This past Thursday morning, Leah and I awakened early to watch the sun rise over the water. We sat on our bed in the house on Groton Long Point looking east, away over the tip of Fishers Island as the velvet dark blue of night softened, as the dawn fire kindled on the horizon, as the stars faded from view – all except one stubborn star up and to the right. With each passing minute the glorious scene displayed before us took on more and more depth and color and vibrancy. The skeletal trees stood out in silhouette, their branches arcing in all directions. The waterfront houses transformed from indistinct rectangles to homes with windows, shutters, and weathered shingles. And the water – the water caught the nascent light, which gilded the crest of each small wave, turning the water from blue to gold and shimmering brighter every minute.
When the sun finally broke over the low clouds, the light of day was fully upon us, and we reveled at the beauty of all we could see out the window, of God’s virtuosity on display in creation, all illumined by the light of morning sun. During the night, we could have gazed out that same window and imagined what the trees and houses and water looked like. By the silver light of the sliver moon, we might have been able just to pick out the shapes of the structures and known the water was there by the dark mass in the distance. But not until the dawn broke in the morning could we truly see the majesty before us and take a few minutes to appreciate it and thank God for such wondrous artistry.
You see, when the sun rose, we weren’t looking at the light itself; we were looking at everything the light illumined – the gilded waves, the quaint New England homes, the backhoe I failed to mention earlier. Indeed, we can’t really see light at all. Rather, because of light, we see everything else. We don’t see light; we see by light.
So keep this image of the dawn breaking over the ocean in your minds as we turn to today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke. Today is a special day, a feast day of the church year. Some feasts – like Easter – always happen on Sundays and others, like today’s, trump the normal Sunday schedule whenever their particular date on the calendar falls on a Sunday. Today we celebrate the event when Jesus’ parents presented their infant son to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, according to the law of Moses.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to include this tale. It’s possible he wouldn’t have included it at all if everything had gone as expected, but since we’re talking about Jesus, of course, everything doesn’t go as expected. In the temple, Mary and Joseph meet two people who have been waiting for something for a long time. These two elders, Simeon and Anna, don’t quite know what they are waiting for, but they are in tune with the Holy Spirit, who beckons them forward to meet the Holy Family.
Simeon gathers Jesus into his arms and sings a lullaby of praise, which the Book of Common Prayer renders like this:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
When Simeon gazes into the face of the infant Jesus, he sees the Light of Christ with his own two eyes and he knows – he finally knows – what he’s been waiting for all these years. With the Light of Christ shining on him, Simeon looks into the future and sees the same kind of beauty, the same kind of virtuosic majesty that Leah and I witnessed in the dawn breaking over the ocean and gilding the waves. Simeon both sees the baby Jesus and sees by the light shining forth from this luminous being before him, this light which enlightens the nations.
We, too, see by this Light of Christ if we allow ourselves to look with the same kind of eyes that Simeon and Anna have, the kind of eyes that see through the lens of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but we ourselves can be that light of Christ, as well, because as his followers we reflect his light, as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
As this is my first sermon with you, we don’t know each other yet. We start today and, thanks be to God, we will have many years to deepen our relationships – with each other and together with God. I debated how much biographical information to provide during this sermon, and I decided on very little, preferring other venues for such sharing. But I would like to offer this one piece: what I feel God is calling me to do with my life, the life I now get to share with you.
Like Simeon and Anna, God calls me to witness to the Light of Christ breaking through the clouds of this world. And God calls me to be a small piece of the Light of Christ, so that by my words and actions, others may see God’s presence shining throughout this creation. This is my mission, and I hope you will share it with me. I hope it will become our mission. It may seem lofty or too demanding, and it can be.
But more often than not, we live such a mission not in grand gestures like the sun rising over the ocean, but in small ones like gathering a baby into our arms and singing a lullaby. We live the mission to be vessels of God’s light when we are mindful during in the small moments of each day:
In the line at the grocery store when you choose not to be annoyed that the person ahead of you is taking too long;
In gym class when you stand up for the kid who’s being laughed at because he can’t climb the rope;
At church when you see a new face in your pew and you exchange a kind word of welcome.
These small moments gather together, like the minute by minute lightening of the sky at dawn, and soon the sun is shining, soon the light of Christ is spilling from you and landing on everyone around you. This is our mission: to see the light and to be the light.
Near the end of the film, The Truman Show, the main character has discovered that his entire life has been a lie, a scripted life caught on camera for the world’s viewing pleasure, and so he tries to escape. What he doesn’t know is that he’s living in a dome so massive it can be seen from outer space. Even the weather and the movement from day to night are controlled from a room at the top of the dome. When Truman escapes, the entire cast of the town mobilizes to find him, but it’s night in the dome and they can’t see a thing. So Christof, the mad genius creator of the show, says three little words: “Cue the sun.”
And in the middle of the night, the fake sun rises to illumine the search party, a daybreak hours before dawn is supposed to come. Now while Christof might be a misguided man with dubious motives, I invite you to remember those words. Pair them with the words of Simeon, whose eyes see the savior called to be a “light to enlighten the nations.” When you need a reminder that you are, in fact, a vessel of God’s light, remember the shimmering dawn gilding the waves. And ask God to cue the sun/son so you can see what God would have you see. When you are faced with a situation in which you need help being your best self, ask God to cue the sun/son so you can see how best to be God’s light.
Our mission is to see the light of Christ and to be the light of Christ in this world. So I pray, “Dear God – in my life, in each of our lives, and in our life together – cue the sun.”