Wait, so what's this for?

'Light' envelopes the narrative of the Scriptures. First, light springs forth as the first created thing in Genesis 1:3 and then, like a flashing beacon helping us keep our bearings, it flashes some two hundred more times, before the final beacon flashes in Revelation 22 where God himself is now the light and He has obliterated all darkness.

This narrative of the theme of 'light' forms a grounding theology for how we are to understand what it is to be a missional person; what it is to be a person who lives outward.

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we?

The creation story that opens up the Bible is a story of God bringing order and purpose to what was previously just black chaos. He takes darkness, and creates it's antitheses: light. God goes on to create a perfect creation, a creation that is found perfect not because of an absence of darkness, but because of the complete presence of God's shalom. In this creation He places a tree called the "The tree of life", but we'll come back to that in a little while...

Now, read just a little further and we see it doesn't stay this way. Mankind disobeys God and brings upon itself the result of the disruption of God's shalom, the chaos and curse of death and darkness again making itself felt. But immediately God sets about making it right again.

Let's fast forward a little bit, to where God has chosen a group of people to be His "light" to the world, a motley-bunch called the Israelites who are stumbling and grumbling their way through the desert at the time. God speaks to them one day and tells them He is no longer going to just be leading them from infront, but now dwelling with them, and so they are to build him a house called The Tabernacle. This God-house is to have some furniture in it and like a lot of things we encounter in the Bible, these things have more than one function. A lot of these pieces of furniture are to not just do what they do, but to also be symbols of things that are important.

So, in Exodus 25:31-40, God tells the Israelites the kind of lampstand that is to be in this God-house; and it's very detailed. To help you out, here is what it looked like:

This lampstand tells three key stories to the people of God, reminding them of three important truths:

  1. A lampstand holds light: God is the original source of light and it is what defeats darkness
  2. It's shaped the way it is to represent the 'Tree of Life' that was placed in the Garden of Eden: life in it's fullest comes from God
  3. The light was to reflect out: this presence and life was to shine, not just stay here and be contained

And so off it all went. The Tabernacle was built and found in amongst the various activity of the God-house was this lampstand – the symbol of God's presence, life and mission – for many years until an interesting thing happens in the book of Psalms.

In Psalm 132:17 it says that "my annointed one will be a light for my people." Interesting. Now it's not about a piece of furniture being the place of light, but a shift is taking place to a person. But it doesn't stop there...

In Isaiah 60 we find another bright flash of the light imagery being used:

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!

Something big is coming. It involves an anointed one like David was, and it will change everything. We fast forward a little further and we discover the culmination of all of these things. It happens in the form of Jesus, the One who comes as the new temple, the new God-house, the new lampstand, the new tree of life and then some. In John 8, Jesus declares one of His seven "I am..." statements about himself. The one He uses here?

I am the light of the world.

With these seven words, Jesus declares that He is the embodiment of all that the weirdly-over-detailed-lampstand from earlier was representing: He is now the place of God's presence, God's life and God's mission. Job done, the end.

Oh wait, no it isn't. 

Jesus turns to His followers and He tells them that they too are the light of the world. Now, I don't know about you, but suddenly that one is a biggie. We like Jesus being the light of the world – the place of God's presence, life and mission – but us? Really?

It goes on a little further.

In the last book of the Bible, John is seeing a wild vision of what is going on in God's future-age, and for the first three chapters Jesus sends seven letters to seven churches. Before He starts writing them in chapters 2 and 3, in Revelation 1:20, He refers to them as something:

This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Lampstands. Jesus calls these new communities in these cities lampstands; Churches are the place of God's presence, the place of God's life and the place of God's mission.

And this is where we sit today.

We have a world that is full of thousands of communities that are doing these three things, churches that are lampstands in their cities, towns and villages. Light, which is the antithesis of darkness, shines from the faithful people of these communities, until the day when Jesus completes His work of making all things new – so new that there is no need for even the sun. 

We are the lampstands in our time and place of history – the people of God's presence, the people of His life and the people of His mission – and you're invited to play your part.

To finish, a poem:

She rises
stretching across the vast expanse of land and sea, confidently assured of her duty:
emitting warmth, colour and light—the essentials to human life
with no definite boundary.

She turns
revealing all: ashamed not of her grandeur or form;
afraid not of facing toward what we deem
dim and dark.

She turns
revealing all: by her boundless beams of light we see more
of the world—its beauty and flaws, and beauty in the flaws
and of ourselves too.

The cold of yesterday burns away, and we bask.

Few of us.

Backs turned and heads bowed
under a harsh false light that contrasts What We Want and What We Have Now
we worship our plans towards no-things we avow ‘sacred’
and our vision of her gets clouded.

She falls
despising her rays and hiding them away
draining the world of its colour until—

Oh! What a loss to the world when she does not shine.

But then! — She rises again, stretching across the vast expanse of land and sea:
not craving validation like human forms of divine creativity;
not shining only when she sees
our eyes rest upon her.

And she turns again
revealing her mass and grandeur, as if our attention did not matter to her;
as if the pleasure of one — The Creator — who has no need for suns
was enough.
— poem by Hayley Morrison