by Jennifer Baker-Trinity
You know the song, “This little light of mine?” Perhaps you remember learning it in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School when you were a child. Maybe, like me, you sing it with your own children. Singing the song, we are energized to share the light of Christ “everywhere we go.” But how do we let that little light shine? Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
The author of chapters 56—66 of Isaiah addressed a discouraged people. Conditions were hard in Judah and money was tight. Yet amid this struggle and poverty sounds the prophetic imperative: “Arise, shine.” The words are followed by the promised coming of God’s glory. Christians have associated this passage with Epiphany, the festival marking the Magi or Wise Men following the light of the star to the infant Jesus. We believe that Christ is the light that has come into the world, a light that is the life of all people (John 1:4). It’s Christ’s light that dwells in us and allows us to arise and shine.
. . . Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy . . . Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. (Jeremiah 1:6, 9)
“But.” “If.” “If only.” The excuses come so easily. We hear the call to let our lights shine and respond: “But I don’t know enough” (my personal favorite), or “If I had more time.” “If only I had more experience, then I’d surely volunteer.” There goes the light, tucked safely under the bushel basket. We read in Matthew, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:15).
We have a biblical companion for these “buts and ifs” in the prophet Jeremiah. He was called by God as a young man and believed he was not ready to be a prophet. He thought, I’m only a boy. I have nothing to say.
Age doesn’t matter
We all have these Jeremiah moments. Perhaps it’s an invitation to lead a group and you aren’t sure you have enough experience. Maybe a friend has asked for advice and you feel you have no words to offer her. Surely there are times to take stock and question whether your gifts are the right ones for the moment at hand. Most of the time, however, we could risk shining a little brighter.
Jeremiah thought his age was a hindrance to the light shining. We certainly benefit from the wisdom of our elders. The young, however, can shed light on life in ways adults may miss.
A few years ago I went to worship with my older son who was then two years old. Our congregation experimented with the order of communion each Sunday throughout Advent. Thomas had been taking communion since his baptism and looked forward to this part of the service. One Sunday in Advent, after sharing the peace, he looked up at me and said, “Jesus Bread.” He seemed to understand the pattern of worship and knew what should come next. He was ready. How could I explain to him “not this time” when he caught on to something the adults were missing? It surely does make sense to come to communion after the sharing of the peace. It saddened me to tell him we weren’t doing it that way on this particular Sunday.
God bestows upon all of us, especially young children and teenagers, a gift for speaking truths that draw us more deeply into the heart of God. Many times I marvel at how they perceive life in ways I’ve forgotten or never realized.
Sometimes we, too, need to stand in awe, to bask in the light, trusting that God will touch our mouths with the words we need for the sake of another.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
I have experienced moments that caused me to wonder if “This little light of mine” misses the mark. The song suggests that it is our light that shines, when it’s really Christ’s light shining through us. We can’t possess the light anymore than we can capture a ray of sunlight in our hands.
The Sunday following Epiphany on January 6, Lutherans observe the Baptism of our Lord. Having been baptized, Jesus then announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. We hear on the following Sundays how Jesus lived out this calling of the Spirit: healing, teaching, and forgiving.
It is this same Spirit of God that enlivens us and enables us to be light for the world. In our baptism, a sponsor receives a burning candle and the words are proclaimed: “Let your light shine before others . . . .” In dark times when a clear sign evades us, we can draw immense comfort from the promises made in our baptism. We can see light and be light only by the light of Christ working through us and through those around us.
How we can shine
At times we truly have epiphanies: aha moments when disjointed parts of our lives come together in a remarkable ways. I’ve had a few of those in conversations with dear friends or spiritual counselors. But much of the time, the light we seek eludes us. This is where the Body of Christ and prayer come in.
As individuals and community, we practice discernment: the art of seeing and recognizing the Spirit at work in our world. In prayer, we are opened to the light of Christ and its movement in our mind, hearts, and bodies.
One song is never enough when it comes to singing our faith; we benefit from varied texts and tunes. “This Little Light” has a wonderful companion in a more recent hymn by Bernadette Farrell. “Christ be our Light” was written for a church discerning how best to serve the homeless and hungry in their neighborhood. They decided to build a space where these people could come and be fed and clothed, a refuge of light and warmth from the dark and cold. Farrell’s song was written as a dedication of this space (See Evangelical Lutheran Worship #715). The verses are prayers of longing, telling the truth of hunger and despair.
We are called to arise and shine and we can by the grace of God. The light of Christ will guide us, following us as we seek to follow.
Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and an Associate in Ministry candidate. She lives with her family in Winger, Minnesota.
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Cafe.