I don’t know if it still happens today, but when I was in school, we were taught the difference between fact and opinion. A fact is something that is either true or not. Opinion is a view or judgement about something. It’s a fact that the sky is green. It’s not true, but it’s a fact. The sky is, in fact—an expression that means “in truth”—blue, but to call the sky green is technically a factual statement. It’s just factually inaccurate. It’s an opinion to say, bright blue skies are the best skies. I might think that, but you may not. You might like bright red sunsets and think they are far superior to the bright noontime sky.
Either way, both are judgements, or views. We can talk about how views shape reality, meaning that opinions can end up making something come true, or creating situations where something is a fact, but there is an inherent difference between fact and opinion. In our world today, opinion is given a lot of weight—sometimes even a precedence over fact. And yet, the fact of the matter, that is to say, the truth of the matter remains that just because you like something or don’t like something, doesn’t change its reality. You may like red sunsets, but that doesn’t change the fact that the sky is bright blue right now.
When we talk about our relationship with God, there’s one fundamental fact—nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus. What’s more, that fact is true…it’s accurate. No matter if you want it to be true or don’t want it to be true, and no matter if you like that it’s true or don’t like that it’s true. What we do with that fact, with that truth is what makes the difference—how we live with it, how it influences our thinking. The judgement we make about that fact…the opinions we form around it. What difference does it make that God’s love for you is inalienable, that it’s absolute, that it’s indefeasible, inherent? And what difference does it make that God’s love for other people, even people who think differently than you or people you don’t like—what difference does it make that God’s love for them is just as unshakeable as it is for you? When this truth is revealed to you, how does it change how you look at things? Does it change things?
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When you turn off the light and try to walk in the dark, it’s nearly impossible. If you’re anything like me, even in my own bedroom, I end up running into things if I try to walk to the bed in the dark. That’s why I don’t turn the light off until I’m in bed. That’s what bedside tables are for. But somehow, walking in the dark after it’s been dark for a little while or after I’ve woken up in the middle of the night from sleeping—that’s not so difficult. I can safely navigate through the dark, through the bedroom, through the hallway, and into the bathroom, and retrace my steps to the bed—all in the dark!—without incident after it’s been dark for a while.
Not so when I first turn off the light. That’s true for a lot of us. But even still, we’re not really seeing where we’re going. We’re just fumbling about—trusting that we know where we’re going. I can’t be sure when I go to visit my sister or stay at hotel that I’ll have the same luck getting through the dark at night as I can in my own home. The darkness shrouds things so I can’t see where I’m going, and when I don’t know what I’m doing, even if I’ve adjusted to the darkness, there’s still a good chance that I’m going to run into something. It’s best to turn on the light when walking in the dark when you don’t know where you’re going.
Walking in the darkness versus walking in the light—that’s clearly something real, something you can do. Yet it’s also sometimes the way we talk about life. When someone’s in the dark about something, it means they don’t know what’s going on. When you say the lightbulb goes off, it means someone finally understood something. Darkness is associated with ignorance, and light with knowledge. There’s a reason we call the time of economic, intellectual, and cultural decline after German tribes destroyed much of Europe and Northern Africa the Dark Ages…and why we call the time of rediscovering mathematics, literature, and science, along with the birth of ideas such as liberty, tolerance, and the pursuit of happiness the Age of Enlightenment. Dark is bad, and light is good.
We might call that understanding of things metaphoric, though. And I suppose in one sense of the word, it is metaphoric. Darkness isn’t inherently bad. After all, we need darkness to rest. Some plants need darkness in order to bloom—think of poinsettias. Poinsettias need twelve hours of darkness for at least five days in a row to change color. And light isn’t necessarily always good. Anyone who’s driven at night in the rain knows that a car coming at you with their high beams on will blind you so much that you can’t see where you’re going. Too much light is…well, too much. Not good.
And yet in today’s second lesson, we have St. John saying of the New Jerusalem, the city of heaven, that there is no darkness there. “There will be no more night,” he tells us. The servants who worship God in heaven “need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.” A few verses earlier, he tells us “God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” We might be quick to write this off as a metaphor of the type that isn’t literally true, but if we do that, we’d be wrong. It’d be factually inaccurate. God is the light, and the lamp is the Lamb. That’s absolutely, most certainly true, but that is also absolutely, most certainly a metaphor.
You see, a metaphor isn’t just a way of talking about things that are aren’t literally true, but also a way of speaking of things that are true in a sense more fundamental than first meets the eye. A metaphor speaks of reality in ways that make us think, make us ponder, make us reconsider our first inclinations. A metaphor challenges us to grow in understanding…A metaphor opens our eyes, brings us out of the dark. A metaphor flips the switch so the lightbulb goes off in our head. A metaphor most certainly tells us how things are but often in a more fundamental way than we’re used to.
For us, when we say that God is the light of heaven, we mean God is the one who reveals to us the way things are when things are the way they are meant to be. God shows us things for what they really are. Things are no longer clouded by darkness in a way that we can’t be sure, even if we’ve adjusted, as we have, to life in the dark—to life where sin, death, and the devil make us question our reality, make us stumble about, make us worried, anxious, jealous, or hopeless. God is the one who removes whatever it is that stands in the way of a completely free, clear, and abundant life.
And the source of that light, the lamp that shines that light is none other than the Lamb of God—Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who comes to us, for us and shines in our lives and shows us the way forward. The Word made flesh is also the lamp to our feet…and when we abide in that Word, when we follow the light of that lamp, we follow the way of life, the way to life with God—life in the city of heaven, the new Jerusalem, the city of God’s peace, the City of Shalom…Where everyone and everything, you, me, and all things are clearly seen for what it is—the beloved children and handiwork of God.
One of the things that parents are often most excited with babies is when they take their first steps, unprompted, on their own. There’s when the kid pulls herself up from the floor to hold on to the couch, then there’s when she sort of fall-walks between the chair and someone holding their hands out to her as they sit on the couch. But the real exciting moment is when the little one stands up from the middle of the floor, unprompted, and takes those first steps, independently. It’s a cause for celebration. But even those steps are tenuous…unsure. They’re kind of rigid, like a toy soldier or a Tin Man. But in no time at all, that little one is walking along. Soon she’s doing the toddler run. And before long, she’s all grown up and going here and there—off to school, ballet, graduation, college, a job, perhaps a family of her own. A whole life’s journey, set before her and tackled with those first few tenuous, unsure steps.
But that journey begins with a lot of uncertainty. Perhaps you might say that journey begins in darkness—but it’s not a bad darkness. It’s a darkness that’s full of the promise of light—because someone is there to help that kid even as she takes those first steps, as she pulls herself up and scuttles forward. Her mother, brother, aunt, babysitter—someone she trusts is there who reaches out and helps along the way.
The way of life as a child of God is no different. God reaches out to us and guides us along the way of life with him. Jesus comes among us and shines the lamp of truth, tells us the word of truth—that we are God’s beloved children and nothing can separate us from God’s love—and so that promise fills us with assurance that even as we go through the darkness, even as we journey along the way of life, it’s the way of life with God. The light has shone in our lives, and we walk with confidence, even as we sometimes stumble, we sometimes shuffle, we sometimes fall-walk, we sometimes stub our toe—we walk with confidence that the journey along the way of life is a journey along the way of life with God, even in the darkness. We are God’s children—and this isn’t some mere metaphor that isn’t literally true. We are absolutely, most certainly truly God’s beloved children, and it’s absolutely, most certainly true that nothing will separate us from God’s love for us.
The light of heaven, the light of the peace that surpasses understanding, God himself has revealed that truth to us, and Jesus, the Lamb of God given for us, slain for us is the lamp that shines the light of that truth in our hearts. What it comes to down to for us now is a question. Do we want to follow the path lit by that lamp? Do we walk as children of the light?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.