I was sitting in the bus from Heathrow on my way home – quietly looking at the landscape as we drove past. It was all familiar – nothing I hadn’t seen before – and yet having just left Australia I was seeing it in a new light. Literally. What I noticed first among the muted colours – the grey – the bluish tinges that my mind associated with cold – the traces of frost – was the light. You could see it bouncing around – and through – the clouds. The light was soft, muted, dimmed. “It really is at 60%” I heard myself think. (A bit of background … one of my descriptions of the difference between the UK and Australia is to ask the person to think of the best summer day here – warm, bright sunshine, blue skies, no clouds, lovely (and summer days here are lovely) … and then imagine stepping out of the plane in Australia and take that summer light and ‘now turn up the dimmer another 40% – to a new 100%’. This light is much brighter, there’s glare and a bite to it … people invariably wince or pull a face as they imagine it.)
In my former life in the performing arts, I’ve lit a lot of shows – theatre, puppetry, dance – and they all have different requirements. While in Sydney I went to see Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ at the Opera House – an Australian version. I tend to watch the lights at such things and was quite surprised to see things being done with the lighting that would have been regarded as ‘no no’ in the 1970s. The technology has moved on enormously but light and colour and shadow haven’t changed yet it seems that the ‘rules’ for ‘good’ lighting have indeed changed.
At this time of the year, there is less light than the darkness. People talk about lacking Vitamin D. Despite our halogen or LED lights and our bright twinkling Christmas lights, people seem to long for the sunlight. Yet in Australia there is a big push to stay out of the sunlight – sunglasses, sunscreen, cover up, wear hats. We need light but we are also told not to have the blue light of our screens – phones, tablets, and so on – with us when we sleep. Light is preferable to darkness but not necessarily essential as those who are blind can show us. We can want the dawn to come and the darkness to go but there are times when the light reveals such horrors that people wish they’d never seen them.
Advent and Christmas often have themes of light. Jesus said that he is light of the world. The message of salvation, of God making peace with this world, of sin and grace shines in such a way that we see the world today, life today, and ourselves in a certain way, in a certain light – as sinners loved by God. With this light people can see and live … reality and truth. The irony is that many people on Planet Earth don’t see! What they see is perhaps a baby in a manger, a man’s life, and his death and nearly 2,000 years of this man’s followers who have lived far from perfect lives! Many in the world don’t see Jesus, Christians, the Church in the same light as Christians do – or themselves or the world for that matter – but they still see – they have an understanding of Jesus, Christians, the Church, themselves, and the world.
‘Do you see what I see?’ This Christmas song is actually called ‘Do you hear what I hear?’ and that remains the key to understanding all the lights around and how to see Jesus. It is through our ears. As we hear God’s Word to us – words that take hold of us so that we see and live in God’s grace and mercy – we can see everything in a new light.