Epiphany Image

Darkness and Light, and My Son’s Need to Know Where the Bad People Go

Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Dallas, my current hometown, is full of huge churches with important pastors. The church where I serve is tiny by comparison, and outside of our little baptist tradition (i.e. not SBC) no one knows or really cares what we are up to week to week. Fine by us, but it is a stark contrast to the giant religious groups flanking us on all sides. And these important pastors have been given access to thousands upon thousands of itching ears each week. They are the arbiters of right and wrong, light and dark, heaven and hell. So when something like a massive school shooting happens, they are armed to the teeth with explanations and remedies.

It should have come as no surprise that the Newtown shooting would elicit such clarity from the pastors. More than one broke it all down with the convenient metaphor of darkness and light.

The overwhelming message many people grow up with is that God is good/light/glory and we are bad/darkness/shame. It is a clear and concise setup. It is tempting, even if it is true to neither revelation nor reality. In this polarizing rhetoric, tragedies like Newtown are categorized efficiently. The shooter was an agent of darkness, a product of a culture of darkness that has rejected the light of Jesus. The evidence of cultural darkness: homosexuality, lack of prayer in school, legalized abortion. The rationale for tragedies like the shooting: God will not go where God is not wanted, and sinners kicked God out of schools and out of government, choosing darkness over light. The solution: the children of light shine into the darkness so that the world will know how bad they are and how good God is.

On Christmas vacation, my five year old was introduced to hell by some older members of our extended family. My son is sensitive, and the news about lakes of fire and God’s wrath sent a tiny but very real tremor through his heart. So they reassured him that Christians did not go to hell; it was only for the bad people. Which is not terribly hopeful when he is still figuring out all of this God stuff. I keep trying to instill in him the hope of the New Creation and Heaven crashing into Earth, but it is difficult with such a simple alternative out there.

Epiphany, the season of light coming into the world, is all about sight. It is about looking at the same thing and seeing something different. It is about locating glory in the unexpected. Bethlehem. Poor teenage parents. Edges of town. Back alleys. A cross.

The writer of Isaiah’s poem tells the reader to rise up, look up and see, for light has come into the darkness. And this light illuminates the people as well as the darkness. They are found to be radiant. God’s glory illuminates us. It doesn’t shame us. It doesn’t make our shadows darker or our sins more obvious. The light surprises us. It exposes us, but not simply to our depravity. We see the light and find ourselves radiating too. Like some ancient spark catches fire and burns in the presence of the epiphany.

So may you have eyes to see that light has come into the world, and has found you radiating. Beloved, love has come. And the whole creation is aglow with glory.

Postscript: The students at my church have a tradition of singing “Stars” by David Crowder Band at Evening Prayer. It is an epiphany song, and a good reminder that God’s light makes “everything beautiful again.” Go listen to it this week.

3 Responses to “Darkness and Light, and My Son’s Need to Know Where the Bad People Go”

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  1. Jenny W says:

    John, thank you for displaying the reductionism of such answers to tragedy, and the hopefulness of a light that shines on everyone.

  2. Joanna T says:

    I also appreciate the thoughtful reflection re: the tendency to reduce the explanation of world events in such simplistic ways.
    Thank you for posting this.

  3. Rev. L.B Thotobolo says:

    This helped a lot in my sermon research & used your conclusion as my introduction to my message thanks again for sweet light that brought us from eternal darkness

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