Monday 4 December 2023

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
So said Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Edith Wharton

I was chatting with a man at the gym on Tuesday morning. I always see him there and his wife. I also see them walking round town together. We always say hi, but rarely talk. He is a quiet man, who seems at peace with the world. I assume that they are both retired. He told me he was waiting for his wife to finish her class. He said he often found himself patiently waiting. Telling me that this is not something he had as a younger man. That waiting patiently was a gift of growing older. A blessing of the lessening of testosterone. He also talked about how life is very like coming to the gym, just sticking at things day by day and over time improvement comes. This though takes patience and discipline. It is not a passive activity, but one that does require patient waiting for results. Patience seems a rare commodity in this our time and space. We want results and we want them now.

I walked away thinking to myself that he had just written this sermon for me. He had awakened my homilectic consciousness. Well, this lovely calm patient man and the wisdom of Edith Wharton.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

He was a candle that morning and hopefully this devotion becomes a mirror that reflects his light.

Advent is a time of waiting, a time of preparation. A time set aside to wait for the “coming” of Love in human form symbolised in the birth of the Christ child. A promise of what love can become if we let it grow and nurture in our hearts and lives. For every new life is the gift of promise and possibility. A gift of possibility that can be reborn in each of our lives if we allow it to be. The Christ Child is known as “The Light of the World. Although interestingly Jesus himself said, in his opening sermon, in Matthews Gospel, the “Sermon on the Mount” Matthew Ch 5 vv 14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The light of the world is in each and everyone of us. This waiting season is about nurturing this light within each and everyone of us and bringing it to light when the moment of magic comes. Our world needs it. We all need it.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

The season of Advent invites us to embrace the spiritual discipline of waiting. We cannot rush through this season, we must experience it all, before the moment of magic. We must first sing the carols, light the candles and open the doors of the calendars. We must select our gifts for our loved ones and we must prepare ourselves for the year to come. We must experience the whole of this season if we are to give birth to the love that is at the core of it all; if we are to grow this love in the mangers of our own hearts and to give birth to and both experience and share it in our world. A world that needs love and hope as much as at any time in our history.

Advent is a season of preparation and it cannot be rushed. It requires patience. We cannot wish the days away, we cannot wish the winter away. We have to wait patiently, but not passively. We must be careful not to confuse waiting and patience with passivity. The man in the gym certainly was not doing so.

What is it that we are waiting for though? Well, it is a new Hope, a fresh Hope, it’s that old forgotten word “respair” born in the despair of our lives, in the mangers of our own hearts.

The world needs the light that is in everything, in each of us.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
One of my favourite human beings and the first Unitarian I ever met wrote the following piece. It speaks powerfully to me about God, spirit, humanity and the purpose of living spiritually alive. It is titled “Incarnation” The author is Peter Sampson. He is certainly a candle and hope that this piece will be a mirror that reflects his light. He wrote, beginning with a quotation from the great nineteenth century theologian James Martineau:


The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine.

James Martineau (1805-1900)

Peter continues:

“James Martineau’s distinctly Unitarian ‘take’ on the transformation of God into our human – all too human – flesh and blood has been a constant inspiration to me.

Our responsibility for our own lives and necessarily, for the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world lays upon us all a duty which cannot be dodged; our humanity is defined by how we serve and care for the needs of the human family. You can’t have faith without works and working for the good of all inspires our faith in God-given life.

It is a small comfort to me to be told that God died for our sins. I see every one of us missing the mark in our lives and whenever a fellow-creature is harmed we must pray for forgiveness for ourselves. We are all culpable but if we are to serve human progress we have to say ‘sorry’ from the bottom of our heart and move on.

When we look around us we tend to focus on what’s going wrong: suffering – often caused by human ignorance – waste, devastation, degradation, contempt, the whole sorry spectacle of “Man’s in humanity to Man”. I see this as a betrayal of our God-given humanity, a trivialisation of our God-endowed divinity.

Resorting to armaments and inflexible war-talk of politicians, shouting at those we don’t agree with and throwing our weight about if we don’t get our own way – I want to say “Come off it! Who do you think you are? There is that of God in every person, in every creature on the planet.”

Amen Peter, Amen.

I am so glad I met Peter. A man who has lived his faith all of his life. A message we all need to hear at this and all times. Why can we not see that we are all formed from the same flesh and have the same spirit at the heart of each and every one of us? Why do we see some as some how different, as lesser human? How often in recent weeks have we seen human beings described as vermin? It is a sorry spectacle indeed.

It would be easy to despair, but what good would that do. We must refuse to fall into dehumanising hatred and shed some light. Give birth to what is in us and spread it.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

We must become that light, or at least reflect it. This is true religion, this is living spiritually alive. It is our task, I believe, to rekindle that loving flame within each and every one of us. It is our task to become the Immanuel's, the ones that the world has been waiting for. Not to wait for some figure to come and rescue humanity, but to become those people ourselves, to let love incarnate within us and through us. To bear witness to the fact that God is already with us, in our hearts and souls and to bring that love to life. We must become the Immanuel’s, the ones we have all been waiting for.

“Oh come, oh Immanuel”

It is so easy to sink into despair and say, there is no hope for humanity, but is this true? I don’t think so, but it is up to us. There is no point just waiting passively for something to happen, it is we who must become the savours of our world and it begins in our own hearts and minds, in our lives, in our own families and in our own communities and then it may begin to spread throughout the whole world. It is our task to bring the spirit of love alive in our lives and in our times and places. It is our task to become the Immanuel’s, that the world has been waiting for.

…We must become the light of the world…

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

This is what we are here waiting for. To be a light to others who may be struggling in their own dark times. We can light the way.

So let’s prepare ourselves for the moment of magic yet to come, even if it comes later this season. Let’s nurture the love within us and prepare to give birth to it in our hearts and lives. Let’s not wish these dark cold days away. There is a beautiful gift in them if we allow ourselves to fully experience them. We need to experience each and every sensation of this season. We need to not fear the dark, we need to know it and fully embrace it. And when the time comes to once again give birth to the new light.

Next spring may well be the most beautiful we have ever known.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

“Oh come, oh Immanuel”

Below is a video devotion based in the material in this "Blogspot"