Yesterday was such a beautiful gift of a day. After so many days of rain this week, yesterday dawned cloudless as the sun rose in a clear blue sky. As morning moved toward afternoon, the sunlight just poured in all the windows along the southern side of my house—I love that!–it floods the sunroom, spreads across the kitchen, and shines patterns of light and shadow on the family room walls. Simply beautiful.
When I went into the kitchen around 2:00 o’clock the first thing I noticed was that lovely golden sunlight casting its glow all across the wood floors. And then something else caught my eye. Crumbs. Lots of crumbs. Congregated beneath the cabinets, stretching along the baseboards, leading to the pantry.
How can one person, two dogs, one cat, and an aquarium full of fish make so many crumbs?
Surely it can’t be me, I thought. They must be from something Gloria chewed up or crumbs my kids dropped when they visited (although admittedly that hasn’t happened often lately because everybody is pretty much staying home).
But still, ultimately, I did what I needed to do. I got out the broom and the dustpan and I swept the kitchen, which of course then led to sweeping the dining room and the entryway and the hallway too. So that little bit of discomfort I felt noticing all the crumbs led to a cleaner downstairs, which ultimately isn’t a bad use of some free time on a Saturday afternoon.
Today is the first Sunday of advent and as you heard in our responsive reading, we’re reflecting on the gift of God’s light to the world. Into the darkness, God’s beautiful, loving, healing light shines. It comes not only to make life beautiful, although it certainly does do that. It also has another purpose—to reveal what it finds in us, in our relationships, in our world, that needs to be swept up, transformed, healed, and embraced by the Light.
You may remember from fifth grade science class that darkness actually doesn’t exist at all—it has no properties or qualities, it cannot be measured or quantified. That’s because darkness is actually simply the absence of light. When a light shines into the darkness, the darkness is no longer dark, no matter how small the light may be. As soon as the tiniest flicker shows up—a little peace, a little willingness, a little love—the darkness has already begun to lighten. That’s why the song we learned to sing as kids—this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine—is a powerful theological and scientifically sound statement. We each do carry God’s light within us—for Quakers that is a core belief—and we do our best throughout our lives and hope and pray to let it shine and bring more of God’s grace into the world. We carry that light wherever we go and whatever we encounter. That’s how the light works to comfort and connect and heal God’s children.
Margaret Fell wrote powerfully about the agency of the Light, how it is an active principle that not only connects us with God and with each other but also searches our hearts and helps us see the truth about ourselves–our thoughts and motivations, our actions and behaviors—so that we can let God remove any obstacles that block God’s light from shining freely in our lives. The idea is not to judge us or make us feel bad, but to help us grow more loving, more gentle, more Christ-like, with the help of the spirit of truth. Here is how Margaret Fell put it:
And if you love the light, then you come to the light to be proved, and tried whether your works be wrought in God. But that which hates the light, turns from the light, and that shall be condemned by the light…. And though you may turn from the light, where the unity is, and you may turn from the eternal truth; but from the witness of God in your consciences, (which he hath placed in you, which beareth witness for the living God,) you can never fly; that shall pursue you wherever you go.
You can hear that she wants us to understand that the concept of the Light is central to our Friends tradition and our relationship with God’s Light—whether we love and trust it or turn away and hide from it—has everything to do with whether our faith is a growing, authentic, living faith.
I love her phrase, “where the unity is” because she so clearly believes that in the light is found the Oneness from which we all arise, the unifying factor of all God’s children. To Margaret Fell, the unity of the light is that of God in each of us, the essential truth of our being.
George Fox, perhaps not surprisingly, echoes this same idea in his own writing about the inward Light. He wrote,
Mind the light of God in your consciences,
which will show you all deceit;
dwelling in it, it guides (you) out of the many things into one spirit,
which cannot lie, nor deceive.
Those who are guided by it, are one.
The Light leads toward a love that is a unifying love, that draws us away from the deceit of the many, toward the harmony of God’s eternal and ever-present truth. And it’s not just for us alone, as individuals. This is part of God’s larger purpose of knitting back together the kingdom of God. Those who are guided by it, are one.
So we might wonder, when we bring ourselves to the light to be proved, what might that feel like? Is it hard or scary? Will we feel judged, like we fall so far short or feel worried, like we’ll never be as good as we need to be? Although it can be a bit uncomfortable to see things in ourselves we’d rather not see—the time we were selfish, the time we failed to be kind, when we were impatient, or believed the worst about someone, or gossiped, or found a mess of crumbs under the cabinets—those revelations are humbling and simply give us a realistic and often much-needed reminder of our very real humanness.
But the good news is that the light shows us these things in love, knowing that we are all works in process. God gradually and gently helps us remove the things that get in the way and block the radiant shine of God’s love in our lives. And that all begins with our welcome of the Light and grows from there.
Early Friend Elizabeth Bathurst, who was a contemporary of George Fox and Margaret Fell, put it this way:
The Seed, or Grace of God, is small in its first Appearance, even as the Morning Light; but as it is given Heed to, and obeyed, it will increase in Brightness, till it shine in the Soul, like the Sun in the Firmament at its Noon-day Height.
Our Old Testament reading today points in this same direction. It is a verse from Psalm 44, in which David is recounting the stories of how God led and protected the children of Israel through dark and difficult times. In verse 3, David writes,
“It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.”
Isn’t that a wonderful image? The light of your face, for you loved them. What if the light illumining our imperfections, our weaknesses was the beaming radiance from the face of God who was looking our way with love? The love that knows who we are, that sees us as we can be in this world, the type of people who care for one another, who speak truth and act with integrity and kindness. God’s face, alight with love, shows us the way home to the unity of goodness, gentleness, and peace.
Our New Testament scripture today is a very important passage for Friends. Our belief in and understanding of the Inward light has its roots here. This is why Quakers sometimes referred to themselves as the “Children of the Light.” John 1: 5-9 says,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The ultimate good news.
But there’s more…because there was not just a man sent from God whose name was John, but also a man whose name was Jim and Joe, Jeff and David and Bob…and women named Sherry and Jean Ann and Karla and Ruth, Judy and Charlotte. (Sorry to not name all of us, but you get the idea.) Each one of us is a much-needed and much-loved witness to God’s light coming into this world, moment by moment, experience by experience; dispelling the darkness, and gradually—through kindness and care, truth and hope–gathering us into the beloved community God knows we can be.
But you don’t need to take my word for it. You can experiment with this in your own life. Let the light show you the crumbs you need to sweep up. Enjoy the beauty and the color and texture the light reveals. But mostly, keep looking toward the radiant love—shining just for you—on God’s face. As the poet Hafiz wrote, “Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
- OT Psalm 44:3
- NT John 1: 5-9