Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

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The Gift of Light





This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:5, ESV

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined. – Isaiah 9:2, ESV

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12, ESV

Winter is almost upon us, but already the nights seem longer, darker and colder. It’s dark here in California by 5 p.m. Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD) is adjusting to survive the Winter: his fur has become thick and luxurious again, and on mornings that are warm enough, Jack goes outside to capture whatever sunshine he can in his coal black fur. Terry resists turning on the heater, so at night, the Bible Study Dog sleeps wedged between my right leg and the recliner chair arm, with a faux Native American blanket covering both of us (did you know that normal temperature for dogs is a few degrees higher than for humans?). Jack Lewis is a social dog and he likes to cuddle. The BSD is sweet this time of year, except when he’s not, like when he feels neglected as I work in my office, and he lets loose with an ear-splitting, frantic howl, that I have called his “social misery howl.” I have tried to discuss this behavior rationally with the Bible Study Dog, with very limited success. Usually, he just stares at my moving lips or into my pleading eyes, seeking to discern what sort of human behavior this is. The most successful technique so far is for me to stop up my ears, until Jack realizes his supplications are hopeless. Though the other day when I stopped up my ears, I heard Jack mutter as he retreated, “Yeah, that’s real mature!”

I’ve been thinking about how light, especially candle light, is prominent for both Jews and Christians at this time of year. Perhaps you have held a little white candle while singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve or when caroling at a nursing home or from door to door. In the Latino/a culture in which I served as a pastor for many years, there is a tradition called Las Posadas. The carolers go from door to door re-enacting the search of Joseph and Mary for lodging. At the final stop, refreshments are served, including a Mexican variety of hot chocolate (it’s an acquired taste). And every time I walked in the procession, I was almost unimaginably cold.

For Christians who follow the Church Year, the last Lord’s Day of the Year is “Christ the King,” followed by four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Season of Christmas, and then Epiphany (remembering the Gentiles, and the Star that led them to the place to worship the Messiah). Each Lord’s Day in Advent a new candle is lit on the Advent Wreath. Last Sunday, November 29th, was the first Sunday of Advent and the Hope candle was lit. Each Sunday an additional candle is lit, along with all the previous candles. The white Christ candle is placed in the center of the wreath and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. A family may also light the Advent candles at home.

Advent Wreath15

On the First Sunday of Advent these words might be read:

We light this candle as a sign of the coming light of Christ.
Advent means coming.
We are preparing ourselves for the days

when the nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, Isaiah 2:4
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

The next Sunday two candles are lighted, the above is read, and Isaiah 11:6 is added. You get the idea: the third Sunday, Isaiah 35:1 is added; the fourth Sunday, Isaiah 7:14b is added. And then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, this text is added:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Isaiah 9:2
those who lived in a land of deep darkness,
on them light has shined.

Each candle lighting is concluded with these words:
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The Jewish observance of Hanukkah is also celebrated with candles, a festival of lights. The background of Hanukkah takes us back to the 2nd century, BCE, when Judah was under occupation and oppression by the Greeks. The Greek Emperor, Antioches Epiphanies IV, even desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. A family of priests (one son was called Maccabee) revolted in about 165 BCE, and sought to take back, and reconsecrate or rededicate the temple (the word, ‘hanukkah’, may be translated as ‘dedicate’ or ‘rededicate’). Under siege by the Greco-Syrian army, the priests found a small amount of oil (they thought a day’s worth) to light the temple. However, the oil lasted for eight nights! Thus Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights and an additional candle of the Menorah is lit on each night: there are nine candles, one of them to light the other candles. The first biblical mention of a “Feast of Dedication,” is in John 10:22, when Yeshua stood in the Portico of Solomon of the temple. Hanukkah began on the evening of December 6th this year.

Hanukkah remembers and celebrates the LORD’s provision for Israel and his faithfulness to his promises. It is also an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the Missio Dei (Mission of God) in the world. But what I’m interested in now is the place of light in YHWH’s salvation of humankind.

In the Bible, both the Tanakh and Brit Hadashah, ‘light’ is sometimes used literally, as that by which we see the material world, avoid obstacles, etc. It is also used metaphorically as knowledge, wisdom, the holiness of God (1 John), the glory of YHWH (shekinah), candor, openness, the witness of disciples (“city on a hill”) and divine guidance.

The Living God exults in light, as a material reality, a spiritual reality and as a metaphor, from the Garden (Eden) to the City (New Jerusalem). From “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:4) to the pillar of fire that the LORD used so that Israel “…might travel by day and by night” (Ex. 13:21) to the Promised Land, from “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6) to the star that showed the wise men where the Christ child was, from “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12a) to “…the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk…” (Rev. 21:23-24a) and light crackles from God’s fingertips and lightens our darkness.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have come to a turbulent patch of mixed metaphors, rapidly changing metaphors and changing definitions; stay seated, keep your hands inside, and do not attempt any sudden movements until we have finished. Let’s make several observations about light.

1) When you don’t have it, you wish you did. If you have gone back-packing or attended retreats, camps or conferences, you were instructed to bring a flashlight. We still keep flashlights and candles available for the occasional blackout here in Southern California.

2) Often light appears brighter against a dark background. The main reason we cannot see many stars is the ambient light from cities and towns. If you want to see a panoramic array of stars and constellations, go to the desert, far from any light (you will need to backpack). However, the drop in temperature at night may leave you shivering so that you can’t focus. Anyone with eyes to see, knows that we live in a morally and spiritually dark time. As an adolescent, I was inspired by these words from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, “Long Time Gone” (1970): “You know the darkest hour is always just before the dawn; And it appears to be a long time before the dawn…” And these words of St. Paul: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15, ESV) Rejoice sisters and brothers! This is our time to shine!

3) People who want to hide what they are doing, run from light (like cockroaches I’m told), and seek the darkness. This is all of us at some time. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5, ESV) “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19, ESV) This explains a lot about us, our cultures and our society.

4) Yeshua is the greatest light in our world, and we may walk in his light and not stumble. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV)

5) Yeshua’s disciples, his Light Workers, if you will, are called to be lights & witnesses for others. Yeshua: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16,ESV) Enough said.

6) The most joyful and free way to live is to walk in the light, to live in candor and openness before God and to live in candor and openness with our sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ. “This is his message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7, ESV) What would it mean to walk in freedom without guilt? Think about not having to keep your story straight. Imagine a world with complete trust between members of the Body of Christ. My dad called this living with “roof off and walls down.” Or alternatively, keeping short accounts with both God and others.

So much more could be written about light! But I hope you will catch the joy I have in the Light of the World and in the festivals of lights that Jews and Christians walk among at this time of year. These words from alternative Christian rocker Miss Angie’s song, “I Love Light” (1999) keep going through my mind: “I love light, I love light ways; You never fail…”

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD. – Isaiah 2:5, ESV


This post was powered by the EP, “Peace, Love & Light” (2013) by The Choir; the CD, “Songs for Christmas” (2014) by Branches; and the EP, “Echoes Of Wonder” (2015) by Salt Of The Sound.

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Reflexiones para Adviento y Navidad – parte uno


And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the six month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:30-38, ESV)

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. by The Beatles (1970, Lennon-McCartney, really written by Paul McCartney)

Jack Lewis the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD) is a little at loose ends in Advent and the time before Christmas, because schedules have caused us to suspend the Thursday evening Bible studies until after the holidays. The social interaction, culinary opportunities, excitement, shoe laces to be untied and times of comfort on someone’s lap, all combine to make the Bible study a high point of the BBSD’s week. In the Bible study community, if Jack Lewis has not become a Christian, at least he lives under the blessings of God’s kingdom where humans exercise something of the dominion over creation they were meant to have. In this season, Jack usually has about two good days and one bad day. A good day is when Jack Lewis is not too demanding, after he has had his basic ritual of the predator game, he sleeps without anxiety, and greets all visitors that Jack knows with canine courtesy. On a bad day, Jack Lewis demands a lot of attention and he gives his challenge bark to all visitors, even those he knows. The challenge bark is different from the ear-splitting, deafening bark that I have told you about, which seems to mean, “There are Vikings coming up the walkway, brandishing swords and shields, and I will not stop until I see clear signs of panic from everyone (and I mean everyone!) in the house.” No, the challenge bark is a briefer deep bass guttural bark which seems to translate as, “Who are you?” In these moments, what Jack lacks in courtesy, is matched by his conscientious performance of what he sees as his role in our pack.

Jack the Bible Study dog is relearning the protocols of living in a house where Christmas is celebrated. For instance, one does not take an ornament off the Christmas tree and proudly bring it to the pack leader to play with or one does not take the stocking off of the front door and drag what’s left of it all over the front lawn. For Jack Lewis, the blessings of Advent and Christmas are mixed with challenges.

For many of us, the holiday season brings challenges. Shopping, decorating, partying, worry, the blues can crowd out poise, calm, peace and worship. What we need is an inner center focused on the One that we worship, out of which our words and actions flow. One of the various types of Christian meditation is to focus on a word or phrase. The word could be “love”, “peace”, “joy” or some other meaningful word. A phrase might remind us of what we believe about God, perhaps even a biblical phrase or sentence like, “God is love”, “the peace which passes all understanding”, “God is light and in him is no darkness”, “My peace I give to you”, “the Light of the world”, “I AM” or “the LORD will provide”.

I learned the following meditation many years ago. Let me guide you. Find a place free of distractions, and a comfortable position, or you can walk if you prefer. Set aside about 10 minutes. Relax and slowly turn your heart toward God. Be present to him. We are going to take a portion of a Bible verse, break it down and just live with whatever associations come to us with each phrase or word: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a, ESV) Let’s proceed like this:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Ponder and feel. Consider what this means for your life.
“Be still, and know that I am…” – Ponder and feel. Lean back in God’s ‘arms’.
“Be still, and know…” – Ponder and feel. Let trust and confidence arise within you.
“Be still…” – Do it.
“Be…” – Consider how over time this word can point, for you, to all the meanings of the whole sentence.

Now come back to your everyday world slowly and gently. Try to bring awareness of God with you into all your activities. Thank God for what you have seen and understood.

It is hard to believe that the Beatles’ song, Let It Be, could be written in a culture that has no Christian memory. The words, “let it be” echo Mary’s words in response to the angel’s announcement of Mary’s call as a virgin to bear the Messiah, the King to rule in David’s line, the Son of God. Also, several other phrases in the song seem to be direct quotes from the Psalms. The choice of the name, Mary, can’t be ignored either. However, Paul McCartney insisted the song was about a dream of his mother, who died of cancer when he was 14 years old. Mary, his mother, whispered to him to “let it be”, that everything would “be alright”. The religious overtones of the song, in the studio, seemed obvious enough to John Lennon that he tried to dial them back. Let It Be was performed by three of the Beatles at Linda McCartney’s memorial service. (1)

In any case, there is a wide canyon between “let it be” and “…let be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38b, ESV). A great space yawns between “take it easy”, “it’s all good”, “no worries mate”, “chill”, “don’t worry, be happy”, “everything will work out”, on the one hand, and “I am the Lord’s servant; I trust You; do with me as you will, or as you have promised (and announced); and I offer myself to be an instrument of your kingdom, an instrument of revolt against the evil and disorder of this world”, on the other hand. There is a big difference between trusting your life to the universe and trusting your life to a loving, wonder-working God. There is a big difference between ‘whistling pass the graveyard’, mere psychological comfort, and joining the revolution, expecting to meet God and his guidance, as we step out moment by moment, in obedience. After all, as the angel said, “…nothing will be impossible with God”!


If you find belief in miracles, like a virgin birth, difficult, I ask you to suspend disbelief for awhile, and to try on Mary’s attitude. Let’s make Mary’s words, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”, our mantra this season of Advent and Christmas.

(1) To verify the Beatles lore, see the book, “The Gospel According to The Beatles” by Steve Turner (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006). Find the song, “Let It Be”, in the index, for page numbers. This is probably the most accurate, fair and profound book about the Beatles and their beliefs.

This post was powered by the CD, “Divine 3.0 – Songs for Christmas” by The Violet Burning, by the CD, “Songs for Christmas” (2014) by Branches, the CD, “Midwinter EP” (2013) by The Western Den, the single, “Oh, Holy Night! (Single)” (2013) by All Delighted People, the CD, “Advent One” (2014) by Already Not Yet, the song, “Let It Be” (2000) by the Beatles, and the CD, “Christmas” (1993) by Bruce Cockburn.