# Change and continuity

Human understanding of light has wavered over the centuries. Some famous philosopher/scientists, including Rene Descartes, insisted that light consists of waves; others, including Isaac Newton were convinced that light consists of particles. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, most scientists who deal with the physics of light acknowledge that light is both wave and particle. The particles, called photons, also have wave-like qualities. Moreover, electrons also possess the same paradoxical wave-particle duality. Even protons and neutrons, consisting of quarks, appear to have wave-particle duality. Therefore, everything in the material world rests upon the paradox that the component parts of every item are, at the same time, tiny particles of matter and also waves of energy.

One result of this paradox is that knowledge is limited about each particle. For example, no one can know the precise position of a particle and also how it is moving. This principle was first enunciated by a scientist named Heisenberg and is called the “Heisenberg uncertainty principle.” One famous scientific joke involves a police officer pulling over a car driven by Dr. Heisenberg. When the officer asks the doctor the standard question, “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?” Dr. Heisenberg replies, “Please don’t tell me, because if you do, I’ll never figure out where I am.”

By the way, there is also a Salvageable uncertainty principle. Ask me what that principle says, and I will answer, “I’m not sure.”

Larger material items, made out of enormous quantities of protons and neutrons and electrons, generally follow rules of geometry and physics that make sense to the average human mind. A police officer’s radar gun accurately measures the speed of a moving car. That car might be shown, by the radar gun, to be traveling seventy miles an hour. That measurement does not prove that an hour ago the car was seventy miles away. Until a few minutes ago, the car might have been sitting in a parking lot only a few miles away. But, for large material objects, we can account for both the speed and the location of that object and can accurately report both statistics at any given moment.

Philosophically, though, the motion of a material object and its location remain a puzzle. Greek philosophers more than twenty-four centuries ago were already asking how any object could move through an infinite number of points in a finite time. Dividing time into an infinite number of punctiliar moments does not solve the philosophical quandary. We can observe an object at rest and can measure its size and describe its location. We can observe an object in motion and determine its speed and direction. Trying to gather all that information at the same time seems as though it should be easy, but problems remain. As we begin measuring size and location and speed in appropriate units, we are forced to make statements that are philosophically untenable. The car that is moving seventy miles an hour does not disappear from the highway this instant and reappear seventy miles away an hour later. Assuming that its speed and direction do not change, it will be present on every bit of paved highway between here and its destination at some point during the next hour. Chopping the highway into miles, feet, inches, or any other unit—while also chopping time into hours, minutes, and seconds, or any other unit—leaves the location of the car between those identified units a mystery. If, for example, we film the car at a rate of twenty-four frames per second, each frame will show the car at a different location on the highway without any explanation of how the car traveled from one point to the next point, since an infinite number of points exists between those two points.

Aside from that problem, the car in each frame of the film is not the same car. The car constantly changes. From instant to instant, it burns a tiny bit of gasoline. Its tires rotate, and tiny bits of rubber from the tires (perhaps mere molecules) separate from the tires. From time to time, dirt and insects are added to the windshield and other parts of the front surface of the car. Take the same car at any two points along its journey and compare its description; one will see that it is not the same car. Tiny changes have occurred to make the car slightly different as it travels down the highway and also travels through time from past into present and on into the future.

We are all like that car. We change continually. None of us is the same person who woke up this morning. We have breathed air in and out of our lungs, and some of that air has been taken into our body to be used by our cells; other air that was in our bodies has left our bodies. We eat, we drink, and we use the bathroom. We wash, removing dead skin cells from the surface of our bodies. Sometimes we cut our hair or trim our nails. Even our minds change as we experience and remember new events every instant of our waking lives (and also while we sleep). You are not the same person you were when you were a child. You are not the same person you were ten years ago. You are not the same person you will be ten years from now.

On an atomic and molecular level, we change constantly. On a cellular level, we change constantly. In other ways, we continually change while we travel the timeline of our lives. Yet, as we view that timeline from outside of time, we also perceive continuity. Because that timeline is unbroken, we are able to describe ourselves as the same person through the years and over the course of a lifetime. In the same way, a car remains the same car in spite of the many changes that happen to it—a new tank of gas, an oil change, new tires, replacement of damaged body parts, replacement of damaged engine parts. Over twenty years, every piece of a car could be replaced, but legally and philosophically it remains the same car. The philosophic implications of continuity as we change are enormous. J.

# Reality starts getting weird

Our senses tell us of the world around us, the world in which we live. But how can we be sure that the information delivered by our senses is complete? What if other information lies outside our perception, realities we cannot comprehend because nature or its Creator have not equipped us to detect those realities?

My example of the singing refrigerator hints at such a possibility. My sister and I could hear the sounds the refrigerator made. Other family members could not hear them and refused to believe that such sounds existed. Human ears vary slightly regarding the pitches they can detect and report to the brain. Such a difference in hearing appears to be only the tip of the iceberg.

In the 1860s, at the height of the Victorian Era, scientists began to detect some sort of radiation associated with electricity and magnetism. Twenty years later, further research had provided a better understanding of that radiation. What we humans know as visible light—red, green, blue, and white—is only part of the spectrum of light waves in the world. Other wavelengths are longer or shorter than the wavelengths our eyes witness. Radio waves and microwaves had been found in the latter part of the nineteenth centuries; X-rays would not be discovered until 1895. Not only did science unveil the existence of these waves that have always been there; inventors swiftly found ways to harness this knowledge for the benefit of humankind.

Imagine telling a scientist from the year 1850 that in our time invisible waves are used to allow people to communicate across thousands of miles, to speak to one another and hear immediate replies. Imagine describing the way the same invisible waves convey not only sounds but also images—even moving pictures—all around the earth. Imagine adding to that fantastic tale the detail that bones and internal organs of a person can be observed without removing that person’s skin. These innovations would surely be as marvelous and unexpected as motorcars, airplanes, and other modern tools that we take for granted today.

A few people claim to believe that the Earth is flat, insisting that evidence of a spherical world is misinformation distributed to fool the general public. Perhaps somewhere a few people also insist that all light is visible light. They might claim that reports of radio waves and microwaves and X-rays are a trick and that such things do not exist. Cell phones, garage door openers, TV remotes, and medical and dental X-rays are all part of the trickery, clever illusions to persuade us to believe in unseen waves that constantly surround us and pass through us.

Because science stumbled upon these unseen versions of light, we must accept the possibility that other real things exist in the world, unobserved because we have not yet found a way to look for them. Meanwhile, further studies of the observable world bring us new and amazing bits of news. For everything we consider solid and reliable—the red apple in the refrigerator, and the square table in the middle of the room, and my foot, and my shoe, and the ant crawling on the floor next to my shoe—all these things are formed from an unimaginably large number of unimaginably tiny pieces. And those pieces follow rules that are far different from the rules of geometry and physics we have learned about the world our senses observe. Even the light that enables us to see those things follows a different set of rules. This is where things start becoming truly weird. J.

# Our senses and our world, part one

We experience the world around us through our senses. Traditionally, we are attributed with five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Taste and smell are similar enough in nature that they often are lumped together as one sense. At the same time, modern physiologists speak of other senses which we possess, such as the sense of balance. These additional senses tell us about our own body rather than about the outside world, so we can set those aside as we explore philosophy.

Still other people mention additional senses or sense-like perceptions. They suggest that we gather information about the world in ways that transcend the usual five senses. They speak of a sixth sense or of Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP). unfortunately, scientific investigation into those additional senses usually reveals either fraud or mere coincidence. Much of what we attribute to a sixth sense comes more from information acquired through the five senses and from rational (if often less than conscious) consideration of that information gathered in the present or remembered from the past.

So we are left with sight, hearing, touch, and taste-and-smell. Each of those involves input from the world beyond our bodies. Sight involves light, perceived by our eyes and reported to our brains. Hearing involves sound, perceived by our ears and reported to our brains. Touch involves contact with our skin, perceived by nerve-endings in our skin and reported to our brains. Taste and smell involve small particles that reach receptors in our mouths and noses that report to our brains what they perceive. In all these cases, our brains receive this information, evaluate its importance, and generate a response—ranging from ignoring the information to enjoying the experience, remembering the source of the stimulus so it can be repeated or avoided, or even rushing to flee from the cause of the stimulus.

Over the centuries, philosophers meditated on sight and discussed its significance. They pondered whether a color—white, for example, or red—was an essential part of an object or merely a characteristic of an object. They asked whether a color, such as white or red, can exist apart from an object. (Is the idea of whiteness real, or is it merely a label applied to all objects that have the characteristic of being white?) They debated how colors are perceived by our minds, and they asked whether we all see the same thing when we look at an object.

Modern scientists tell us that light comes in various wavelengths. Whiteness is a combination of wavelengths, which scientists demonstrate by shining white light through a prism, which breaks the light into the colors of the rainbow. Red and orange and other colors are distinct wavelengths of light. We see light emitted by some objects—the sun, of course, and flames, and wires or bulbs of light that glow due to electric current. Other objects reflect light. If the source of the light is red, the objects that reflect that red light will all look red. But white light shining on objects will have some wavelengths absorbed by the object and others reflected. As a consequence, when white light shines, we will see red objects and green objects and blue objects and many other colors as well.

Certain trees and other broad-leafed plants change color. In the spring and summer, they have green leaves. That green is caused by chlorophyl, which absorbs other wavelengths of light but reflects green light. In autumn, plants stop producing chlorophyl, and other chemicals in the leaves reflect other wavelengths of light—red, orange, yellow, or brown. Those leaves then fall off the plants and die, and in the spring new leaves are produced to replace them. We see different colors of leaves at different times of the year because of different chemicals in the leaves which reflect different wavelengths of light.

Arguably, an object in the dark has no color, because it is reflecting no light. An apple or tomato in the drawer of a closed refrigerator has the potential to be red, but it is not red when it is in the dark. (Yes, I know that apples and tomatoes last longer when they are not refrigerated, but the example is still valid.) Open the door of the refrigerator, let light shine on the apple or tomato, and they are red. They do not lose their ability to be red by being in the dark. But potential color is real color only when light is reflected by an object.

We see more than color. We also see shapes and sizes and other qualities of the objects within our view. Our brains are adept at interpreting what we see, even when what we see is a distortion of what is really there. This fact has caused some philosophers to wrestle almost endlessly with the relationship between sight and reality. For example, in the center of my reading room is a square table. Only by standing directly over it and looking down at it do I really see a square. From my favorite chair, or from the doorway, the table would not seem to be square. A photograph or painting from either perspective would contain a tabletop with four sides, but those four sides would not form a square. Yet not only do I recognize that the table is square from every other perspective; a visitor to my house, looking from the doorway into the reading room, would recognize that the table is square. Partly because we have two eyes (which provides some perception of depth) but more because our brains are effective at interpreting what our eyes report, we see the true shape of objects even when our perspective should distort the shape of those objects.

In the same way, I know that the person standing next to me is much shorter than a distant tree, even though the tree occupies much less of my field of vision than the nearer person. Our brains have awareness of depth perception and of the fact that distant objects are bigger than they appear. Therefore, our brains are fooled only when we cannot know either the size or distance of an object. Ancient philosophers and scientists thought that the sun was both smaller and nearer than it really is, because at the time they had no way of measuring its true size or its true distance. In most cases, though, people are able to estimate the size of seen objects accurately because of knowledge and experience of the world and of the way it works.

Yet our eyes can be fooled. A spoon in a glass of water appears to be bent because of the difference between the way light flows through water and through air. Distracted and preoccupied, our minds sometimes miss sights that our eyes have recorded or wrongly interpret what they eyes report. And, naturally, we cannot see things when something else is in the way—we cannot see the apple in the refrigerator when the refrigerator door is closed. Our experience of the world, as gained through sight, remains limited.

And we do not always see what other people see. In 2015, a woman photographed a dress in a store and sent the digital photograph to her daughter. The dress was blue and black, but when the daughter saw the photograph, she thought she was looking at a photograph of a white and gold dress. Over the following months, millions of people saw the same photograph. Even looking at the same photograph on the same device at the same time, some saw a blue and black dress, while others saw a white and gold dress. Our minds process information received from the eyes in a variety of ways, drawing clues about color and shape and size from many past experiences and impressions. Living in the same world, we do not always experience the same thing. Reality does not change from person to person—the real dress was blue and black. But perception and interpretation can lead to differences, sometimes such significant differences that we appear to be living in different worlds. J.

# Light and darkness

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).

Given our modern understanding of light and vision, we probably think of our eyes more as windows than as lamps. We know very well that our eyes do not produce light; they relay to the brain information that has come to light in the immediate vicinity. However, Jesus does not choose to teach us details of optics or biology. He chooses to warn us about how we use our eyes.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How can we know where our treasure is? Our eyes tell us where our treasure is. Our treasure is what we look at most often and most intently. Where our eyes spend the most time, there we have put our hearts.

If we pay more attention to the wealth of this world than to God’s eternal kingdom, then our treasure is in this world and our hearts are in this world. If our eyes can see only the things of this world, then we are living in darkness. We are blind to the things that matter most.

The wealth that blinds us is not always measured in dollars. If some other person in this world is the one thing we want to see all the time, we are still in darkness. If our goal is fun and entertainment, if it is power over others, or even if it is a worthy cause to make this world a better place, we remain in darkness. If we are looking most at our own thoughts or our own feelings, trusting most what we understand best or what uplifts us to the greatest heights, then we walk in darkness.

Even if we look at the good things we do for God, we still remain in darkness. Our help for others, our prayers, our fasting—all these things we do with God in mind. When we do these things for our own sake, or to be honored by the people of this world, then we travel in darkness.

We spend most of our lives in darkness, because our eyes are focused on ourselves and on the world around us. God has a blessing for us, though. His light shines into our darkness, and our eyes are opened to the kingdom of heaven. We see Jesus, and we learn what he has done for us. We see his blessings and learn about his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. We see the Light, and Jesus himself rescues us from the blindness that we had brought upon ourselves.

When we ignore Jesus and allow him to be eclipsed, we stumble in the darkness. God does not want to leave us lost in the darkness. Christ chooses to sine into our darkness; he chooses to bring us back to the Light. J.

# Salt and light

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Salt and light are both good. The chief value of salt two thousand years ago was that salt preserved food. Jesus suggests that his people have value by preserving this world and enlightening it.

Jesus also warns that we are capable of failure. Salt in his day was not bought pure from stores. Salt came with impurities. As Jesus remarks, if the true salt leaches out of the mixture that is labeled salt, what remains is only gravel. When a lamp is lit and then hidden, that lamp also is useless. God wants us to be useful, not useless. He wants us to benefit the world.

These verses about flavorless salt and hidden light are reminders that Christians can lose their faith. The teaching “once saved; always saved” is not Biblical. (See Ezekiel 33:12-13 and Hebrews 10:26-31.) The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to call us to faith and also to keep us in the one true faith; but when people spurn the Word of God, they starve and destroy the gift of faith. God does not want Christians to live in fear that we might someday lose our faith. The Bible frequently speaks of election—that our salvation depends upon God’s infinite power, not on our weak human powers. But Jesus calls one sin unforgiveable: the sin against the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit calls a person to faith and that person refuses the Spirit’s call, that person has rejected the gift of salvation by grace through faith.

Dead people cannot make themselves alive. Resurrection depends upon a miracle of God. Living people can damage and destroy their lives. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Through the Word, the Spirit calls us to life. Now we retain our saltiness and keep our light unhidden as we continue to draw strength and power from the Word of God.

We are already blessed. The rewards earned by Jesus belong to us as a gift. We do not have to try to earn them by being good. Why, then, should we bother to do good things? We want to be good so we can be useful to God and can benefit the people around us. As Paul wrote, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Now that we have been rescued from our sins, we are able to accomplish God’s plan for our lives. We also want people to praise the God who has saved us. When we harm others, we bring shame to the name of our Father. If we, as Christians, have a reputation for doing what is wrong, we bring shame to the name of Christ.

Instead, we want to glorify God. We want to be the people we were meant to be. Therefore, we study God’s commandments. We see the things we are told not to do—for example, we are not to murder, we are not to commit adultery, we are not to break our oaths. We see the things we should do—we should give to the needy, we should pray, we should fast. All these things we do, not for ourselves, but to bring glory to God.

Other religions teach the same positive and negative commandments. People all over the world value the same virtues Christians value, because the Law of God is written in their hearts. Mohandas Gandhi agreed with the ethical teachings of Jesus, but Gandhi remained Hindu. He chose not to be a Christian; he did not see Jesus as the unique Son of God or as a Savior. Since the ethical teachings are consistent throughout the religions of the world, we see that we cannot remain salt and light simply by doing the good things Jesus commands and not committing the sins he condemns.

We are not saved by our good works; we are saved by the grace of God. That is not permission to sin. Even though our good deeds do not earn us a place in the kingdom of heaven—even though nonChristians may equal or surpass us in doing good things—we still have a blessing. We belong to Jesus. Therefore, to bring honor to his name, we try to imitate him. To help other people in this world, we try to obey God’s commandments. To try to be the people we were created to be, we try to live up to the high standards of Jesus our Lord. J.

# Candlemas (Groundhog Day)

The day began bright and sunny, which according to tradition signals six more weeks of winter. The birds, however, did not get the message. Their singing indicated their confidence that spring has already arrived. Today’s temperature, and the forecast for the coming days, seems to say that the birds are right and the groundhog is wrong.

Most people, whether believers or unbelievers, are familiar with the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Far fewer are aware of the minor festivals of the Christian calendar, such as Candlemas, which is observed every year on the second day of February.

As Christians in the Roman Empire chose to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus (that is to say, his birthday) at the same time that Romans and Celts and Germans were celebrating various Yuletide observances, so Christians also chose to celebrate the Presentation of Jesus at the same time that Celts were observing a holiday they called Imbolc. This holiday falls halfway between the winter solstice near the end of December and the spring equinox near the end of March. In Ireland, some of the old customs of Imbolc have been blended into St. Brigid’s Day on February 1, but for most other European Christians and their descendants around the world, Candlemas has received the attention formerly given to Imbolc.

The second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke describes the birth and childhood of Jesus. The familiar account of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, including the announcement by the angel to shepherds and their visit, comes from Luke. Luke also wrote that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day from his birth and was presented to God on the fortieth day from his birth. Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 puts the anniversary of his circumcision on January 1 and his presentation on February 2.

What is the significance of the presentation of Jesus? As at his circumcision, Jesus was fulfilling the Law for the benefit of all his people. The Law of God, given through Moses, required every firstborn son to be offered to God and purchased from God with a sacrifice. This presentation and purchase of the firstborn son reminded God’s people of the tenth plague upon Egypt, when God’s angel killed the firstborn son of every family in Egypt except for those who obeyed God, marking their houses with the blood of a lamb. The details of the plague, the Passover, and the remembrance are filled with images of Jesus and his sacrifice—the death of a firstborn son picturing the death on the cross of God’s only-begotten Son, the substitution of a lamb for some sons (and the use of the lamb’s blood to identify those who were protected) showing Jesus as the Lamb of God taking the place of sinners, and the purchase of the firstborn son in following generations showing the price Jesus paid on the cross to cover the debt of sinners. Because Jesus, on the fortieth day from his birth, was already obeying the commands of God, Christians are credited with his righteousness. We are free to approach the throne of God and even to call him our Father. Jesus took our place in this sinful world so we can take his place in God’s Kingdom.

Bonfires were lit in Europe on Imbolc night as part of the celebration of the holiday. Christian churches chose to replace the bonfires with many candles, filling the church with light to remember Jesus, the Light of the world. From that custom comes the name, Candlemas. I first encountered that name in the stories of King Arthur, for he and his knights would gather on Candlemas, as they did on Christmas and Easter, to celebrate and to await the beginning of new adventures. The king would not allow his court to eat the feast until some odd event had taken place, sending at least one knight off on a mission to rescue some victim or defeat some enemy.

Before the establishment of the National Weather Service or the invention of Doppler Radar, European Christians often trusted traditions about the holidays to make long-term forecasts of the coming weather. St. Swithin’s Day (July 15) in the British Isles was thought to set the pattern for the next forty days—either it would remain dry for forty days or it would rain for forty days, depending upon whether or not it rained that day. In Hungary the weather on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) predicted the kind of winter that was coming: “If St. Martin arrives on a white horse, it will be a mild winter—if he arrives on a brown horse, it will be a cold and snowy winter.” In other words, snow on November 11 promised a mild winter. So also, the weather on Candlemas was thought to predict the next forty days of weather: a clear and sunny Candlemas meant winter was only half over, but a cloud-filled sky on Candlemas morning meant that winter was over and spring was about to begin.

In Germany bears often took a break from hibernation around the beginning of February to check out conditions and get a bite to eat. The weather tradition for Candlemas became associated with the emergence of the bear and the question of whether it cast a shadow. German settlers in North America adapted the tradition to local wildlife, and thus began the tradition of Groundhog Day.

Ironically, more Americans are aware of Groundhog Day than of Candlemas. The fame of Groundhog Day increased in 1993 with the release of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. The movie has little connection to Christian beliefs. It is more suited to explaining the idea of samsara, found in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Samsara is the cycle of lifetimes in which one’s atman (roughly analogous to spirit or soul, but not exactly the same thing) keeps returning to this world until it has learned all it needs to know and is fully enlightened.

Christians do not have to worry about the trap of samsara. We have one life now, and a resurrection to eternal life on a Day known only to the Lord. Our place in that new creation is earned, not by our good deeds, but by the sinless life of Christ lived in our place, and by his sacrifice on the cross which pays for all our sins. While we do not know how many days or years remain before the Day of the Lord and the new creation, we have every day between now and then to rejoice in the Lord’s promises and to imitate his goodness.

There may be six more weeks of winter. Or perhaps spring has already arrived. Either way, a new world is coming according to the Lord’s plan and on his schedule. His people can hardly wait. J.

This is a slightly revised version of a post first published on February 2, 2016, and then reposted a year ago.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1—read Isaiah 60:1-7).

The contrast of light and darkness is one of the great recurring themes of the Bible. The first thing God created when he made the heavens and the earth was light, and then God separated the light from the darkness. John begins his Gospel writing about the Word, who is the light and the life of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it. Isaiah said that the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light. Both Isaiah and Simeon called Jesus a light to enlighten the nations. Now Isaiah calls upon God’s people to arise and shine, because our light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Jesus told his disciples that they are the lights of the world. Jesus also declared himself to be the Light of the world. He is the primary light; his disciples are secondary lights. He shines like the sun; we shine like windows through whom the sun shines. When Jesus shines through us, his light enlightens others. As we share his promises and the good news of his victory over evil, we do our job as windows, letting his light shine into the lives of others.

Without Jesus we cannot shine. His light comes first and passes through us. Along the way, his commandments reveal our flaws and our faults. When someone washes the windows on a cloudy day, the streaks and smears might not be visible. When the sunlight shines brightly on that window, every missed spot and every speck of dirt can be seen.

We might not want Jesus to shine on us and show our sins. But the light of Jesus does something that sunlight never does to windows: his light removes the dirt and makes us pure and holy. When his light shines through us, we become clean; and because of that cleansing, the light is all the more able to shine through us to enlighten others.

Isaiah pursues that theme as he describes the nations coming to the light of Israel. Isaiah even mentions the nations bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. The wise men who followed a star to find Jesus in Bethlehem were the first of the nations to seek the light in Israel. Centurions in the Roman army also sought help from Jesus during his years of ministry, and one came into the Church early in its history through Peter’s ministry. An Ethiopian official was told about Jesus and was baptized by the deacon Philip. Paul preached to Jews and to the nations, to whomever would listen, and over the course of three hundred years the Roman Empire became a Christian nation. Now the Gospel continues to be spread throughout the world. As missionaries teach about Jesus, people hear and believe and are saved: God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done. Thanks be to God! J.

“It is too light a thing that you [Jesus] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6—read Isaiah 49:1-7).

Abraham was told that, from his family, living in the Promised Land, a blessing would arise for the entire world. Isaiah also reported that the Messiah would come, not only to rescue Israel, but to redeem the entire world. Jesus raised the ire of his neighbors in Nazareth, not by preaching that he is the Messiah—they were fine with that message—but by promising to save the entire world.

Not only from his birth, but from eternity Jesus was destined to be the ransom and the redemption of sinners. His glory is to bring the people of the world into the kingdom of God. Mary and Joseph were both told that his name was to be Jesus—Y’shua, which means “the Lord saves.” The angel who announced his birth to shepherds identified him by three other names: “A Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Isaiah describes Christ as God’s secret weapon, a sharp sword hidden in his hand, a polished arrow concealed in his quiver. Many people did not recognize him even when they stood near him and spoke with him. The Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus because he did not fit into their religion. The Pharisees thought they could save themselves by obedience to God’s Law. The Sadducees thought that they earned salvation by performing sacrifices in the Temple. Neither group could see that the perfect obedience of Jesus replaces our flawed and broken obedience. Neither group could see that the sacrifice of Jesus completes the work of which the Temple sacrifices were only a picture.

Yet others did recognize Jesus. Simeon recognized Jesus forty days after he was born in Bethlehem. He held Mary’s infant son and called him “a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of God’s people Israel.” Simeon knew the promise of Isaiah that the Messiah would be a light to the nations. To other people in the Temple Jesus might have seemed to be just another baby, but the Holy Spirit gave Simeon eyes to see the salvation promised through Jesus.

Even today people are confused about Jesus. Some call him one of the prophets and say that he is nothing more than a prophet. Others say he was a good man who told us to love one another and say that he is nothing more than a good man. A few dare to claim that Jesus never even existed. But Jesus is real. He is more than a prophet (but not less) and more than a good man (but not less). He is the Son of God, Lord of the universe, having been given all power and authority. He is the Head of the Church, caring for his people in this world and promising eternal life in a better world. He is the Light of the world, showing us the way to be right with God, not by our works, but through his righteousness and his sacrifice.

All this was planned from the beginning of creation. Before he said, “Let there be light,” God knew about the sins that would be committed. He knew about the sorrow and suffering and death that those sins would cause. He knew about the price he would have to pay to redeem sinners. God loves the people he created, and he decided that we are worth the price of redemption. We belong to him because he made us and because he paid to redeem us. We are safe in his hands forever. Thanks be to God! J.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….” (Isaiah 9:2, 6—read Isaiah 9:1-7).

We all began in darkness. We all started as enemies of God, blind to his truth, unable to comprehend the things God was saying to us. Our nature was to be selfish, to demand what we wanted when we wanted it, to be unconcerned about the inconvenience we caused anyone else. We were at the center of the world. We were our own gods, and we demanded that everyone worship us and serve us.

It is one thing to teach people to be polite, to say “please” and “thank you,” to have good manners both in public and at home. But good manners do not dispel the darkness. They may hide our selfishness from others, but they do not cause our selfishness to disappear. Only the light can dispel the darkness. Only the light can clear away sin and cause people to be truly loving, true servants to God and to their neighbors.

That light has come. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light. Whenever light and darkness battle, light wins. It is the nature of light to shine and to remove darkness. It is the nature of darkness to be beaten whenever it confronts the light.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. He is not born only to Mary and Joseph; he is not given only to the two of them. He is born to all of us. The angel told the shepherds, “A Savior has been born to you.” As Mary represents all the believers of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church in declaring herself to be the handmaiden of the Lord, so she is in the place of all believers when she gives birth to her first-born Son. For the timeless Son of God was born once in time to redeem people from every time, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing to the last child conceived before Christ appears in glory to make everything new.

When Handel wrote music for these words of Isaiah, he put a musical pause between Wonderful and Counselor. They belong together as one name: Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor who tells us the truth we need to know because he is the Truth. He deserves our wonder, our awe, our amazement at who he is and at what he has done for us. Because he has redeemed us, we now receive his counsel to guide our lives and to grant us eternal life.

He is also the Mighty God. The child lying in the manger is running the universe at the very same time. All things are possible for him, but he only does the things that are right, that match his Law, that benefit the people around him. When Jesus began to work miracles, he only worked them for other people in need. He fed thousands in the wilderness; but when he was hungry, he did not feed himself. He healed others, but he allowed himself to be arrested and beaten and killed. He stopped storms, but he did not stop the crowd from arresting him or the Roman solders from mocking him.

He is the Everlasting Father. In the timelessness of God, relations are changeable, so the Bride of Christ can also give birth to him. We are all children of God through the work of Jesus, making Christ our Father as well as our Brother. Because he is the Son of God, God calls us sons—we are adopted into his family through Christ’s work. Because we are children of the Church, Christ’s Bride, Jesus is our Father just as his Father has become our Father.

He is the Prince of Peace. His entry into this world meant war with the devil and with the sinful world and with sin in general, but Jesus won that war. We started out in darkness as enemies of God, but through redemption God has made peace with us. That peace is Shalom—not merely an absence of conflict, but the presence of goodness: a place for everything and everything in its place. Peace is not boring: it is harmony like a symphony orchestra; it is a blend of colors like a painting or like a flower garden.

All this Jesus has done for us. He is all these things to us. Because of what he has done, Jesus has claimed us for his kingdom, and we belong to him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

# Polar bears and peacock feathers

For years I have been puzzled when people say that polar bears are not really white; they only look white. They also say that the dots on peacock feathers are not really blue; they only look blue. If polar bears are not white, what color are they really? They look white to me. If those dots on peacock feathers are not blue, what color are they really? They look blue to me.

Philosophical questions about colors and other qualities go back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle. These and other philosophers have tried to examine what an object is other than its qualities and what a quality is apart from the objects that have it. Can you define whiteness apart from indicating something that looks white, whether it is a field covered in snow or a polar bear? Can blueness exist apart from a quality of things that look blue? If something changes in color, how much has it changed? Has it merely exchanged one quality for another, or is it now a different object?

I know that the people who say that a polar bear looks white but is not really white were not engaged in that kind of philosophic discussion.

Among his many accomplishments, Isaac Newton revolutionized science’s understanding of light and vision. By demonstrating that a glass prism or a lot of raindrops could break a beam of white light into a rainbow, Newton showed that color and light are closely related. As understanding of light and vision grew from that observation, scientists realize that objects absorb some wavelengths of light while reflecting other wavelengths. We see the colors that are reflected without the colors that are absorbed. White objects are reflecting all the wavelengths of visible light; black objects are absorbing all the wavelengths of visible light.

But that still doesn’t explain how a polar bear could look white without being white.

I recently read an article about light and vision that finally explained what that means. Many of the colors we see in objects are caused by pigments, which are chemicals on the surface of that object which absorb some light waves and reflect us. Chlorophyll is a pigment in many plants that absorbs some wavelengths of light (using that energy to feed the plant) while reflecting green light. Anyone who has worked with paints understands how to blend different colors of paint to achieve the desired color. The mixture of paints absorbs some wavelengths of light while reflecting those wavelengths that the painter wants observers to see.

Polar bear fur does not contain any white pigment. It is the shape of that fur, especially when it is wet, that reflects white light. Peacock feathers do not contain any blue pigment. The shape of the surface of the feather reflects blue light while absorbing other wavelengths of light, causing the dots on the feathers to look blue.

If only people would have said it that way. Polar bears look white and are white even though their fur contains no white pigment. The dots on peacock feathers look blue and are blue even though their feathers contain no blue pigment. Yes, it requires a few more words to communicate the idea, but the communication is much easier to understand.

Interesting sidelight number one: A young man I know well likes to say that purple is not really a color. In one sense he is right. There is no purple wavelength of light. Look closely at a rainbow and you will see that the inner portion of the color is a deep royal blue, not purple at all. On the other hand, he is wrong. Blend a paint that reflects red light waves with a paint that reflects blue light waves, and you will have purple paint. Whatever you cover with that paint will be purple…or at least the color purple will be one of its qualities.

Interesting sidelight number two: Earlier this year a woman took a picture with her phone of a dress that was blue and black. She sent the picture to her daughter, who looked at the picture and thought that the dress was white and gold. You could blame the camera, but here it gets interesting. When the photograph went viral on the internet, people could look at the same photograph on the same screen under the same conditions, and some people saw a white and gold dress while others saw a blue and black dress. A few people could even alternate the colors they saw in the dress. For centuries, people have wondered whether we all see things the same way. When you and I look at something that we agree is red, are we seeing it the same way? The answer, we now know, is no. The dress photograph of 2015 has had its brief internet fame, but I predict that the photograph will appear in psychology textbooks and philosophy textbooks for years to come.

J. (reposted from April 2015–one of my first posts)