Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
Some might say that today we are wandering in great darkness. Division in our culture, division in our church, division in our politics, division in many communities and homes. Division equals darkness. We feel we are living in dreary, depressing, darkening days.
In the days preceding Jesus and Paul, the Jewish people found themselves living in dark days. We might romanticize first century Palestine and surrounding areas as “simpler times” but think for a moment all the things we have that they did not. Electricity for lights, for warmth, for cooking; running safe, clean water; abundant transportation; multiple communication devices covering long distances; public and private schools for all ages; access to all kinds of food, furniture, appliances, equipment. Today, literacy is high, science and technology have expanded our horizons, good scholarship and research have expanded our minds and our understanding. All these wonderful things are truly gifts from God, but they were not part of the cultural reality at the time of Jesus and Paul.
We look at medicine, at science, at language, at history, at almost any discipline we can think of and we have emerged from darkness into light. We have evolved to understand that slavery is wrong, beating children is not okay, polygamy and stoning people are unacceptable – even though our scriptures not only allow, but recommend these things. We have come from darkness into light.
We have come to an awakened respect for women, for people of other cultures, for those with physical and cognitive limitations that would have been viewed as demonic in the first century. Through sound and solid biblical study, we come to see that we must be careful not to impose modern and post-modern, western, moralistic meaning to pre-modern, primitive, and Middle Eastern/Mediterranean writing and thinking. By God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are continuously moving away from darkness into light.
But this is not of our own doing. No matter how advanced our thinking and reasoning; no matter how sophisticated and cultured our manners; no matter how technologically and scientifically adept we have become, all this is the natural evolution of the creation by God. Some rebel against science – but science is a gift from God. We know about germs and viruses, many of us have excellent health care (though sadly many do not), many have access to amazing medications (while others do not), and most of us will live long, happy lives that the vast majority of people in the first century could not conceive (nor over half the world’s population today). Dental care, vision care, hearing care – we should never take these things for granted, and wherever possible we should strive to make them readily available to anyone and everyone who needs them. We live in an enlightened and enlightening time, because God is not finished with us yet.
We of the middle- and upper-classes in the United States have a nearly impossible task of understanding and relating to the concept of living in darkness. Yet, in every one of our communities there are people living in desperate need of food, clothing, shelter, and basic medical attention. We have refugees and immigrants living in daily fear that they or someone they love will be deported. We have a growing population of children and young people terrified to go to school for fear of being shot. We have people having to fight daily to be accepted, treated with dignity and respect, and to be allowed basic human rights denied them. Millions of people live under a shadowing cloud of darkness.
How can this be? Jesus made two amazing statements that we should contemplate during this Advent season. The first (John 8:12 and 9:5), “I am the light of the world.” God sent Jesus as light – God “glorified” Jesus (to glorify means “to fill with light) – to dispel the darkness and give new hope, purpose, and meaning to our lives. No matter how deep and vast the darkness might be, we cannot get lost in it as long as we have Jesus in us and with us.
The second statement may be even more amazing (Matthew 5:14), “You are the light of the world.” As we live our Christian discipleship in the world, God glorifies us through Christ Jesus to be light to each other! What an amazing concept. We are God’s glory shining in the world. We are to be, individually and together, a beacon of hope, care, kindness, forgiveness, and love. When Christ is in us, there should be no darkness at all. I ask you to pray with me this Advent time that the glorious light of God in Christ will shine in our hearts, that together we might glorify God, and through our witness to amazing grace and unconditional love God might use us to transform the world.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).