Lent 3 – February 27th, 2005
Text: (Ephesians 5:8-14, NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
I. Introduction –
“Let there be light” – the first words spoken by our Lord, as recorded in the creation account of Genesis. And what an important creation light is. Where would we be without light? Very simply: in the dark.
Today’s readings carry a common thread – a focus on blindness versus sight, and light versus darkness.
In particular we look at the Epistle reading from Ephesians, to see how Paul uses this thing called light to show God’s goodness and mercy in Jesus Christ. We will see at least three ways in which the metaphor of light sheds light on our understanding of Jesus, the Light of the World.
II. What You Were, What You Are
First, Light is descriptive of you and me – us believers!
Sometimes scripture speaks of us being in the light, or seeing the light, or walking in the light. But here Paul says the believer IS light. And that before we were light we WERE darkness. It’s a strong metaphor. And it evokes that universal association of light with all that is good, and darkness with all that is evil.
Why are children (and some adults) afraid of the dark? Why do we speak ominously about “things that go bump in the night”? Something in us seems to associate the bad, the evil, with darkness. Even non-Christians “get” this.
But how clearly do we see that we are born AS darkness. Like the man born blind in our Gospel reading, only not physical but spiritual blindness. Are we blind, or do we see our own sinfulness. Are we spiritually blind, like the Pharisees, to how deep and sore our rebellion against God goes.
Paul says that we were not just once under darkness, or in some shadow. He doesn’t say we were kind of dim, or just not so bright. He doesn’t say we were illumination-challenged. We were darkness. Implying that our whole nature was corrupt, violent, evil, selfish, tainted, tarnished, broken, and devoid of any hint of goodness or light whatsoever. This is what sin looks like. And it is not pretty.
But that is a past tense statement. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord”. Not in ourselves, but in the Lord, everything changes. We go from dark to light, from bad to good, from wicked to holy, from having nothing to having everything, from poor to rich, from death to life, from hell to heaven, from sin to righteousness… and we could go on… But the point is the strong contrast between where we were on our own, and where God has brought us through Christ our Lord. It’s as different as night and day, darkness and light.
III. Light That Exposes, Light That Blinds
Paul talks about the deeds of darkness. Those shameful things that are done in secret, in the dark. Evil that is done in darkness, perhaps because the doer knows it is sinful, and doesn’t want to be exposed. Maybe that’s why it seems more evil is done in the dark of night – robberies, murders, prostitution, drugs. Maybe the cover of darkness gives some a sense that their deeds will be hidden (though it also seems people are becoming more bold about sinning in the light of day). But no amount of darkness can hide sin from the all-knowing righteous judges. He knows what we do in secret. He knows even our sinful thoughts. And He does not turn a blind eye to such things.
Paul says to expose such deeds of darkness, and to bring light to bear upon them. But does that mean we are to run around pointing out the secret sins of others? Well, sometimes a sin must be called a sin. But my sense here is now that Paul means exposing the sins of our own life. Just as Jesus would warn us about the log in our own eye before we inspect our neighbor’s for specks. So too, the idea here seems to be light shed on our own lives first – and that light is the light of God’s word.
It’s a light that exposes our sins – the light of His law. No more are they hidden, when we understand the true depth of what God expects from us according to his law – perfection – we have no wiggle room left. There is no dark corner into which we can retreat with our sins. They are exposed. We are exposed. And our need for forgiveness becomes crystal clear.
Of course, sometimes, that same light is so bright, it brings blindness. As a child, I was always warned not to look right at the sun, or directly into a bright light – that I could go blind. Of course, what does that make you want to try and do? So I did it… and temporarily, at least, you can’t see. Or in the middle of the night, if suddenly someone were to flip on the bedroom light – your eyes would squint as they try to adjust, maybe you wouldn’t see so well at first.
When the light of God’s law is shined on sinners, it is sometimes the same. Here, the Pharisees in our Gospel reading were blinded by the light of Christ. So full of themselves, so convinced of their self-righteousness, they were blind to the real sin. Their eyes were completely adjusted to the darkness. And when the light of the law was shined upon them, it only blinded them more.
IV. Light That Awakens From Death
But there is another function of light that cannot be forgotten. When light comes, particularly the light of dawn, that light awakens! The ancient Christian hymn that Paul quotes here says it well:
"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
The Christian, who was once darkness, has been made light, and a child of light, and a light to the world. We are reflective of the true Light of the World, Jesus Christ, Light of Light, our bright Morning Star, and Sun of Righteousness. He makes us part of His light by destroying sin, death, the devil – yes, all the forces of darkness.
He entered the darkest depths of the shadow of death, as He suffered on the cross for us. Even the Sun itself stopped shining, as the true light of Creation was being snuffed out. And what darkness of the soul, when God turned his back on His only Son – “My God, why have you forsaken me?”. And the thud of the stone which sealed his grave brought a darkness which many found hopeless, as his lifeless body was left there to decay.
BUT THEN THE LIGHT DAWNED! As Easter sunshine filled the sky, the Light of the World returned in full radiance! Ultimate darkness was chased away forever when Christ rose from the dead. The forces of darkness were dispersed – to be seen no more. Light and Life won the day!
And His rising is our rising. Because He conquered death, we need not fear it. Because He won the victory, we will not be defeated. And because He is the True Light, we are partakers of that light – a light which shines on our dark world, our darkened souls, and awakens us to a new life of holiness and righteousness forever. In Christ, a new day has dawned for the sinner under the shadow of death. When he shines on us, we awaken, and live!
He shines on us when the dawn of faith breaks in at Holy Baptism. He shines on us as we receive his body and blood for forgiveness. He shines on us as we read and hear and learn and pray on sing of His Holy Word of Scripture – and as we gather with other Christians to do so. Through Word and Sacrament he shines on us, sheds light on our souls, and continually chases away the darkness with His True Light.
And such light is everlasting. It does not fade away. So when we die, and darkness overtakes us, we yet dwell in light. And one day the darkness of even the grave will be swallowed up in the bright beams of the resurrection of all faithful Christians. Then, dwelling in His Holy City forever, we will need no light, nor lamp, nor sun – for Christ will be our light.
So today – Darkness and Light. The Darkness that we were (in sin), and the light that we are (in Christ). The Light that exposes, the Light that sometimes blinds. But for those of us who have seen, through the eyes of faith, the Light of Christ awakens us – even from death.
Paul uses the universal metaphors of light and darkness to shed light on faith in Christ. May we ever bask in the light shed by Jesus Christ, our Lord.