He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. (Jn 1:8)
How can you increase your capacity to see Christ’s light?
How can you share Christ’s light with others?
Light is a symbol that entranced biblical authors of every period. Human eyes are extraordinarily sensitive to illumination. Unlike many animals, human eyes can adjust to see well at twilight and high noon. We can also train our eyes to function in abnormally bright or dim light. People who live in desert and polar regions can see through a midday glare that would blind anyone not accustomed to it, and many indigenous dwellers in the tropics hunt successfully even in the semi-darkness of a rainforest floor.
Writing around the year A.D. 200, the early Christian scholar Origen recorded some thoughts on today’s Gospel passage that played on the sensitivity of human vision. The light that John speaks of in today’s Gospel is the teaching and example that Jesus left us. When individuals believe in Christ, model their lives on him and follow his commandments, they learn everything they need to love God and neighbor. This model and teaching is the light Jesus Christ offers.
Origen reminds us that the sun’s brilliance can illumine places that other lights cannot reach. It reflects off walls and shines around corners. It finds cracks and imperfections in roofs and doors and shuttered windows and lights up even closed rooms. Just so, the light of Christ breaks through the closed doors of our mind. Those who follow Christ find unexpected insights in his Spirit. They discover new answers to ancient problems. They hear a call to deeper love and service. Christ’s disciples walk in the light even while others around them stumble in the gloom.
Grace builds on nature. Origen reminds us that just as human eyes will adapt to bright light, a life spent following
Christ increases the capacity to live out his teaching. This realization lies behind this week’s second reading too. “Do not quench the Spirit,” St. Paul tells us. A life spent listening to and following the Spirit prepares us in “spirit, soul and body” for the arrival of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist walked a path illumined by such brilliance. The Gospel says that John came to testify to the light “so that all might believe through him.” Everything John said or did refracted divine brilliance onto those around him. People eventually came to see the light of Christ because they had already seen it shine through John. As Origen said, God sends the stars to guide us until we are ready to look at the sun.
In the era before modern navigation, the stars guided lost sailors home. If we let Christ's light shine through us, we can be a similar beacon for so many who wander. This is how we can testify to the light today. If we let Christ’s light shine through us, we can be the stars they follow.