Lead kindly light

One big difference between living in the countryside and living in a town is the effect of night-time. In a town it is never truly dark: there are street lights, head lights from traffic, illuminated shop windows etc. In the countryside the darkness seems to cover the landscape like a mantle. You are more strikingly aware of the stars and of moonlight. 

Like so many things in the modern world, light is something that we take for granted. We have the power of light at our fingertips at the flick of a switch. A power cut reveals our utter dependence on electricity. In the time of Jesus, light was more precious. People had to ensure that they kept adequate supplies of oil and wicks for their oil lamps. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins highlights the peril of running out of oil. The modern equivalent of the wise virgins might be those who keep a stock of candles in the house and know where they have put them.

The image of light was all the more striking in former times than it is now, the Bible abounds with references to light. Simeon acclaims Jesus as the light who will enlighten the pagans, the gentiles outside the chosen people of Israel. Christ will reveal the true nature of God to all. St John tells us that the light of Christ, the incarnate word of God shines in the darkness, and the darkness can not snuff it out. No matter how great the darkness it is unable to counter the power of one small light. As Portia remarked in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. ‘How far that little candle throws its beams. So shines a good deed in a naughty world’.

The psalmist acclaims the Word of God as ‘a lamp for my feet a light for my path’. The Word of God lights the way for us to follow, it guides us along the right path, a path that may not always be easy to follow. Jesus reminds us that the way that leads to life is narrow, and only a few find it. We need light to follow the twists and turns and not get lost or come to grief.

In the hymn: Lead kindly light John Henry Newman recognized that in his youth he had not prayed that the light of Christ should lead him. He had ‘loved the garish day’, his pride ruled his will. He thought he had no need of outside help, no need to be led. But later he recognized his inability to find his own way. He recognized his need for Christ to lead him along the perilous path of life ‘o’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent till the night is gone’. Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on; the night is dark and I am far from home; lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough for me.

Christ is the light of the world, his gospel a beacon of hope. Whoever follows his light, he promised, will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Those who follow him reflect the guiding light of Christ. Christ told us that we should let our good deeds shine before others, that we should not hide our light under a bushel. This does not mean that we should seek praise for our good works, but that we should allow the light of the Word of God to fire us and light us up. It is not enough to hear the Word of God, we have to put it into practice. Then we will light up like a city on a hill whose light cannot be concealed.

St Paul tells the Ephesians that once they were darkness, not in darkness, they were darkness itself, but now they are light in the Lord, so they must live as children of the light. We may sometimes look with despair at the encircling gloom of the wickedness of the world around us, but in her Christmas Day address to the nation, Her Majesty the Queen reminded us that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Today we acclaim Christ as the Light of the World, may we take his light with us wherever we go.