All Saints, Birmingham, AL
It hasn’t started getting light any earlier in the morning yet, even though we’re more than two weeks past the winter solstice. The days are getting very slightly longer, but the added seconds are coming at the end of the day, rather than at the beginning. Right before Christmas, I was way up in northern Washington, at 49 degrees N, and the sun didn’t come up until 8 am. Before that hour, away from the city, where there aren’t any street lights, it’s DARK. If you want to go out for a run early in the morning, then you have to have a whole lot of trust to avoid the potholes and stay on the road. It’s a stark reminder of how much we need and depend on light.
At the deepest level, we need light to live – without the sun we’d have no food, and fairly soon, we wouldn’t be here. We need all kinds of light for living – for visibility, heat, as the engine of weather, for crops, security, to bring hope, meaning, and solidarity with all that is – even the light that laughter brings in the face of oppression or grief. Scientists continue to discover the remarkable production and presence of light even in the darkest parts of the deepest seas. Lots of communication down there is mediated by light – like jellyfish that make light-fueled alarm signals to scare off predators or even attract bigger predators to eat the ones threatening them.
Light is the first act of creation – God’s voice spreads over the waters calling for light, and God pronounces it good, as light is distinguished from darkness. The great imagery of baptism is ultimately about light, and the goodness that comes from turning toward the light of God, and away from darkness. Jesus’ baptism is another act of creation. Out of the waters of the Jordan comes the light of the world, and Jesus hears the voice of God pronouncing him good and beloved at his baptism. Something similar happens as Paul baptizes the disciples in Ephesus – they are visited by the spirit, and then they speak the word of God as a result of their re-creation. There’s an intimate connection between light and speaking, light and spirit and voices, in the light of the world become Word incarnate, dwelling among us, bringing great tidings of comfort and joy, good news and hope.
This season of Epiphany is above all about light – the light of Christ, spread abroad over deep darkness, meant for all peoples, bringing light into the dark of human isolation, and a challenge to let our own light shine. Jesus’ birth brings a star in the heavens and a sign of the way he will eventually light the road for people of all nations. But his baptism starts up the traveling light show. This isn’t just stationary streetlamp work, for Jesus becomes light that spreads out over the world’s chaos and begins to transform the darkness.
Paul and others continue his contagious light-bearing work, spreading from person to person across the known world. That light continues to spread down through the ages, now moving among us. As Jesus is baptized, the heavenly voice says, “here is my beloved, my good creation, in you I am well pleased.” The same thing happens today as we baptize this small child. We’re going to pronounce this child beloved of God, and we’re going to promise to accompany him when he walks in darkness or the valley of the shadow of death. We’re going to promise to be light when the sun is far below the horizon, to keep him on the road and out of the potholes. And we’re going to live in hope that as he grows, he, too will become the light of Christ, spreading abroad in this world.
A year ago, The Episcopal Church marked the beginning of a full communion relationship with the Moravian Church. Both the Moravians and Episcopalians were able to say that we expected to learn from one other and receive gifts from the other, even if we didn’t know exactly what those would be. I’ve come to know a few of the leaders and bishops of that body, learned something of their history of persecution in Europe, and seen their continuing ability to spread light in the midst of great darkness. The President of the Northern Province shared a tradition with a small group of other church leaders just a week or so before Christmas. She brought small beeswax candles, wrapped in beautiful red paper frills, and told us of the great Christmas Eve lovefeast tradition. Each person in the congregation receives one of these beautiful candles, and the light is passed from hand to hand with the reminder that you are the light of Christ. The whole church fills with light that will be carried out into the world.
We’re doing much the same this morning. We’re going to say to James, you are beautifully made and greatly beloved, you are God’s good and blessed creation. God has set you alight with Christlight. Go out into the world and let that light shine in dark places, let it help you and others stay on the road and out of the potholes. Bring peace and hope as you travel. Walk in the light, and keep moving toward the home we all have in God’s beloved community of peace.
This child will learn from the examples and light bearers around him, starting with him parents and the people closest to them. The members of this congregation have a great opportunity to keep that light burning brightly and growing within him. He may come to be a light bearing example like Katie Campbell, a young woman from northern Washington state who graduated as a teacher a year ago. She decided she wanted to go even farther north, to Alaska, to teach in a native village. She’s ended up in Kivalina, where in December the sun doesn’t come up over the horizon at all, for two and a half weeks. She has brought light into that cold and dark place, and she has also discovered light among the Inupiaq students she teaches, and among their parents and the others in that community. The light in the whole community is stronger, and it’s spreading, even to Alabama.
This diocese has a long relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. Some people probably thought that the earthquake two years ago snuffed out a lot of light, but we’ve seen a great surge of new light, from the creativity and resourcefulness of Haitians, from the disaster relief workers, and from new partnerships created between Haitian communities and others. There’s a church in New Orleans that was pretty well destroyed in Katrina, but who two years ago decided that part of their own healing was going to be found in sharing in someone else’s reconstruction. They’re helping to rebuild the ministry of St. Vincent’s school for handicapped children in Haiti. It’s the only school for handicapped children in Haiti, and it was part of the diocesan ministry in Port-au-Prince. The students lost everything they had. St. Paul’s in New Orleans has helped to fund new wheelchairs for some of the students at St. Vincent’s. There’s a short video on PBS that shows a young child doing wheelies in his brand new chair. Joy abounds!
Who are the light bearers on your road, helping to keep you out of the potholes, or introducing new companions on the journey? Where are you finding the light of the world? How are you bearing light to those around you?