Dear people “who have obtained a faith of equal standing by the righteousness of our God and Saviour,
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:1)
The boy felt even smaller than he was. The darkness was thick and heavy. It was like all of the walls had closed in tight around him and he could not move. They may have been 20 feet or 2 inches away. It was impossible to tell. The darkness made the air thick, clingy. It was difficult to breathe, as if the blackness itself was inhaled with every breath and filled his lungs with a dense vapour. He began to hyperventilate, trying to get enough oxygen through the damp and viscous dark. How would he get out? How would he find his way? How would he move an inch or take another breath?
What is the darkness that has you trapped, paralyzed, gasping for air? Is it loneliness or grief, illness or guilt, fear or despair? These are the things that close in around us in life and bring on darkness: dark thoughts, dark wishes, dark behaviours. Will the darkness come upon you in your living room, in the hospital bed, in some gloomy hole into which your feet seemed to lead you without thought, or simply within the few inches of space that are occupied by your own mind and heart?
The boy, immobilized by fear of the darkness, cannot get himself out. He will not find his way. He will not be able to stir up enough courage within him to make a blind dash, and if he did, he would not know what direction to go. As he consigns himself to his fate, he sinks down onto his side. His knees curl up to his chin and his body assumes that position he was in when he occupied his mother’s womb, a place where he was safe even in the darkness, when he was totally dependent on her for life.
Is this where the darkness has taken you? Have you yet realized that there is no way to get yourself out? Have you consigned yourself to the grim reality that what awaits you is death and eternal despair? This is the result of sin, your sin and the sin of the whole world weighing down upon you, closing you in, filling you like a poison so that you cannot breathe for fear, for shame, for helplessness. What is there left to do but to long to be in a place that is safe and secure, a place where even though you are helpless, you are protected and warm and nourished. Do you yet long to be under the care of the one who gave you birth?
As the boy’s knees pull up to his chin and his arms begin to wrap around his legs, before his hands are able to clasp themselves together, the tips of his fingers brush against something. It is cold and hard, but familiar. He dares to probe a little, a few millimetres at a time and the strange object begins to take shape under his touch. He stretches out his fingers to their limit in order to draw it into his grasp. Beyond explanation, the long-forgotten and discarded item has been within his reach the whole time, and by some miracle of divine intervention his thumb finds the switch and his flashlight illuminates the room.
Do you need a lamp to shine into your dark place to dispel the fear and the grief, the shame and the loneliness of your miserable existence under the curse of sin? Do you need a light to rescue you from death and hell? It has been there the whole time, although it may lie discarded and forgotten by you. It is time to take hold of it and receive the comfort and salvation that it alone can bring.
In our Epistle reading Peter said that we have something sure, “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). In your present darkness, dawn may yet be a long while off. The coming of Jesus to rescue us from our despair will come, but we do not know when He will come. How will we make it through to morning? How will we wait for the Easter of our resurrection? We don’t have to sit in our darkness, paralyzed by fear and guilt and loneliness and shame and sickness and death. We have been given something to shine for us now and to dispel all of that dark stuff. Peter says that “you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns.”
What is that lamp? We can all join in with the youngest of the Sunday School children and answer, “It’s Jesus!” Today, by the church calendar we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, when Peter, along with James and John, saw Jesus transfigured before their very own eyes. “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). It was a really intense object lesson of Jesus’s own words, “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
In fact, Peter referred to that very event in connection with his saying that we should “pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” Peter has given us his eye-witness testimony by writing: “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:17-18). Peter was there, along with James and John. They saw Jesus shine like a lamp in a dark place, shining brightly enough to dispel the darkness of the whole world.
Jesus is the light of the world. Perhaps you remember the words from the refrain of our hymn-of-the-month in January, “In Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus” (I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, Lutheran Service Book, 411). Jesus the Lamb is the lamp. That is what the Book of Revelation tells us it will be like in the resurrection. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).
Jesus is the light of the world. He is the Lamb who is the lamp. But that day of the resurrection of all has not yet come. We are not yet in the city of God. We are in a city of the world, surrounded by wickedness. Our flesh is not yet purified through its own death and resurrection. Rather, we struggle with its frailties and its desires, which bring upon us other things like loneliness and guilt and shame, the things that paralyze us and make us hyperventilate right now in this life. Jesus is not at the top of the escarpment with face shining like the sun and clothes as white as light.
Nor was Jesus present that way for the people to whom St. Peter wrote his second epistle. Make no mistake. They felt the darkness of this life just as you do. Their bodies grew frail with illness and age. Their society was steeped in sin and wickedness. They were bombarded by the voices of false teachers telling them to find the strength inside of themselves. They were immobilized by their own shame of sin and fear of death, just like you. And they did not have Jesus appearing on the mountain and shining in glory before their eyes.
But they did have something. Something sure and certain. They needed Peter to remind them and to tell them to hold to it in this time of present darkness. They had the Bible, the Word of God, the promises of the Lord’s redemption, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, salvation, hope, and peace. They had the prophetic word, as Peter put it, all of the Old Testament promises that God had given about sending a Saviour to rescue from sin, death, and the devil. This has been a light to shine in the darkness that has always threatened to drive God’s people to despair. This has been how they have kept the faith through oppression and grief and guilt and shame. Even in the Old Testament we have the assurances of this light of God’s Word. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
This light of the Scriptures is not merely a guidebook for life. For what good would it do to have a map in the darkness? The light of the Scriptures is the revelation of God’s love in sending a Saviour. The light of the Scriptures is the promise that your sins are forgiven in Jesus, through His death and resurrection. The light of the Scriptures is that there is a resurrection for your body to immortality through the resurrection of Jesus. The light of the Scriptures is that even now you can live and have the light of the promise of Christ dispel the darkness around you.
Peter emphasizes that this Word, the Bible, is not a cleverly devised mythos that just seems to tie together writings spanning thousands of years. Rather, this is prophecy fulfilled. Peter saw it with his own eyes on the mountain when Jesus was Transfigured before him and the other witnesses. He heard the voice of God declaring Jesus to be the beloved Son. Peter and the other apostles were with Jesus to hear His preaching, to see His miracles, to eat with Him and touch Him even after His resurrection. They held to their eye witness testimony even through the most torturous of executions because they knew it to be true, and this lamp was shining for them in their darkest hour.
And so Peter gives his testimony and exhortation to you, about that Bible that you have discarded and forgotten while you cringe in the darkness of guilt of fear. “We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
This is not some made up tale to try to explain mankind’s desire for something more than what this life of darkness offers. This is God’s own voice speaking through words on a page written by men who faced the same fears and failures that you face. This is God’s own promise of salvation from sin and death to them and to you.
One of the last things Pastor Robert Bugbee did near the end of his service as president of Lutheran Church-Canada was to co-operate in the production of a three year calendar of daily readings to work through the whole Bible. This was important to him as he had experienced the comfort that daily Bible reading had brought to him and his wife Gail during her struggle with cancer. I am extremely thankful that my wife and I took up that calendar three years ago to help us read together from God’s Word every day. When we began we didn’t know what we would be facing in the coming years. But that Word of God was for us a lamp shining in a dark place, a place not only of illness and fear, but also of guilt and shame, and even loneliness and death. I am thankful that on the days when I was preoccupied with other things, that Linda reminded me it was time to read and pray. And I’m thankful that even now, after her death, I have that calendar to keep me going, to keep me holding onto the lamp of God’s Word shining in the darkness that threatens to close me in.
That three year calendar cycle of readings has been posted on our church web site for the last three years. It is still there, if you want to take it up. The hymnal in your hands has a daily lectionary of readings that will take you through most of the Bible in just one year. It is on page 299 (Lutheran Service Book) and begins with Ash Wednesday, this week. You could take it up any time.
The Word of God, which you have at your fingertips, is the presence of Jesus for you in your darkness. It declares that you are forgiven for all of your sins because He fulfilled these Scripture promises for you. He came down from heaven to shine His light into the darkness of this world. He came to shine His light into your darkness. He suffered the darkness of hate and abandonment and grief and the heavy weight of not just your sin, but the sin of the whole world. He went willingly into the darkness of death so that you might live in His light, the light of life through His resurrection which brings light to you even now.
When you are curled up in that fetal position, in the darkness of despair, wishing for the safety and care that you had in the womb of the one who bore you, remember that even in that darkness you are under the grace and mercy of Him who gave you new birth through Holy Baptism. He spoke His Word and declared you to be His beloved child. And that Word is at your fingertips, “as a lamp shining in a dark place.”
“In the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).