Image: Our Lady of Victory church, Inuvik
The Canadian Arctic is truly the land of the midnight sun. In Inuvik, the regional hub of the northern part of our diocese, the sun never sets below the horizon from the end of May until the middle of July. When I lived there my experience of the summer months was that of; increased energy, not needing much sleep, a decrease in appetite and generally a fairly happy disposition.
The winter, however, offers a rather different experience when, from early December until the beginning of January, the sun is not to be seen. Complete darkness takes a physical toll and its symptoms though subtle, can become debilitating with; joint pain, fatigue and weight-gain among the worst. It takes a strong constitution to power through the dark season with one’s health intact.
Darkness and light also have a strong psychological effect and there is good reason why we find them used in today’s readings as metaphors for the life of the Spirit.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the darkness of night, but he is looking for light, that is for knowledge or enlightenment. For Jesus, knowledge for its own sake is not enough. When it comes to really knowing the Father, it is not enough to look for God’s light or even to look upon God’s light. If we are going to know God we must become filled with God’s light and become like light itself or as the Psalm tells us,
“Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed”
If we only are willing to look upon light from a distance, we will be doing no more than casting shadows. Like sitting in front of a campfire on a cold winter night our faces will be warm but our backsides will still be frozen.
When we begin growing in our faith there is always the fear that God’s light will consume us, that somehow we will cease to exist as ourselves if we turn our hearts and minds over to God. For some the fear is so strong that they refuse God’s gift. John tells us that,
“Though the light has come into the world people have shown they prefer darkness to the light.”
In the first reading we see that the Sadducees are like this. They have seen God’s power through the working of the apostles but they are too consumed by their attraction to their own power. If they concede that it is the risen Jesus alive in these men it will change their lives completely and the risk for them is to great, and so they lash out at the light by arresting the apostles and throwing them in prison. But the apostles are not the source of light and the Saducees actions have no more effect on eliminating the source then a parasol has on extinguishing the sun.
God is not interested in consuming us. Just the opposite.
“For God so loved the world that he sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”
The world really needs God’s light and it only takes a little light to bring hope. In Inuvik, during the darkest days of the Arctic winter we turn on lights in the upper church. The light shines out through stained glass and can be seen by everyone below. It might still be dark and cold but that symbol raises people spirits. It reminds them that the light cannot be extinguished the sun will rise again and darkness will be banished.