The person who wrote these words lived in dark times. All around him were disease, poverty, and oppression violently enforced by a wealthy commercial and political class. But he sensed that hope was breaking through, not necessarily in that all these miseries could soon be removed, but that a deeper freedom and peace had become accessible for individuals and communities. And he believed that Jesus, also called Emmanuel – “God with us” – was the key to this.
As he was writing these words two thousand years ago, communities inspired by this light were beginning to spring up around the Roman Empire. They were communities that were centred on welcome, love, forgiveness and which resisted the prevailing culture of power, greed and cruelty. And they were energised by the spirit of the God “with us”
Never before in the history of the world had communities formed that welcomed men and women, slaves and business people, different races, and young and old. We are even told they shared their possessions in a common life together. And in doing so, they provided places where people could find hope, healing, and find a new direction in life.
The humble power of such communities has been a constant challenge to regimes, politicians (of the left or right) and the rich and powerful ever since – and not least in our time. But they have also regrettably often degenerated into formal religion, to be co-opted by the very powers they originally challenged.
If you’re interested in knowing more about this light, you might like to start by reading the words quoted at the beginning of this post in their context – in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. (This link takes you to the Bible Gateway website, where the whole Bible is freely available to read in many translations and versions).
The great thing about this message is that you can try it at home – even if you’re isolating in the pandemic. Because the message is both individual and corporate. It starts with me and you, and grows in fulfilment through conversation, care, and action together. Many people are finding that this works, even through online interactions. God is with us, even on Zoom or Skype!
If you read more about the life and teaching of Jesus, you will find, perhaps surprisingly, that he didn’t give a whole list of instructions in order to create a new religion. He actually spent a lot of his time asking questions and telling little stories that got people puzzled (or angry, especially the religious ones). His purpose was surely to make us think, to get us on a journey to recognise his truth for ourselves – individually and with friends. And always with the promise of his cosmic grace, and Earthly presence. Even in dark times.
“Christ, light of the world, whoever follows you has the light of life.”