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Far Better To Light A Candle

Matthew 5:14-16

I read to you from the fifth chapter of The Gospel of Matthew, beginning to read at the fourteenth verse, these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.’” 

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. 

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh, God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. 

The Quakers have a motto. It’s a good one. They say, “It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Jesus said something like that but in a different way. He said, “You are a lamp. And a lamp must shed its light upon those who are around so that when they see your good works, they will give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

The great writer A. J. Cronin tells of traveling through the European continent immediately after the second World War encountering the terrible destruction there. He came to the romantic, once beautiful city of Vienna and was stunned by what he saw. The destruction was so complete. And as he moved through the ruined streets of that city, he felt deep resentment beginning to build up within him. He was downright angry that such terrible desolation could have occurred in such a magnificent place. He began to curse the darkness which had caused it all. 

It was late afternoon. A freezing rain was falling. And in order to take refuge for just a few moments from the elements, Cronin stepped into the door of a little church, a church which somehow had managed to escape severe damage. Only minor damage was incurred. And as he stood there, he watched as a shabbily-dressed old man walked through the door of that church and inside. He was carrying in his arms a little girl. She looked to be about six years old, and it was obvious to Cronin that she was terribly crippled. The old man carried the little girl over to the altar rail, and there, he helped her to kneel down in front of the altar, and then he knelt beside her. And then the old man took a coin, and he dropped it into a box, and he took a candle and lighted it. And then he took that single candle, and he handed it to the little girl. And she took it in her hands, and for a few moments there, she just held the candle in front of her looking at the flame. And Cronin noticed that the light from that candle illuminated a look of sheer pleasure on her face. And then the two of them prayed for a few moments. Then they placed the candle up on the altar, leaving it burning, and they got up. The old man picked up the little girl, and they turned to walk away. Cronin walked up to them at that point and stopped them.

Looking at the little girl, he addressed the question to the old man. “War?” And the old man replied, “Yes, I’m her grandfather. The same bomb that did this to her killed her mother and her father.” Cronin said, “Do you come here often?” And the old man said, “Yes. Oh, yes. We come here every day, every single day to pray. You see, we want our gracious God to know that we are not angry with him.” The old man then turned and walked out the door. But Cronin didn’t leave. Instead, he walked back to the altar and stood for a long while in front of that single candle burning brightly. It was later on that he wrote these words, “It was just one little candle burning in the midst of a ruined city. But somehow, the light of that one candle gave me hope for the world.” 

It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. And there’s a lot of darkness in this world of ours. Oh, yes, make no mistake about that. There is the darkness of sin and evil and disease and death and war and hatred and poverty and despair. It’s all about us, and sometimes the darkness threatens to choke us out. And all about us, there are many people, oh so many people who are willing to curse that darkness. I don’t know if you saw it or not, but there was a letter to the editor not too long ago written by a woman who was cursing the darkness. She said, “I’m tired of pathetic Americans who have spaghetti for backbones. I’m tired of science going its unhindered way and creating a nuclear nightmare. I’m tired of so-called medical advances where miracle drugs have a hard time keeping up with get-well cards. I’m tired of debates about whether man is an ape or an angel. I’m tired of poets and playwrights who don’t seem to know anything other than four-letter words.” That’s what she said. She was cursing the darkness. And there are some of those things that I’m tired of too. But wouldn’t it have been far better in a letter like that to have shed something of the light of faith and hope and joy rather than simply to curse the darkness?

For, my friends, cursing the darkness never overcomes the darkness. Never. Only light can overcome the darkness. It was one evening some years ago now when 90,000 people gathered together for a special program in the great Los Angeles Coliseum. Suddenly, in the midst of the program, all of the lights in the place went out. Before anyone could panic, a great voice boomed over the public address system. It said, “Do not be afraid. The lights are out for a purpose. A match has been taped under your seat. In just a moment, when I give the word, I want you to get that match and strike it and then hold that match up until it quits burning.” And then came the order, “Get your match.” At first, there were just a flicker of light here and there about the great Coliseum. But then within a matter of seconds, that great bowl of darkness was, in fact, ablaze with light as 90,000 matches were held aloft. But then within a few more seconds, the light began to flicker until it died. Darkness once more.

And the voice over the PA system said, “You lit just one match. Nothing in this great sea of darkness. But because we all lit one match together, the light was as bright as the light of the sun.” And then the voice continued with the words of Jesus, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” That’s what Jesus said to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. And that’s what He said to His disciples today in the words of this sermon in His name. 

He said, “You are the light of the world.” Did you hear that? Can you imagine that? Please think of it. You and I, we are the light of the world. What an incredible thought. But that’s what Jesus says, “You are the light for this world.” That’s the way the New English Bible translates the verse. Do you know that? It says, “You are light for all the world.” I like that because that gives the impression rightly so, I think, it gives the impression that we, in fact, are to reflect the light of Jesus Christ in our lives just the way that the moon reflects the light of the sun.

“You” – He says – “are light for this world.” And that means that we, as Christians, are called to be something. Before a Christian does something, a Christian is called to be something. We are called to be light, light in the midst of the darkness of this world. We are called to be the light of faith in the darkness of doubt. The light of hope in the darkness of despair. The light of love in the darkness of selfishness. The light of sincerity in the darkness of hypocrisy. The light of honesty in the darkness of dishonesty. The light of thanksgiving in the darkness of ingratitude. You and I are called to be the light of Jesus Christ shining in this world. John Ruskin, when he was near the end of his life, was sitting one night at home in his living room with a friend. They were looking out of the window, and they watched as, on a distant hill, a street-lighter – back in those days, the lamps along the streets were lighted by an individual at the end of each day. As a street-lighter made his way up the street on that distant hill. It was dark, and they couldn’t see the lamplighter himself. All they could see was his torch. And then they could see his progress by the lamps he left lit. And Ruskin turned to his friend, and he said, “You know, that’s the way Christians ought to be. You may not know them. You may not even see them. But their way will always be marked by the light they leave burning.” 

Ah, yes. That’s so true. That’s the way we are to be. We don’t want people to see us. We want people to see the lamps we leave burning. We don’t want people to praise us. We want people to praise the One who is the source of our light. We don’t want people to know us. We want people to know our Savior. That’s what we want. And Jesus says that if we reflect the light of Jesus Christ in our lives that that is what will happen, that others will see that light in us, and they will be drawn not to us. No, they will be drawn to the One who is the source of that light.

I have to tell you I will be a long, long time getting over the profound spiritual impact made upon me by our recent candle-lighting service. That Sunday afternoon late right before Christmas, when hundreds upon hundreds of you filed into this place and jammed it to the point that it was beyond overflowing. And there came the point in that service where the lights all faded out, and the church was plunged into darkness. And the only light left was at the Advent wreath with its large white candle in the center. The Christ candle. The candle representing the light of the world. And it was then that eight of the splendid young men in this congregation took the light from the Christ candle and used that light to light the candles of the people. And the light moved from one to another row after row and up those long isles and up all the way into the balcony so that within a very short period of time, the light began to build, and it became brighter and brighter and brighter until at last, this great sanctuary was literally ablaze in light. And at that moment, with candles held high and with tear-filled eyes and with joy-filled hearts, we sang radiant beams from Thy Holy Face, “Bring the dawn of redeeming grace.” And I tell you this. I believe that the sound of that singing was heard in Heaven itself. 

And I know that even the smallest child in this place understood what it all meant, that just as the light from the Christ candle could light the candle of every person in the room, so the light of Jesus Christ can become the light of every Christian life. He is the light of the world. He is the light of your life, and He is the light of mine. And we are called to reflect that light in our daily living. And Jesus said that if we reflect that light, if we give ourselves to doing good in His name, if we are willing to become instruments for hope and help and healing in the lives of other people in the name of Jesus Christ, that if we’re willing to do that, Jesus says that other people will be drawn to the One who is our Heavenly Father.

Jesus said it would happen, and it will. That’s why the Quakers are right. It is far, far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. So, my friends in Christ, my beloved, let your light shine. 

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, let the light of Jesus Christ shine through us in everything that we say and think and do that those around us shall be drawn not to us but to You. In the name of our Savior, amen.


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