Participating in the light of Christ

The Cross and the World

Study for The Cross and the World by Thomas Cole (Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons)

Moses first meets God in the glow of a burning bush. After spending time with the Lord later in the story, he comes down from the mountain with a face that shines so bright he needs a veil. And when he appears in the gospel narratives with Elijah at the Transfiguration, he is awash with the uncreated light of God. These images from the scriptures are, among other things, snapshots in a progression of a life lived with God, a growing, intensifying illumination.

The Church celebrated Epiphany last week. Also called Theophany, it is the festival of lights and celebrates the manifestation of the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus. The Son rises from the water, the Spirit descends from above, and the Father speaks. Light enters the world in the coming of Christ, and the nature of that light is revealed in his baptism. As a result, in the ancient church and down to the present day it is common to speak of baptism as illumination. They’re synonymous.

“This illumination,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen in a sermon about baptism preached the day following Theophany, “is radiance of souls, transformation of life, engagement of the conscience toward God. Illumination is help for our weakness, illumination is renunciation of the flesh, following of the Spirit, communion in the Word, setting right of the creature, a flood overwhelming sin, participation in light, dissolution of darkness.”

All of this makes sense when remembering the association of light and God. John tells us in his first epistle that “God is light,” and in the opening chapter of his Gospel he tells us that the life of Christ is “the light of men.” Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to become “sons of light,” and he calls us “the light of the world” in Matthew’s Gospel. Our occupation is to participate and grow in the light until we beam like Moses.

That said, I am no Moses. In certain baptismal prayers, following the rite itself, the newly baptized person is called “the newly illumined.” I think it’s comforting that it doesn’t say “fully,” only “newly.” I still have plenty of dark corners. But the image of Moses here comforts as well. Moses’ illumination was a progression, not something that happened in one blinding, incandescent zap. Gregory’s words get at the same point; we are illumined so that we can have help for our weakness and overcome it.

The paradox of salvation is that God accepts us in our sin and deficiencies but does not accept the sin and deficiencies in us. His light burns away our passions and sinful desires and lights the narrow path ahead. Then, as we beam all the brighter, we can be an aide for those on the journey with us.

As we venture into a new year, I’m reflecting upon how Christ’s light can more deeply and thoroughly indwell me and then shine through me into the world around. How about you?

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://www.davidmschroeder.com Dave Schroeder

    Inspiring post this AM, Joel. The more we do indeed surround us by the light of Christ, we become more like him. We must be transformed daily by the light of Christ and allow him to continue this great work in us.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Thanks and amen.

  • steph

    I’ll be chewing on the following for a while: “As we venture into a new year, I’m reflecting upon how Christ’s light can more deeply and thoroughly indwell me and then shine through me into the world around.”

    Thanks for reminding me that I must strive for the light of the gospel to be found in every crevice of my heart!

  • John Blossom

    Thanks very much for this meditation. I am reflecting on it in the light of last week’s lectionary from Matthew 3, in which Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and receives the Holy Spirit. In Christ the perfect light of God came into the world, both new and complete, as confirmed by God at the Jordan and in the transfiguration and in Christ’s resurrection. In our own baptisms we receive this new light, not fully, as you point out, but that part of the fullness that is in us beckons us to seek out Christ’s full and perfecting grace and to leave the darkness of sin and death behind. A very timely piece, thanks.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      I love this thought: “that part of the fullness that is in us beckons us to seek out Christ’s full and perfecting grace…” Christ is always calling us to deeper communion.

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  • http://gailbhyatt.wordpress.com/ Gail Hyatt

    Since it has been a long time since I was baptized, I seldom think about it. Sometimes when I attend a baptism, I try to apply the prayers in the service to me, but truth is, I don’t pay that close of attention. Your post, and the timing of the feast has challenged me to take a closer look:

    “This illumination,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen in a sermon about baptism preached the day following Theophany, “is radiance of souls, transformation of life, engagement of the conscience toward God.

    This “definition” needs to be part of a personal, daily examination. Am I illuminated—today— filled with the light of Christ?

    “The paradox of salvation is that God accepts us in our sin and deficiencies but does not accept the sin and deficiencies in us.” Thank God this is true. Thank God, that because of His life and His light, I don’t have to remain the same.

    May 2011 be for me a year that is full of light—from within and shining outward.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Nazianzen’s sermon is really wonderful. It’s a shame I can only quote a bit. You can find a copy in Festal Orations.

      I think the self-examination aspect you mention above is particularly important. Thanks for sharing.


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