The Light Of The World

From “Stability Amid Change”
by Georgia Elma Harkness, 1891-1974

It is often said today that there is no difference to be discerned between Christians in the churches and secularists outside of them. To some degree, this is doubtless true, both because there are good people outside of churches and there are people in churches who are Christians in name only or not much more than in name. Yet we know persons whose faith and life are a living witness to the gospel. Often humble persons and certainly not perfect ones, they have a way of meeting both the joyous and the painful events of life which marks them unmistakably as Christians.

Paul said it for us when he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

But what does it mean to be “in Christ”? And what was there in Jesus that made his coming in the first century and his presence as the living Christ today such good news that we call it the gospel?

In the Old Testament at its highest points of prophetic insight there is a foregleam of a coming Redeemer of whom Isaiah could say, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (9:2 KIV).

Then in due time came the Light of the world, to be born among the lowly and live among men to bring light to darkened spirits, healing to sick bodies, forgiveness to sick souls, courage to the fearful, strength to the weak, new life to the dull and downcast. When his earthly work was over and it again seemed that gross darkness covered the earth, he rose triumphant over sin and death in the light of the Resurrection morning and in awareness of his living presence the church was born.

A few decades later, when the fires of persecution cast an ominous shadow over the efforts of the early Christians to be faithful and the temptation to inner darkness assailed their spirits, the author of the Fourth Gospel wrote, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Because the bad news of today has led some to believe that the light of Christian faith is extinguished, let us rapidly review the centuries. The light was still shining in the darkness in the second century when Christians were being arrested, imprisoned and put to death for
refusing to render to Caesar what belonged to God. It was still shining in the fifth century when the collapse of the greatest empire on earth put an end to the much trusted political security of the Pax Romana and ushered in what history has called the Dark Ages. Dark they were, but not wholly dark, for the light was still shining as the medieval church through its monasteries and parish priests kept the lamp of learning lighted, ministered to the sick and the poor, provided hostels for travellers and gave much stability to a troubled age. It was still shining in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in spite of the excesses and tragic folly of the Crusades.

The light was still shining in the thirteenth century as the old stabilities of the feudal system began to break up, and it shone on in later centuries amid the horrors of the Inquisition, the strife and bloodshed over religious differences, the splitting up of Protestantism into great
numbers of denominations, the emergence of modern science, the birth of capitalism and of nationalism, the scramble of nations for overseas empires, the coming of modern political democracy, the emergence of totalitarian faiths and systems, the deepening of economic and racial tensions and the changes, for good or ill, that have come with great forward strides in technology and the nuclear/space age.

The light from Christ has continued to shine through persecution, war, and all manner of conflict and it shines today. Indeed, it shines with a greater glow because of amazing developments in ecumenical fellowship, both within Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy and between these groups and Roman Catholicism. It shines in the current emphasis on the laity as the church within the world, called to a ministry of service in every sphere in which their lives are set. It shines in the kind of democracy which stems from the teaching of Jesus about the love of neighbour and the worth of every person in the eyes of God, whatever his race or colour, his age or sex or social status. Jesus did not say much about “the dignity of man” or “human brotherhood” (phrases that we bandy about too lightly) but he did something more lasting. What he did was to live by these conceptions; put them into prayers to “our Father” and into matchless parables; mingle with folk of all races and nations and stations in life; minister in God’s name to human need wherever need was found. If his light still shines within us, we will do the same.

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