“I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Advent is the season we celebrate light, the coming of God’s light to us in the person of Jesus. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The birth of Jesus was the first advent; his second coming will be the next. We live now between these two comings of Christ and are called to be “the light of the world” in the meantime (Matt. 5:14). “Now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).
If our churches today talk about “light to the nations” we very often talk about overseas missions. From the perspective of the pews in which we sit, “the nations” are on the other side of the globe. Clearly, the impulse toward foreign missions is correct: the church needs to be in the business of bringing Christ’s light to those still in darkness, the world over.
But, from the pew from which Isaiah, John, or Paul wrote the Bible, “the nations” is us. From a Palestinian perspective, Beebe, Arkansas 2018 is “the nations” and these writers would have rejoiced to know that the light of Christ had traveled so far. Thus, light to the nations doesn’t only mean from here to there, from the U.S. to Timbuktu, but also from there to here, from the Jews to the Gentiles, from Jerusalem to our living rooms.
I am not trying to say that the church has arrived in some complete sense and that we can bring all of our missionaries home—far from it! The church must always go. But her going must be to those far and near, to those both there and here. God’s light must shine wherever there is darkness, and, looking up from where I write this note, I see that there are shadows in our neighborhoods, schools, and homes that Christ’s light has still yet to touch.
I have heard it said that Christians are the only Bible many people in the world will ever read. I’d like to add that Christ’s coming in us may be the only advent many people in the world will ever know. Christ has come, yes, but his light still has some distance to go. There is darkness in our world, in our communities, right in front of our faces; we have friends, neighbors, and co-workers who do not know Christ, and we are called to be his light. It is not enough for God’s light to have come there, to Bethlehem so many years ago; God’s light must also come here, wherever there is darkness. May Christ come, and may his light come through you and through me.