In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him forever!]
I don’t know if you’ve looked up in the sky lately, but it’s been very rare for us in the past six or more weeks that we’ve seen the sun. It’s been grey; it’s been dark. And yesterday I was driving to vespers, and I looked up and the sky was almost completely clear. And there was the sun, and it was so refreshing. It seemed as though I hadn’t seen the sun in weeks, and there’s something about seeing that bright light that enlivens us and lifts our spirits. We even know that this lack of light, this lack of vitamin D in us can cause depression; it can cause this condition called SAD (S-A-D: Seasonal Affective Disorder). So it’s important that we get enough light and that we get encouragement even from our physical bodies.
Today we celebrate nearing the end of the feast of Theophany, of this manifestation of the light to the world. I want to talk this morning about this comparison between the light and the darkness and the relevance that it has in our life, because it’s not just the physical light that affects us. It is also the spiritual light that enlivens us, that makes our lives meaningful, that makes our lives rich, and actually makes us the people that we were always created to be.
The first sometimes is very difficult for us to appreciate. It’s been 2000 years since we’ve been pagans. Many of us, no matter if we became Orthodox in our adulthood or if we were born Orthodox, we can probably go back generations and generations and know that our families were Christians. There’s that story about Protestant missionaries that went into the Middle East, and they were missionizing; they thought that they were bringing the Gospel to the people in the Middle East, because they thought that everyone there was Muslims and they found some Orthodox Christians there, and they said, “We’re here to bring you the good news of Jesus Christ.” And they said, “Well, yes, we know of Jesus. We believe in Jesus.” And the missionaries said to them, “Who brought you this message? Who brought you this good news about Jesus?” And he said, “Well, I’m not sure. Let me go and ask.” And he went and asked his priest and he came back to the Protestant missionary and he said, “It was some guy named Paul.”
We’ve been Christians for at least hundreds of years, if not thousands of years in our families. But what the gospel reading says this morning is that the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned. The light that we receive first and foremost in Christ is one that is under-appreciated by us and that I think it’s because of the society, the pluralistic society that we live in, that does not value truth, because truth has become relative, and that is we have received the light of truth. This light of truth has overcome the darkness of error. In the case of what the Scriptures say this morning, it’s the darkness of the error of paganism, of worshiping false gods, of worshiping man-created gods. Even in the Scripture, it says that our God is the greatest God among the gods, but it’s not acknowledging that there are other gods.
Ours is the only true God. What we say in the vespers service at the dismissal is: “He who is the existing One.” We even have this in the icon. If you notice, always in this halo of the icon of Christ, you have three Greek letters. These three Greek letters in Greek say, “Ho Ōn.” And it doesn’t really mean, “I am,” although it’s identified with the “I am” of the Old Testament. What it really means is, “He who exists, the existing One.” He is the one who is truly God. We can even say God is so godly that he’s even beyond existence; he’s beyond our understanding of what it is to exist. The light that has dawned on us, first and foremost, is the light of truth, and we have to resist the societal impetus, especially after the time of the so-called Enlightenment in Western Europe. This is where, all of a sudden, the idea of “every thought is equally true” is right. And I would even say that in our age of the internet, this makes it even more so, that every comment is somehow equally correct.
But the fact of the matter is there is truth and there is error, and Christ manifests, Christ reveals this truth about who God is to us. It says [about] the light: “The people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light.” So the first point is that Christ brings us the light of truth.
There’s a lot of sin in the world, and a lot of this sin that we experience, we experience it sadly, sadly in our families. It’s kind of a generational sin. There is sin that is passed on from generation to generation. Think of all of the people, especially, I would say, women, who have been abused by men, have been abused by their fathers or their brothers or their uncles or whatever. It’s horrifying when you read the statistics about this, the damage that it does to a woman’s psyche, to a woman’s psychology, to a sense of her self-worth—and it’s not just women. Little boys are abused in their lives; men are abused. This cycle of abuse unfortunately is wrapped up in this generational sin that our families carry forward.
And the second point that I want to make is that this light that is given to us is really meant to stop, to put a halt, to this generational sin. It is the light of joy which dispels the darkness of despair, because in the light of this joy is hope. In the light of this joy is redemption. And the fact of the matter is: if we can hear it, if we can understand it, if we can accept it, where it says in the epistle reading this morning, it’s really… it’s a little bit of a difficult verse to appreciate and to understand, but if you can hear it, it says:
When he (Christ) ascended on high, he led captivity captive and he gave gifts to men. Now this “he ascended,” what does it mean but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended, far above the heavens, that he might fill all things.
That’s the key, that Christ might fill all things. He ascends into heaven. He ascends where God is. That makes sense. But our God, the existing One, the God of truth, the God of love, the God of mercy, it says, also descended into the lower parts of the earth. It doesn’t just mean that he walked the earth. St. John Chrysostom tells us that he descends into death. He descends into the place that exists because of sin. He doesn’t participate into sin, but he obliterates sin; he obliterates the darkness of sin with his own life, with his own light, with his own truth, with his own hope. That is redemption. It is to take something that is sinful and hopeless and sin-bearing and death-bearing, and fill it full of life.
So those of us who struggle with some kind of abuse in our life, who seem to be weighed down constantly by this—and I’m not speaking to any one person; I’m speaking to everyone who’s listening to this message and everyone who’s here today—whatever it is. And the second point it: Christ fills all things with himself, and that includes even the most hopeless situation, in order to change it and redeem it and make it again what it was always meant to be. When we’re baptized, we sing this song. We say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom, then, shall I fear?” And the question for us is: Do we really believe that? Do we really trust that that is true? Do we really believe that God is bigger than all of the sin and abuse that we are caught up in?
The final point is that all of this grace, all of this love, this light is given to us in this new society called the Church; that the Church allows us to experience this new life even if it’s just the love that we experience with one another in the context of the beauty and the joy and the truth that we receive here and that somehow it would permeate our life and it would enable us to be able to overcome whatever untruths are in our life. So the Church, it says in the reading today, is given gifts, is given the ability to build up itself, to edify itself. And it gives all of these roles in the reading today. It says:
He himself gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints and the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
We can’t partake of that grace, we can’t partake of that truth, unless we’re somehow acknowledging that, unless we’re participating in that. Of all of those roles that are listed, and there are many other roles and gifts that are listed in the New Testament, they’re meant for us; they’re meant for me to be built up. And it says that the whole point of it is to come to the end, till we all come to the unity of the faith: now that we believe the same thing, that we speak the same thing, hope the same thing, “to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The fullness of Christ is that light. The fullness of Christ is light which always overcomes darkness. That’s the beauty of light. Even the smallest amount of light allows us to see something in the darkness.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this feast of Theophany, this theophany is the manifestation of the light to us. Let us understand that and let us somehow experience it. We bless water on this day, and the holy water is there, available for us to take home, to drink, to bless our homes with, our cars, everything that we have, so that we would receive that grace, so that we eventually would know that the darkness has been overcome by the light, that the darkness of error has been overcome by truth, that the darkness of sin has been overcome by redemption and by hope and by faith and by love. Let us understand that Christ fills all things with himself—all things—so that we can live a life worthy of the gift that has been given to us in Christ.
To him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit, be glory, honor, and majesty, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!