the most of the time we have set aside each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist.
As we gather together, we first “listen” to the Word of God in the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures. Jesus is proclaimed throughout, even in the Old Testament readings, for, “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (Dei Verbum 16, quoting St. Augustine, “Quest. In Hept.,” PL 34.623.)
We are invited to “see the light” when we ponder the Word and “listen” to the Lord speaking in and through those words. In fact it is not just the Liturgy of the Word where we “hear” the Word of God proclaimed, for all the texts of the liturgy are full of his Word with quotations or references from the Scriptures.
As we move into the Liturgy of Eucharist we continue to “listen.” Through the celebration of his passion, death and resurrection, and our communion with him, we enter further into the mystery whereby Jesus confronts the darkness in the passion, is overtaken by the darkness in his death only to shatter the darkness in his resurrection. As we receive his Body and Blood we are fed with the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35) and filled with the “Light of the World” (John 8:12).
The more we “listen” to Jesus by spending time with him and hearing him speak, the more we are led through the darkness into the light. In the quotation from the Second Letter of Peter mentioned above, the author speaks of the time when the “morning star rises in your hearts.” This “morning star” appears while it is still dark but just before dawn.
In other words the “morning star” is one that brings hope that the darkness is starting to dissipate and the brilliance of day will soon be here. Jesus is the light that leads us to this “morning star” and to dawn and day.