Light can blind, like when you turn on the light when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Light can burn, when, like me, you’re of Irish and Welsh ancestry and you stay out in the sun too long. Light can damage, like the dashboard on an old car that is faded and cracked. Light can wear, like the chalky residue that develops on aluminum siding on a house. Light is powerful and it can be disruptive.
Light is also essential. Photosynthesis and Vitamin D are an essential part of life. It kind of makes sense, then, that the image that Saint John ascribes and attributes to Jesus Christ is also “light”. Jesus, in his own words, describes himself as the “Light of the World”. The use of that title and/or image isn’t just a metaphor. After all, in Genesis in the Creation account, God’s first creative expression through his Word is the command for light to exist. Light is, to borrow a concept from the philosophical tradition, one of the “first principles” of intelligibility.
It makes sense, then, that the illumination of the mind and heart is at the core of the Christian mission. In this weekend’s celebration of Epiphany, the illumination that reveals Jesus Christ as the Messiah draws the Magi on mission to greet the newborn Christ. The illumination of their mind and heart, guided by the physical light from a star, draws them deep into the identity of God-with-us and his saving love for us. The illumination of divine light connects the dots of salvation history for them. And the light of Jesus Christ connects all of the dots of our own story.
Light, as it is understood in the Scriptures and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, isn’t simply a metaphor – it is reality! Little of our lives makes a whole lot of sense apart from our relationship with Jesus Christ and everything that he experienced in his Earthly life. Light is the image that is synonymous with God’s grace at work in us, given and sustained through the Sacraments. Our relationship with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist provides the light of God’s grace to illuminate every aspect of our lives. The light of Jesus Christ is the “first principle” of our existence and it is infinitely more important to our survival and well-being than Vitamin D.