Light Shows Up

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.“ (Matthew 5:14,16)

There’s a lot of talk about light in the season of Epiphany. We sometimes speak of someone having a realization about something as having “an epiphany.” But the fundamental meaning is broader. The word “epiphany“ means “to appear.” It comes from a Greek word that is used to describe the appearance of the sun at dawn, as well as that moment when scouts spot the enemy on the battlefield. Even more importantly for the epiphany season, it is used to identify the manifestation of a deity to a worshiper. An “epiphany” is an encounter with God.

That’s what’s in mind when earlier in the Gospel according to Matthew, the account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is presented. As Jesus is described as moving to Capernaum on the shore of Galilee, Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.” Matthew is telling us that there, in the least likely location, and in the least likely way, God has appeared. God has shown up.

This epiphany/revelation is beneficial for us today at Valpo in at least two ways. First, the presence of light is central to the University motto, which quotes Psalm 36, “In your light, we see light.”  Since this is the case, it’s good for us to pay extra attention when light appears in the Bible; it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on our shared mission. Second, it’s because a university is in the wisdom and knowledge business – sometimes called “enlightenment.”

These references to light in our academic setting can make us inclined to read the Biblical references to light primarily in terms of intellectual content: ideas, knowledge, wisdom. You know, “the pursuit of truth.“ 

But this is not the whole story. In fact, if we pursue this as a whole story, we end up with something distorted and fractioned and primarily individualized. My knowledge. My wisdom. My truth. Matthews’s characterization of Jesus’ epiphany is fuller than that. It is about his presence. It is about God‘s presence. It is about Jesus showing up. When Jesus shows up, he brings his whole self – knowledge, wisdom, truth. But not abstracted truth; rather, it is an embodied truth and, by virtue of embodiment, Jesus’ epiphany – his light – is relational. It is about being in Capernaum, in relationship to his disciples and now, by virtue of his resurrection and ascension, also in relationship with us who receive his presence through his word and the sacraments which, I believe, embody his presence in simple water, bread and wine which calls together a community of people who in that very community, embody his presence. The body of Christ – people gathered in the name of Jesus (and therefore in the presence of Jesus) – embody this presence.

When Jesus calls his hearers to let their light shine before others, he is calling them (and us) to be the presence of Jesus through acts of service to those who (as Jesus will declare later in the Gospel according to Matthew) are also signs of Jesus’ presence.

From the perspective of Matthew, to be a Beacon is to be Jesus to one another. 

This works itself out in all sorts of situations both everyday and heroic, both joyful and grave. Pr. Kate preached a powerful message last Sunday morning that told the story of how the gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” empowered the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 

Let your light so shine.

Pr. Jim

Feb. 8, 2023

Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay.