Fireflies and the Light of The World

18 Dec


Any one has spent some time down caves or in the tropics will have seen glow worms and fireflies – those little creatures that seem to glow in the dark.

We don’t often see fireflies, for example, before they reach adulthood but scientists do know that fireflies glow in all life stages. Bioluminescence begins with the egg, and is present throughout their entire life cycle.

In fact, all firefly eggs, larvae, and pupae known to science are capable of producing light. Scientists believe that larvae use the light to warn predators away, but we don’t know this for certain. Some firefly eggs will emit a faint glow when disturbed.

Johns gospel today calls us into relationship with the light of the world in such a way that we are called to glow in the dark, not just now and then, but at every stage in our life cycle. But how do we get there?

The vision of God’s kingdom espoused in Isaiah 61 seems more “not yet” than “already.”  Jesus identified the first two verses as a prophecy regarding himself, the Messiah, when he read from this chapter in Luke 4.  In spite of Christ’s commitment to the least of these, large segments of the Western church insist on spiritualising Christ’s mission so that it focuses on poverty of spirit or spiritual blindness—an interpretive move that allows injustice to persist unabated and unthreatened by prophetic witness. The recent report of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse makes this very clear.

The members of many churches worship individualism and the free market more than the ethical responsibility for the “other,” as encouraged by Jesus himself.  In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill defends the rights of individuals to behave as sovereigns over themselves as long as others are not harmed. What is not mentioned is that our individual economic decisions are often destructive to the overall well-being of fellow citizens.

In their focus on strategies to evade government influence over individual economic decisions, many Christians have neglected one of the church’s primary responsibilities.  Christ’s mission is the church’s mission, especially since he promised that we would do greater works.  This means that good news should continue being preached to the poor.  The broken-hearted should be healed and the captives should be freed. The mourning should be comforted and the despairing should exult in the grace of God.

In verse eight of our text today, God announces, “For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery and iniquity.”  The incessant economic inequality that robs the poor to give to the rich on national and international levels. . .God hates.  When consumers storm the doors of shopping malls to bicker and tussle over imported goods made by workers treated as slaves within export processing zones, God is not pleased.  When the gap between the rich and the poor expands yearly, but the poor are refused free or affordable health care and forced to die of preventable diseases, God burns with anger.

In the chaos of today’s international economic upheaval, Christians need to commit to a revival of Christ’s mission.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon us to preach the good news by caring for those who are broken-hearted, imprisoned, and mourning.  Usually the impoverished qualify for inclusion in each of these categories, and the good news is what we must bring.  May our collective actions produce more of the “already” and less of the “not yet.”[1]

Yet is Isaiah the end of the story or just the beginning? Paul seems to think it is only the beginning. In this passage he warns against the closing up of self and the turning out to include others in your own life and the life of the community – “always seek to do good to one another and to all.”

While many may see this passage is a withdrawing into a fortress of belief, it is actually a call to inclusiveness, especially in relation to the week, not only in faith but in terms of their position in relation to those in power.

William Loader writes: “Some people see the religious life as responding to God as a kind of vacuum cleaner where the goal is withdrawal and oneness with the divine – away from it all. Paul usually has the hose on the other end: God’s love is poured out and the intimacy of the Spirit birth is an expansiveness”, an opening out to include all that has been excluded. This is the essence of Isaiah and the essential ingredient of the Christian life.

Such a Christian life has only one purpose that John states clearly in his introduction of John the Baptist: “He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” John’s life was not to be a beacon of individualism but a lighthouse for community, the community as modelled in the trinity which allowed Jesus to come as the light of the world.

The light of the world came to shine into the darkest corners of the universe and to expose the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is why this life is rarely lived and rarely witnessed. Yet those who struggle to stand in the light and to be that light in the world know the deep truth hidden in the ordinary story of a baby born in poverty and in the midst of political turmoil.

Like him, we are to live the uncomfortable but hopeful life of a firefly in darkened cavern. That’s the meaning of Christmas.

[1] With acknowledgement to Aaron Howard,

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