On light, windows, and living backward

Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). He also says to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). I consider Christians to be windows through which the true Light shines. The Bible also is called “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105); but—as I heard in several sermons when I was a child—“Today you may be the only Bible that some people read.”

Some windows exist only as decorations, but most windows exist to allow light to shine into a room. For this reason, people try to keep windows clean. A window coated with dirt and grime cannot do its job. The dirt must be removed so light can shine through the window.

The brighter the light shines, though, the more visible the dirt on the windows becomes. Clean the windows on a cloudy day and they may seem completely clean. Look at the same windows on a bright sunny day and you will see every streak and every spot that you missed. Literal windows do not care if they have spots and streaks, but figurative windows like us are embarrassed by every mark that shows that we are not perfectly clean.

One response to that embarrassment is to hide from the light. If the light does not shine so brightly, the streaks and spots will not be visible. The problem with that approach, though, is that a window cannot do its job apart from the light. The only other response is to let the light shine through the window, but to pay attention to the light and not to the spots and streaks and stains. Jesus, the Light of the world, is a light that actually cleanses windows by shining on them and through them. Those who look at themselves or at each other can still find the spots and streaks; but those who bask in the Light know that he is cleansing and purifying his windows.

For this reason, I often say that Christians are people who live backward. In T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, and in the musical Camelot which is based on that novel, Merlin is said to live backward. In the musical, Arthur says that Merlin “remembered things that hadn’t happened better than things that have.” People who live life forward are convinced that the past shapes the present, but in the present we can shape the future. We cannot correct the mistakes we already made, but we can create a better or worse future for ourselves by the choices we make today.

Not so for Christians! Our past sins are erased by the purifying work of Jesus, the Light of the world. Those sins no longer trouble us in the present or in the future, because Jesus has removed them from our lives. At the same time, our future is guaranteed. When Christ appears in glory to raise the dead, to announce his judgment, and to make everything new, he will welcome us into his Kingdom, the inheritance he earned to give to us. We do not need to doubt our place in the new creation: it is guaranteed to us, not because of anything we do for Jesus, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

For this reason, we live lives of confidence today. With past sins erased and future glory guaranteed, we do not need to fear the present. This good news is not license to sin. This good news is power to resist temptation and evil. The Light of the world shines on us and through us. Rather than adding streaks and stains, we use his energy to be windows, so his light can be seen wherever we are. To Jesus, not to us, be the glory. J.

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