17 - The Light Shines in the Darkness

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Ephesians 4:7-13

Matthew 4:12-17

So, what is this Great Light that those sitting in the darkness see? It goes on to say (Mt 4:16) that this Light has dawned on those sitting in the region and shadow of death. So, clearly, it is the Light of the Savior’s Resurrection from the dead. But, how can that be? We’re at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. We’re not at the Cross.

Let us understand that our “salvation” is rooted not in a “what” but in the Who, the Person, of Jesus Christ. Christmas, Theophany, Pascha—these events that, as events, are whatscome to be through the Person of Jesus Christ.  They are rooted in the who, the Person of Jesus Christ. Who was born of the Virgin, Who was baptized in the Jordan, Who was crucified on the Cross and laid in the Tomb: thisis the root of our salvation. Through Christmas, Theophany and Pascha, God the Son comes into the world, becomes one with us, weaves Himself into the fabric of our earthly, bodily life. In these Feasts, we come into the LORD’s presence. He gives not a message but Himself to us. He opens Himself to us, so that if we would, we may receive the Person of God the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ; and, if we would unite ourselves to Him, we become one through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the heavenly mystery of personal communion. This is not a religious theory. It becomes a concrete, incarnate reality in Holy Eucharist when we partake of Christ God Himself; and so, we become not just “believers”. If we become one with Him, we become gods. The Christian Faith isn’t what we “believe” anymore: it’s what or who we become, it is our very life, our very “being”.

In our deep heart, following the prophet, we are “beyond all things” (Jer 17:9). The “Beyond all things” is in the personal presence of Jesus Christ. In His presence, we are beyond all words, all events, all things. We are beyond even ourselves; yet, here precisely is where we come to be who we really are, children of God!

St John says that Christ is the Light of the world, shining in the darkness, which the darkness cannot “define”. At the tomb of Lazarus, He tells Mary and Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, shall live!”” (Jn 11:25). Listen to His words closely: Light, Resurrection and Life do not describe Jesus. They are Who He is. The true Light, Resurrection and Life are themselves the very mystery of the Person of Jesus Christ. To see the Light of Christ’s Resurrection and Life, we descend into the wordless stillness of our deep heart where we are beyond all things, and in our deep heart, we come into the personal presence of the Light, the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus Christ Himself.

But, Jesus Christ is the Image of the invisible God. That means that the Light, Resurrection and Life of God—Jesus Christ—are the Image in whom we came to be. This is what defines us as human. That means that we come to know ourselves only as we are in the Light, the Resurrection and the Life, or in the personal presence of the LORD Jesus Christ.

But, the Church is the Body of Christ, which He received from the Holy Virgin. The Body of Christ is our human nature, our body, our mind, our soul, that has been cleansed and sanctified and deified in the mysteries of Christmas, Theophany and Pascha. There is only one Body of Christ, not many; and, we believe that the true Church is that which confesses Jesus Christ as the Son of God incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and worships the Father in Spirit and in Truth—in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus, His Son; for, Jesus is Himself the Truth. Understand, then, that in the Orthodox Church, we come into the presence of the Light, the Resurrection and the Life. In the Church, we come to know who we are.

To be sure, the Light and the Life that shone in the death and Resurrection of Christ came to be in history. But, we know that the Resurrection happened because we know the Resurrection not as an event outside of us that happened long ago and far away, but in our deep heart where we come into the luminous personal presence of Him Who is Himself the True Light, the Resurrection and the Life. In the same way—that is, standing in their deep heart in the personal presence of the LORD—Abraham and the prophets saw the Day of the LORD’s appearing. In their time, that Day was yet to happen, it was still in the future. But, in His presence, they saw it and rejoiced (Jn 8:56).

Therefore, the Light those “sitting in darkness” saw when Jesus left Nazareth and dwelt in Capernaum, in the hill country of Zebulon and Nephtalim by the Sea, was not a “what”. It was Jesus Himself.

Dwelling among us in the flesh as one of us, the true Light has “dawned” in our flesh, in our living and in our dying. He who is the true Light has come into the world (Jn 3:19). God Himself has begun to be in us. The invisible, eternal God is among us visibly, concretely in His Body, the Church. In His Body—the Church—the Resurrection and the Life, God Himself, is working in us from even before His Cross and Burial. He is working in us even before the Jordan, even before the Cave in Bethlehem. The Resurrection and the Life began working in us, in our flesh, in our living and dying, the instant He was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the Most Blessed Virgin’s womb.

So, even if we die, if we believe in Him—if we unite ourselves to Him in our living and in our dying—yet do we live, for in His Body, the Church, we die in the Resurrection and the Life who, by His death, has slain death! The holy fathers say that to die in Christ is an inexpressible sweetness; for, what dies in Christ is all that is earthly in us, all that is not of God in us, all that is not truly who we are. What dies is sin that kills us. What dies is death; and, in the death of our death, we are restored to our original beauty and wholeness in the Person of Jesus Christ, the divine Image of the invisible God who defines who we really are. He is Name of God in whom we find our true name, our true identity.

The heavens were opened as soon as He rose from the Jordan, it says. That means that His Ascension began when He descended into the Jordan. Liturgical hymns tell us that at the bottom of the Jordan, He brought all of creation down to the “better and changeless Path that ascends to God”.

In the Church, the Spirit of Christ has led us from the Theotokos’ Nativity to Bethlehem and to the Jordan. Where do we go from here? We begin now to make ourselves ready to be led by the Spirit into the “wilderness” of Great Lent beyond the Jordan to the summit of Golgotha, into the Tomb of the Light that shines in the darkness, and out onto the other side, out into the deep beyond all things, out into the Resurrection and the Life on the other side and into the opened Heavens!

Do you see? This liturgical movement of the Church from the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin to Pascha and into the opened heavens is the true movement of our soul. Its proof is not found out there, buried in the artefacts of history or in the lifeless hypotheses of science, but within you, in your deep heart where you come into the personal presence of the True Light, the Resurrection and the Life.

Where do you wish go in your life? Have you given any thought to the fact that any path we choose to follow in this life leads into the grave? Have you given any thought as to whose tomb you want to be found in when you come to the end of your path?

In the Light of Christmas and Theophany shining in His Holy Church, His Body, we find the better and changeless Path that ascends to God. That Path, too, is Christ Himself. The Path comes down to us from the wilderness of our soul—where He has triumphed over Satan. He comes from “beyond the Jordan” to us who are “sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death” here “in the city”. He, the Path, comes to us from the deep of our heart where we are deep, “beyond the Jordan”.  “Repent!” He calls out: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. It’s at hand because the King is here, in our midst, in the flesh! “Repent!” Turn around. Come out of the city. Follow the Spirit into the wilderness of your soul, to follow Him back “beyond the Jordan” where you came from, back into your heart into the presence of Him who is the Image of God in whom you were made.

Here, then, is the mystical essence of the Lenten Fast that is coming. The Fast is the concrete means by which we come mystically out of the city and to the Jordan and descend into its depths to find that better and changeless Path, Christ Himself, who ascends to God through the wilderness of our soul and into our heart. We fast in order to come out from behind the masks that separate us from one another and from God; to take off our earthly garments soiled by our sins—our fear, our anger, our confusion, our conceit, our greed, our envy, our vanity, our lust—and to clothe ourselves in Christ, Himself the Robe of Light, Life and Resurrection that we may become all Light and descend in Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life into the tomb of our heart, transfigured by His Cross into the bridal chamber, in order to ascend with Him into the opened Heavens. Amen!