Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
In yesterday’s devotion, I suggested that the candles lit in the temple from the annual Feast of Tabernacles was the backdrop to Jesus claiming, “I am the light of the world.” In fact, because he probably said this on the last day of the festival, Jesus was creating an even more vivid contrast than it appears at first glance.
On the eighth and final day of the festival, the impressive lights of the great candelabra were actually extinguished to close the celebration. Do you recall that sad feeling after a joyous event? Taking down the Christmas tree, cleaning up after a wedding reception, or saying goodbye at the end of summer camp can leave us with a longing for that joy to return. It’s likely that Jesus was standing there on the eighth day of the Feast when the dancing had stopped and the light had been extinguished. There, in that darkened room, he said, “I am the light of the world.”
The lights of the temple were a reminder of God’s Shekinah glory that appeared in the Old Testament (e.g. the burning bush, the pillar of fire at night in the wilderness, the cloud of glory at Solomon’s temple). But, by the time of Jesus, Israel had not seen God’s glory for hundreds of years. In fact, Ezekiel said that God’s glory had departed but would one day return to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10). In John 7-8, Jesus is speaking just at the time when the party ended, when the longing for the return of God’s glory was heightened. When he said, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,” he touched a deep nerve because the lack of light was so evident and their longing for God’s presence was heightened.
Sir Francis Bacon once said, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, darkness must be present.” When my wife and I were ministering in our wonderful church in Newport Beach, one of the most exclusive parts of Southern California, we never imagined God would call us to serve in a church in downtown Los Angeles, just two blocks from Skid Row. This area made up of fifty-four blocks is known for poverty, rampant drug use, violence, and crime. It can aptly be described as a place of utter darkness. But, amidst this darkness, I am privileged to serve at the Union Rescue Mission, where we serve over 2000 meals and house up to 1000 men, women, and children each day. It is true that the light does shine brightest in contrast to the dark.
Sometimes our culture wrongly applauds “winners” who have lived very “safe lives”. In fact, real leadership is found at the intersection of darkness and light. It’s seen in the pastor who confronts a congregation’s proclivity to avoid risk or a teacher refusing to “teach for the test.” A real leader helps an organization confront its drift from its original mission and vision even in the face of opposition. Light will always shine brightest in darkness. True leaders are more often found among these daily challenges that might not look “successful” but are places where God’s presence and wisdom are needed most of all.
Questions to Consider
Do you find yourself susceptible to avoiding the “dark” or challenging situations in your daily work?
What aspects of your leadership does your organization or community have trouble recognizing as “light”?
Jesus, give me the courage to bring your light into dark and challenging places that are before me. Show me how to reveal your light within me in the places you have called me to lead. Amen.