Lighting the Candle
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
In old London there were few streetlights or public lamps on the main roads, and the side streets were not lit at all. Crime and vice lurked in dark corners so that a law was passed requiring residents to put a candle over their doors at night. But often people would put a candle over their door and not light it. Candles cost them money and they did not want to provide light for others at cost to themselves. So watchmen would walk the dark streets ringing a bell and knocking on doors to tell people to light their candles. There was even a rhyme to go with the telling:
A light here, maids, hang out your light,
And see your horns be clean and bright,
That so your candle clear may shine,
Continuing from six till nine.
In today’s Scripture text the prophet Isaiah tells God’s people to shine as light, even at a cost to themselves. Note the important If…then formula of Isaiah’s words:
If you care for the needs of others…then your light will rise in the darkness.
If you stop pointing the finger and malicious talk… then the night will become like the noonday.
In order to provide God’s light to others, God’s people are called to very specific acts of grace. They are to provide food for the hungry, minister to the needy, and give justice to the oppressed. It is in the very act of giving themselves that God’s light will shine on them.
But these were bad times for God’s people, and the future seemed to them so uncertain. The economy was bad, so that it was tempting just to watch out for self. Yet God’s Word assured that in giving themselves for others, “God will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs”. Jesus said it most succinctly: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We always get more out of our act of giving than in what we actually give.
Christ himself says, ‘I am the light of the world.’
And we are the light…If we receive it from him…
But how do we make it shine?
The candle tells us: by burning, and being
Consumed in the burning.
– Pope Paul VI
MOMENT OF SILENCE AND REFLECTION
Our Father, we thank you for the light that you bring to our darkness. You pick us up when we are hurting, you care for us when we are broken, and you guide us on the Way. Sometimes we are fearful about the future and want to just take care of self and our own. Help us today to be light to others even at cost to ourselves. Help us as Jesus did, to give and not count the cost. May our lives be always burning with your light. Amen.