A few years ago, China landed a rocket on the moon and obtained some samples from the moon’s surface. We humans are fascinated by moon travel and expeditions to other planets.
Sometimes, when we see a full moon rising in the early evening, it appears so big and bright that we can see so much detail on it.
In some ways, John the Baptist is like the moon. He came rising onto the scene out of nowhere – from the wilderness – and told the people that he is not the light but was pointing the people to the light: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. And that’s what the moon does. The moon does not produce its own light but it merely reflects the light of the sun. And what’s interesting is that the sun is nowhere to be seen – it’s at the opposite end of the world, and yet it shines bright enough to bring light to the deepest darkness.
In the same way, we Christians have been called to reflect the light of Christ. Jesus says – “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So just as John was a witness to the light, we are to be a witness to the light. The light of Christ. And we do that by reflecting the light of Christ in all that we do. Because people look at us and they don’t just judge us by the things we do or say but they judge God as well.
As we look to see how we are reflecting the light of God it is often helpful to look in the mirror to see what others are seeing. Quite often we don’t realise what we are reflecting. We might think we are looking okay – until we look in the mirror and see our shirt button isn’t done up or we have some breakfast remains on our face. We might think we are leading great examples of Christian living; but it’s not important what we think, but what others see in us.
Luther’s explanation to the 10 commandments in his Small Catechism, helps us reflect on how we break each of the commandments in 2 ways – known as acts of commission and acts of omission. We break the commandments not just by what we do – acts of commission – but by what we don’t do – acts of omission.
Usually we’re pretty good at refraining from doing the wrong thing – acts of commission, such as in the 5th Commandment: “You shall not kill. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbour in any way.” Yep, I can check that one off.
But Luther continues – “BUT, I am to help him in all his physical needs.” That’s the part I’m not always so good at. “Look, I’m a little busy at the moment – can’t somebody else help you?” Or the seventh commandment: “You shall not steal – we are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbour’s money or property.” Check. No worries with that one.
“BUT – we are to help him improve and protect his property and means of making a living.”
“Sorry but I’ve got my own business to worry about – I have to make enough to pay my mortgage – my credit card – and save up for my retirement. Can’t my neighbour get his act into gear? I’ve worked hard to get where I am – why can’t he do the same?”
Sometimes it’s not the light of what we are doing that is reflecting on people around us – but what we are NOT doing that people are taking notice of. As the old saying goes – “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” Sometimes it’s the acts of omission that do the most harm. And so it can be a real struggle reflecting the light of Christ because of the things that we don’t do to help our neighbour.
And there are also times when we can fall into the danger of not reflecting the light of Christ because we are trying too hard to reflect our own light. A sort of, “Look at me – look at all the good things I’m doing.” And that’s where John had to try hard to keep reminding people that he is NOT the light. He said – I’m not even Elijah or one of the prophets. I’m just one who is pointing you to the true light of Christ.
St Paul shares with us how we CAN reflect God’s light not by doing good works in order for the world to be impressed with our service. No, Paul says – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. What a freeing thing that is when we forget about trying to impress others by our good works and just rejoice, pray and give thanks for all the good things God has done for us..
It’s so easy to rejoice, pray and give thanks when we realise how much God has done for us in Christ. But it’s just as easy to reflect the opposite, to grumble about everything instead of rejoicing. Like the Israelites who grumbled about their conditions rather than rejoicing that God had freed them from slavery in Egypt, many of us complained about the restrictions that were imposed upon us during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of rejoicing that God had saved many lives through the actions of the medical profession, and some of the restrictions put in place by the government of the time, we grumbled that we had to wear masks in church and use individual cups for holy communion. It’s so easy to forget to rejoice and give thanks and pray for our government and our medical profession, even though they’re not perfect, like all of us. That’s when we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What image are we reflecting to the world? What light are we shining? Are we shining our own light or Christ’s?”
So often we believe it is up to us to take the ‘fight’ to the world. We think that it is up to us to defend the rights of God and the church. And often what happens is that we replace God’s light with our own. And that’s what John was avoiding when he said: “I’m not the Christ, I’m not Elijah – I’m not one of the prophets. In fact I’m not even worthy enough to untie the sandals of the one I’m pointing you to.”
Yes, we all want to defend God – we all want to defend the church – we want to defend the name of Christ in an increasingly Godless world. But the best way we can do that is by rejoicing in the midst of it all – giving thanks in the midst of it all – and praying for all. And Paul says – pray without ceasing – because the challenges on the church and on God’s name are without ceasing. And in doing that we will be reflecting the light of Christ even if sometimes we don’t always live perfect lives. And even when that happens, we are assured by the Word of God, that, “the God of peace himself will sanctify you entirely; and your spirit and soul and body will be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do this. Amen.