‘You have received the light of Christ, walk in this light all the days of your life.’ (Baptismal Liturgy, Common Worship)
Advent is upon us once again – a time in the church calendar when we anticipate the coming of Christ and reflect on His being the light of the world. This can be an ideal time to remind our congregations of their calling to be Lights for Christ in the world today, especially as we look ahead to the new year and consider our own patterns of discipleship.
Often when I visit churches to talk about discipleship, people enthusiastically tell me, ‘oh, Lights for Christ? We’ve done that already!’ What they usually mean is that they’ve explored developing a Personal Rule of Life or made use of a Lights for Christ Advent course. ‘That’s great!’, I reply, glad to hear that they have found some of the resources useful. But here I challenge the idea that Lights for Christ has been ‘done’ – I think it’s something we never fully complete or arrive at. A particular course or sermon series may last for a fixed time, but our calling to shine as lights in the world is lifelong.
Rather than thinking of Lights for Christ as a particular resource or diocesan initiative, I’d like to encourage people to see it as a lens through which to view all areas and seasons of their life; an attitude to carry with them every day.
The calling to be Lights for Christ is both biblical and baptismal: in Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says to his followers, ‘You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others…’. When we are baptised and confirmed, we are told ‘you have received the light of Christ, walk in this light all the days of your life’, and the congregation encourages us to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’ It doesn’t matter when you were baptised or to which church tradition you belong: all of us have this same shared calling. It is perennial, worked out differently in the seasons of our lives, but constant throughout.
This idea of lifelong discipleship can be expressed using a different metaphor: that of the waters of baptism. Theologian Michael Jinkins says, ‘we are soaked to the skin in the death of Christ. Our union with Christ drips from us…. We trail wet footprints of this drenching wherever we go; we never dry off….’.* Whether you prefer the image of lights or water, the idea is the same: going forward, our lives are distinct because of the relationship we have with Jesus.
Whilst Advent might be an ideal time to revisit Lights for Christ, I’d like to encourage you to weave this idea into your worship and discipleship throughout the year. For example, in Creationtide, we can explore how looking after God’s Earth is part of our discipleship – part of our being Lights for Christ. In October and November, we can reflect Christ’s light to the world by taking part in Wear Your Faith Fortnight. During Lent we can reflect on and renew the habits and practices that help us to walk in Christ’s light. At Easter we can reaffirm the baptismal promises mentioned above.
As we celebrate ‘the true light that gives light to everyone’** this Christmas, let’s make the light of Christ the recurring theme of our lives.
* Jinkins, M. (1999). The Church Faces Death: Ecclesiology in a Post-Modern Context. Oxford: Oxford University Publishing. (p.23)
** John 1:9