St Stephen Lewisham

25 December 2004

The Little Torch


All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower

One of the most useful presents ever given me was this little torch.

Yes, it’s very small: so small that you probably can’t even see it from where you’re sitting.

Even when it’s switched on you may not be able to tell the difference. But you must take my word for it that it’s very useful. Though it’s barely an inch long, and less than an inch wide it produces a small but powerful beam of light.

Last Friday night for instance, it enabled Anne and me to see the path ahead, as we made our way through the pitch-black churchyard in rural Cheshire to Lameck Mutete’s new parish; by its light we could follow the map showing us how to get there; it was even strong enough to see in the darkness where the keyhole was on the car door to lock it up.

In today’s Gospel St John compares the coming of God the Son into the world with the switching-on of a light, rather like turning on a torch. From that moment Mankind could see things ‘in a different light’.

Of course God has been communicating with mankind since He created us. The writer to the Hebrews tells us in the Second Reading that ‘at various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but’, he goes on to say, ‘in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son.’

There’s a world of difference, between being told that something’s true (or feeling that it is), and being able to see it for oneself, however dimly. We might have been told us that there was a path from the gate to the church door; we could feel the path with our feet even in total darkness; we could know in our minds that the church was close by; but to be able to see the path itself, and the many puddles, let alone leaning gravestones that lay between us and the church was something which only that little torch made possible.

For light and darkness cannot exist together. Immediately a light is turned on somewhere, darkness ceases to exist – until, that is, someone puts that light out or we close our eyes to it. Light and darkness therefore aren’t opposites. The smallest beam of light banishes the darkness, and no amount of darkness can banish that light. ‘The light shines in the dark and the darkness could not overpower it’ as St John says.

Of course evil-doers can, and do, try and extinguish the light. They had a pretty good shot at it on Good Friday when they put the Light of the World to death; whilst those who prefer to remain in darkness can do so by simply shutting their eyes to the Light of Truth. Many people today do just that.

But Good and Evil, like Light and Darkness, are not exact opposites of each other. No amount of Badness can eliminate Goodness from the world, just as no amount of Falsehood can destroy the Truth. Those who choose to shut their eyes to the Truth don’t end up by making it any less True. It would still be the Truth whether anyone believed it or not. The most they can do is to ignore it. Which, of course, many do.

What happens when they choose to ignore the Truth? Well, there is another, equally correct translation of that verse we started from. Instead of describing Jesus Christ as ‘a light that darkness could not overpower’, it reads ‘a light that darkness could not understand.’

Those who choose to close their eyes to the Light of Christ, always end up by misunderstanding both Him and the Gospel which he came to bring, and to be. Without the light of faith they can indeed feel that He’s somehow a very worthwhile person. They can hear what Christians like St John and you and I proclaim him to be. They can know in their heart of hearts that there must be something behind those strange things that Christians like you and me get up to on a Sunday morning. But they can neither understand whence they have come nor where they are going. The old proverb which says that ‘there’s none so blind as those who will not see’ fits them perfectly.

We, however, who have allowed our eyes to be opened to the Truth can understand, however dimly, both where we have come from (God’s creation) and where we are going (into his Heavenly Kingdom). By accepting the light he offers us we become like that torch we began with this morning. Remember, it doesn’t matter how large or small the torch is. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, was once a very little torch indeed, lying in a manger, and before that, in his mother’s womb no bigger than the torch itself.

It’s easy to imagine that ‘small’ equals ‘useless’. But that’s just not true – as my torch proved. A ray of light from on high, however small, effectively drives away the darkness of this world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit of Truth we are told by Him to ‘let our light so shine before men that, as they see our good works, they too may come to the Light and glorify our Father which is in heaven’.


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