Have you taken your Christmas tree down yet? We tend to put our Christmas tree and lights before most people in our neighborhood. I love to enjoy these things for the full duration of the season. However, once the day after Christmas hits, I want to take all the stuff down. (I would probably take it down right after Christmas dinner if I could!). I like to “clear to neutral” and get prepared for - and even get ahead for - the new year.
Many of these feelings are true not just for the holiday of Christmas, but even when I was a local church pastor it was easy to celebrate the miracle of Christmas, make an application to our lives, and then move on. As evangelicals, I think we tend to make a more consistent application of Holy Week than Advent (if we’re honest).
This year I had the privilege of preaching the Sunday after Christmas, or what is sometimes called “National Associate Pastor Sunday”. In preparation, I was reflecting on how it is easy for us to go through Christmas and celebrate the fact that the “Light of the World” has come and dwelt among us. We often celebrate this by passing the light of the candle to one another on Christmas Eve as a recognition of the reception of the light of Christ. Then we put the candles in a metal bin at the end of the service, and get them out again next year.
However, what struck me this year was that as far as I can think of, of all the titles for Jesus in the New and Old Testaments, there is only one that is also attributed to us, the church.. Think about it! Things like Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, The Bread of Life, The Good Shepherd. All of those are reserved for Jesus alone.
Scripture prophesies about Jesus being the Light of the World. Jesus claims the title for Himself in John 8:12...but also bestows it onto us in Matthew 5:14. I am not sure why, but this reality struck me anew this Advent season. As you will notice in this passage, Jesus doesn’t tell us to become the light of the world or become the salt of the earth, but that he has already made us these things. Our responsibility therefore is not to earn these positions or status, but to ensure we are living out the nature of who God has created us to be.
The simple question that I asked the congregation after Christmas, and I ask you, is, “Where are you called to shine?” Where are you called illuminate the path and point out obstacles to an unsuspecting world? How can permeate the world around you? The questions are obvious to deduce, but the answers may require some prayer and thought.
I think the final nugget I would pull from the passage is that we tend to think of this passage from and individual perspective. Where do you as an individual need to shine? But when Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount, the “you” there isn’t just a group of individuals. In community we are a reflection of the body of Jesus Christ. Where does your church as a whole need to shine its light before others?
We might also ask as a denomination, “Where do we shine our light?” While our mission is always focused on “The Complete Local” and the building of flourishing churches, I do think there are ways we, as part of the collective body, can express the light of the world. I love when I am in meetings or gatherings of leaders from other denominations and they tell me about how they know and have had positive interactions with ECO churches. I love hearing the reflections of people like PARS Theological Centre as they have multiple interactions with ECO congregations and how blessed they are by our community.
I look forward to continuing to press on in our 2030 vision imagining the collective impact we can have by bringing the best of our Reformed and Presbyterian heritage to a broken and hurting world.
May the Lord bless you richly in this new year and give you the power to shine in even the darkest places around us!