Sunday’s sermon: Of Water and Light … and Faith

  • One of my favorite things to do is watch water and light play together. Think about it for a minute. Isn’t it just beautiful when they come together? It’s almost as if water becomes alive when there’s light playing off of it. It can be truly breathtaking. Picture …
    • Light dancing and sparkling on surface of a lake – captivating, always shifting and changing, jumping from place to place
    • Shafts of light streaming down through water – transparent and delicate and frozen in time
    • Rainbow – drops of water interacting with light to create something vivid and striking yet fleeting
    • Today, we find ourselves at a captivating intersection in the life of the church.
      • You see, January 6, this past Monday, was Epiphany – the day dedicated to honoring the magi being drawn to the manger of the Christ-child –> event marked by the light
      • Today, we remember the baptism of Jesus –> event marked by water
      • So we’re going to immerse ourselves in light and water today. We’re going to let this light and these waters remind us of how beautiful and powerful our faith can be. And we’re going to explore the link between the illumination and the call to action – the way in which the light of the gospel is magnified by the waters of baptism.
  • So let’s start by taking a look at the light.
    • Light = viewed as sign of divine action for thousands of years
      • Biblical historians: Light is the most general and most adequate manifestation of divine operation in a world which, apart from it, is darkness and chaos. … Light is therefore the essence of all the gifts through which God has blessed creation.[1]
        • Not difficult to understand this ancient association between light and divine
          • Without light, where would we be? Stumbling blindly through the darkness, unsure of our path, unsure of the obstacles in our way or how to overcome them, unsure of our place in the world.
          • Without God, where would we be? Stumbling blindly through the chaos of our lives, unsure of our path, unsure of the obstacles in our way or how to overcome them, unsure of our place in the world.
    • It’s also no secret that light has tickled the imagination of countless artists, poets, scientists, and authors throughout the centuries.
      • My science-teacher husband: 4 different scientific theories attempting to explain light alone
        • What it is, how it travels, etc.
        • All correct in their own way but none can explain it all
      • Literary e.g. of meaning wrapped up in light/darkness – C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce: In this theological novel, Lewis uses light and varying degrees of darkness to differentiate between heaven and hell.
        • Synopsis: The [unnamed central character], in a dream, boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings … and comes to significant realizations about the ultimate consequences of everyday behavior. This is the starting point for the ultimate meditation upon good and evil.[2]
        • More pointed description of the significance of light and darkness: The ‘grey town’ (Hell) is pervaded by a misty twilight that will someday turn to utter darkness. Heaven, on the other hand, [what Lewis calls the High Country], is filled with light, light that apparently increases as its inhabitants go further up and further in.[3] –> So basically, in Lewis’ imagination at least, the closer you are to God, the lighter and brighter your existence is.
    • Hear this sentiment in Isaiah passage for this morning – speaks of God’s light for the people
      • Announces the coming of the light: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.[4]
        • Isaiah is talking about anticipated Messiah –> The light of the star that led the magi to the Christ-child was simply a prelude to the light that Christ would be for the world – a light that would continue to draw people to faith.
          • Scholar: The light is now permanently present in Jesus Christ and in the gospel, through which the operation of [God’s] light is continued.[5]
    • But we have a problem. As we well know, Christ didn’t remain on earth forever. He was only here for a short time before he was crucified, resurrected, and taken back up into heaven to rejoin God. So how can the light continue?
  • This is where the water comes in. Our gospel story for today shows us how to be party to this light: through the waters of baptism.
    • Water also been a powerful symbol of faith throughout centuries
      • Biblical historians: Water could be a symbol of [God’s] salvation.[6]
        • E.g. – earlier in Isaiah: With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation.[7]
    • And in the baptism of Jesus Christ, we witness the Light enlivening the water in a whole new way – text: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”[8]
      • Worship resource applies concept to us: By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.[9] –> In our own baptism, we are adopted into the body of Christ – this family of God – and through these waters, the Light of Christ is given to us.
        • This giving of the light can actually be a part of the baptism service. We did it with the boys.
          • Christ candle = lit at beginning of service –> smaller candle (or two!) unlit –> light smaller candles from Christ candle –> pass candle to person being baptized or to parents/sponsors/etc.
          • Pastor: Receive the light of Christ; you have passed from darkness to light.
          • Congregation: You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light.
      • Scholar: The New Testament emphasizes that the believers, or the whole people of God, are ‘[children] of light.’ They have been so cleansed and transformed by the power of the heavenly light that they are the ‘light of the world.’[10]
      • In Lewis’ The Great Divorce, everything about heaven is suffused with light – the grass, the water, even the people. And through the waters of baptism, our own lives become like Lewis’ High Country – suffused with a holy light that has the power to banish the darkness and the shadows by the warmth and radiance of God’s love.
  • And it is our responsibility and our joy to share that light – to respond to God’s powerful illumination with action.
    • See significance of our participation in this Light in gospel of John: Again Jesus spoke to [the crowd] saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”[11]  –> The Light of Life is there for us, but we have to make that move to follow. The illumination from this wondrous light must inspire action in us.
    • Isaiah also alludes to the link between the illumination and the call to action. Directly following the coming of the light, the people of God react. – text: Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. … They all gather together, they come to you … They shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.[12]
      • Scholar speaks to this relationship: As a result of the reciprocal relationship between the light and [people], the recipient of the light becomes a light. [The recipient] shines both outwardly and inwardly, having been made wise by God’s light.[13]
        • Familiar tune: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine![14]
    • Is text also indicates the affect our response has on Giver of the Light – Is speaking to God: Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.[15]
      • Heb “rejoice” = open your heart, make your heart wide
      • So God reacts with open-hearted joy both when we ourselves are welcomed into the family of believers and when, by sharing the gospel message, we help others to find their way into this same family of love and forgiveness and light.
  • Imagine watching the sun rise over a lake. You’re sitting on the end of the dock. The grey water in front of you is rippling softly.
    • Sky to the east begins to lighten
    • First few dazzling sun rays begin to seep over horizon
    • Soft golds and pinks, oranges and purples begin to spread across water
    • Lake seems to be on fire – presence of the light brings water to life!
      • Notice: light doesn’t hit water all at the same time – spreads from one end to the other
      • Through the waters of baptism, Christ brings a light even more dazzling and even more captivating than this into our lives – the light of forgiveness and love and belonging. And it’s our job to continue to spread that light. On this unique day in the life of the church – this day in which we can remember both the coming of the Light and the sacred beauty of baptism – let us follow that light out into the world – seeking God’s face, sharing God’s grace, and spreading God’s light with all our hearts. Amen.


[1] “Light” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962), 130.

[2] Description from back cover of book. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2001).

[3] “Factotum: Spotlights of a mom with her hand in many pots” blog, http://factotum01.blogspot.com/. Post written 15 Jan. 2007, post accessed 4 Jan. 2012.

[4] Is 60:1-2.

[5] “Light,” 132.

[6] “Water” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962), 807.

[7] Is 12:3.

[8] Mk 1:10-11.

[9] “The Sacrament of Baptism” in The Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 405.

[10] “Light,” 131, 132.

[11] Jn 8:12 (emphasis added).

[12] Is 60:3, 4b, 6.

[13] “Light,” 132.

[14] Harry Dixon Loes, “This Little Light of Mine,” circa 1920.

[15] Is 60:5.

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