Reflecting the Light

You may listen to Mother Takacs's sermon here.

Last weekend I went to the movies with my aunt and uncle. During the numerous previews before our movie started, we saw a trailer for a new film called Vampire Academy, which, as its name suggests, is about a Hogwarts-looking prep school where all of the students just happen to be undead. It looks to have all of the typical high school drama, with all of the standard high school stereotypes – the jock, the princess, the nerd, the mean girl; it’s essentially the Breakfast Club with fangs. As I sat watching this trailer, rolling my eyes in the darkness, my aunt, in an attempt to explain the general goofiness we were seeing on the screen, leaned over to me and whispered knowingly, “You know, vampires are very ‘in’ right now.”

Vampires are very “in” right now. You can hardly turn around without running into some new vampire saga. Some of these additions to the vampire oeuvre are better than others, but what I find most interesting is how each writer of these stories tries to put a unique spin on vampire mythology. Each new story creates a slightly different vampire world with slightly different rules, rules about how new vampires are made, are their fangs retractable or not, do they drink only human blood or are they happy with a very rare steak, do they live in secret or are they “out of the coffin.” Are they cruel, parasitic monsters, or can they feel, fall in love, get married, even have little vampire babies? Each new version of the vampire story has its own set of answers to these core questions.

The one thing that is consistent among all vampire stories is that vampires and the sun don’t mix. Sunlight is always dangerous. At worst (and most of the vampire stories focus on the worst), exposure to sunlight kills them – again. It burns their skin away to ash, or exsanguinates them in a particularly unappealing way. Daylight is definitely off-limits to vampires; the nighttime with its cool, dispassionate moonlight can be their only domain.

The fact that this rule about sunlight seems to be the one great constant in these variant vampire worlds makes a recent tweet I read written by a British comedian just that much funnier. I wonder, the comedian wrote, in that musing-about-life-in-160-characters kind of way, why vampires never realize that moonlight is just reflected sunlight. Good question, isn’t it? And it exposes a real flaw in the vampire mythology. Because, really, could you imagine Dracula standing under a full moon yelling, “Oh, my skin is being burned by the light of the sun as it is reflected off of the lunar surface!”? No, of course not. Because vampire myths are based on the wrong-headed notion that moonlight is its own light, that the light of the moon actually waxes and wanes on its own, that it is light somehow made of a different stuff and is therefore harmless. And really, how boring would it be to read a book about vampires who could only ever go outside at the New Moon when it was mostly cloudy? Pretty boring. And so vampire fans are happy to live with this little inconsistency, the lie of the light – moonlight that is somehow substantively different than the sunlight it comes from.

You are the light of the world, Jesus tells his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, and you’d better not hide yourselves away in the shadows. Let your light shine before others so that they may see you and in seeing you, see God. Which is all fine and good; Jesus says that we are light and so it must be true. But there is just the tiniest bit of anxiety in these verses, anxiety that has sifted down from the verses that immediately precede them, where Jesus first tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth. But, he warns, if the salt loses its saltiness, then you are in big trouble. Now I have no idea how salt loses its saltiness; I mean, you never pick up a salt shaker and say, “My gosh, this salt has no saltiness!” Is that even possible? I have no idea what Jesus is referring to in these verses, and I take some comfort that most biblical commentators don’t either. Mineralogy aside, though, Jesus’ point is clear – there is a quality about you that must be preserved, at all costs.

Which is why, I guess, the light verses make me a little nervous. Because while I have no idea how salt loses its salt-hood, I can very easily imagine how light can lose its light-hood. It just goes out. Poof. Gone. No more light. Actually, I don’t have to imagine; I know exactly what it feels like when my light goes out. I know what it feels like to feel flat and uninspired; to feel like I’ve lost my brilliance, my zeal, that warm glow of faith. I know what it’s like to feel like I just don’t have the time or the patience or even the optimism to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,…to share my bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into my house.” After all, all of this light work is exhausting. There is an infinite amount of darkness out there in the world, so of course I occasionally find myself feeling like this little light of mine isn’t shining anywhere.

And the question about what to do when I lose my light-hood is almost as tricky as what to do when I lose my salt-hood. What happens when my light goes out, when the flame of my faith flickers and dies? How do I make it start shining again? How do I force myself to find that spark, that energy, when I don’t even feel like looking for it? No wonder Jesus has to warn the disciples not to hide their lamp under a bushel basket. Knowing that I have this precious light inside me that must shine into the world, I, too, want to huddle around it, covering it with my hands, keeping it to myself, keeping it out of the wind so that nothing can blow it out.

But then I wonder if we are just as confused about this light as vampires are about the moon. Is it possible that we are holding on to a profoundly wrong-headed notion – the notion that our light is its own light, that our light can wax and wane and be blown out all on its own, that our light is substantively different than the light that it comes from? For surely just as moonlight is sunlight transformed, so our light is Godlight transformed. Sure, it looks and feels different. It feels like Erika light, or David light, or Kent John light, or Addie light. But it is really the light of Christ.             

Now this does not make us and our work any less important. This does not make “you are the light of the world” any less of a charge. For God has entrusted this light to us, given this light over to you and to me, the light of truth, the light of justice, the light of compassion, the light of love, and asked us to shine it into all the world. This is an important task for which we bear great responsibility. But it is not just our responsibility. For because this light is, at its core, God’s light, we never have to worry about entirely losing it. There may be times when we feel like we are mostly cloudy, or when there is a great planet of sin or frustration or apathy covering part of us in shadow, but this does not change the fact that the light will never go out. It is the light of Christ, shining into the darkness, and the darkness did not, will not, overcome it.  That light will seek us out and suddenly flare up again, often at the most unexpected times and places. As in the words of one today’s hymns, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings; it is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings: when comforts are declining, he grants the souls again a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain."

This is a kind of double good news. First it is good news because it means that we don’t have to worry so much. We are the light of the world because Christ has made us so, not because we have made ourselves so. We don’t have to worry about our light, because our light is God himself. But there is even more good news. Because Christ is not only the source of our light; he has also given us each an eternal way to reflect that light. For in the deep, still waters of our baptisms, we are each given a reflecting pool of grace that floats deep within us. We are made into mirrors, you and I and in just a moment, little Evelyn, so that when we are given the light of Christ, we may forever reflect that light into the world.

You are the light of the world. You are a holy reflection of the light of Christ. So be free with your light, be extravagant. Hold it up in the darkest night, in the greatest storm, in the places where it will burn away all that is not of God. And if you feel your light start to flicker and fade, fear not. Remember the mirror of your baptism, and shine like the Son.

Posted on February 12, 2014 .