The previous blog post raised this question: How could the news of the Light of the World be spread to all people everywhere in the time of Jesus and afterward? Only a small minority of the population could read and write, and there were only rudimentary communications systems. Given such constraints, how would you go about sending any message to a significant number of people in a broad area? The answer is simple: You would tell people. Those who knew Christ carried the Light of his message to others, often one person at a time. Word-of-mouth is still an essential (and perhaps the most effective) way that this news is spread today.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)
Some believers shine their Light in highly visible settings by preaching and teaching, similar to the apostles in the early days of the Christian church. Others tell people individually, one conversation at a time, about how their lives have been changed by Jesus. Ways to share the Light include doing as well as telling. Many believers shine with the Light of Christ in providing practical forms of care and support to people in need, while others make the Light visible by sharing their material resources for good works. All of these methods are valid and useful, and all of them make a real difference in our world and to the people who inhabit it.
On the other hand, many and perhaps most believers are reluctant to spread the Light of Christ. They say they don’t want to be intrusive to others’ privacy, or they don’t feel qualified to tell the news, or they’re afraid of being rejected or ridiculed, or … you’ve probably heard these reasons before. Bushel baskets come in many different styles and sizes! Of course we all need to respect the rights and preferences of others: No one is favorably impressed by an encounter with a steamroller. And we do want to make sure that the message that we spread is true to the historic teachings of our faith. In a post-religious society we must certainly be prepared to face the realistic risk of rejection or ridicule. Being rebuffed is not pleasant, to be sure, but letting our fear of that experience prevent us from trying is neglecting our mission. This kind of thinking focuses too much on the messenger and too little on the message.
To regain a proper perspective, it may be helpful to examine some of the physical properties of light. Light is powerful. You don’t need the wattage that emanates from a Broadway marquee to illuminate an average-sized room, or even an auditorium. As long as there is even a tiny glimmer from a single candle, a space is not dark.
Do you remember the 1920s children’s hymn that was later adopted by the Civil Rights movement, “This Little Light of Mine?” Its lyrics remind us of a key truth about light (repeats are edited):
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….
Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine….
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine….
Shine all over the whole wide world, I’m gonna let it shine….
Let it shine till Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine….
Did you notice that the song doesn’t say “I’m going to make it shine?” Shining is what a light does naturally: you just have to let it shine.
By its very nature the Good News pierces through the darkness of evil. Jesus came into the world to release all people everywhere from bondage to sin. Those who have welcomed this news to guide their lives naturally live in the Light of Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit beams that Light through everything they do – how they treat the people with whom they come in contact, how they go about their daily duties, how they make decisions and set priorities. It pervades their attitudes and emotions as well as their actions. It’s actually a much bigger job to keep the Light hidden than to let it shine! Attempts to hide the light under a bushel basket rather than putting it on a lampstand may be futile, because light seeks its own way around barriers or obstructions, seeping out through any small crack or gap. Light is both powerful and persistent.
Epiphany is a good time to think about the Light of Christ: Where have you seen it shining lately? What do you think might have happened if the person who carried the Light had instead hidden it under a bushel basket? Do you ever try to hide the Light of Christ within you? Under what type of bushel basket? What would it take to replace your bushel baskets with lampstands?