One of the significant challenges I had when I first moved to Europe back in the late 1990s was having to re-orient myself to a northern hemisphere solar arrangement. My internal compass was all mixed up. Because the sun is in the south, and not the north, my body clock kept making me think I was heading in the wrong direction. It was a significant and befuddling reminder of just how deeply our lives – and even our very bodies – are naturally formed to orient our perception of the world around us.
We all know that looking directly in the direction of the sun is a blinding experience, yet when we are not facing the sun, its light is so all pervading that it spreads its rays throughout everything and into every nook and cranny. No artificial light can do that. If you were to imagine someone who has never seen the sun, they would not easily understand the source of the light by which they walk. Yet, that light is what will fill the space around them, illumining their lives.
The Son of God is that light in the form of grace. We may not always easily see Him, yet we can experience him in every dimension of our lives. John the Baptist knew this intimately. As the gospel tells us, John was not himself the light, but a witness to it. “I am not the Christ… I am not Elijah… But the One who is the Light of the World already stands among you, even if you do not see him.” Jesus is that light, who illumines the world around us, and illumines us.
Often enough, we are unable to look directly at Him. This was what John experienced. As the gospels also tell us, John the Baptist himself initially had to ask Jesus to his face, “Are you the One who is to come into the world?” To see Jesus face to face can be a blinding experience.
But His light is everywhere, if we can allow ourselves to see and orient our lives by it. Thanks be to God that he sent John the Baptist ahead of this light, so that we could understand its source before experiencing it face to face. John was Christ’s witness, so that we could recognise the source of the light of grace flowing in us and orienting our lives towards God’s true north.
The sacramental structure of our Christian faith is especially significant here. It is through signs and symbols that God reveals His light to us, and by which we continue to share in the life of His Son: through water and oil, through bread and wine; it is by the laying on of hands and the covenant sealed in sexual union. These tangible and visible signs point us to the transcendent and invisible realities of God’s presence to us.
Likewise, it is in those moments of joy and of grief; in the times of gratitude and of struggle; in health and in pain, that the light of the Lord comes to illumine. All of these realities of our lives – the good and bad; the welcomed and unlooked for – have come under the light of the Son of God, allowing us to find meaning and purpose in them. The light of grace revealed in the birth of Jesus was God’s way of illumining our pathway back to our home in Him. Nothing need remain hidden in fear or fragmentation; the way of the Lord brings light and life.
The coming of the Son of God was the coming of God’s light fully into our world, filling the inner space within us all, and illumining our lives. May we orient ourselves towards this Son, and find our true north in Him who is our light.