What lures us to flickering candles at Christmas? We are drawn by light's mystery, aren't we? Shafts of light shining through a window reveal and conceal. We see dazzling effects of light in a room but don't witness the actual sunbeams.
Similar dynamics apply to Jesus, "the true light that enlightens every person who came into the world" (John 1:9). When Jesus was revealed to the world, many didn't recognize him. His identity was concealed, much like light's composition.
What moves faster than light in the universe? Albert Einstein surmised that nothing was speedier than a light beam, which travels at just over 186,000 miles per second. A "light year" is the amount of distance that a beam of light annually travels. How much? It's 6, followed by an unfathomable 12 zeroes. Count them: 6,000,000,000,000.
Light's speed is constant, Einstein figured. It doesn't jet ahead or slow to a crawl. Whereas time slows down or speeds ahead relative to a beam of light, the velocity of light itself isn't affected. This much is revealed to us about light.
Still, much of light's revealed make-up is concealed. Take your pick: light beams appear as both waves of light and particles of energy at the same time. That's doesn't seem possible. Light is tricky because when we regard it as waves, it acts that way. If we treat light as particles, our scientific experiments confirm this fact. It is both, which defies logic. The genesis of light is hidden, mysterious and concealed.
What does Christmas reveal about Jesus as light of the world? He was Jewish. His parents were Mary and Joseph. His ministry proved short but significant. Those who follow his way name themselves Christians. History reveals these facts.
Here's what's concealed about Jesus: The God he called "Father" dwells in unapproachable light. No person can pierce his identity or figure out his blinding essence. This God, say Christians, radiates in the face of Jesus.
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., retired president of Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids Mich., describes how divine light is concealed by what happened to Jesus.
"He reveals God also when thugs have blackened his eyes and split his lip. The wounded face of Jesus Christ, beard running with other men's spit - that too tells us something of who God is and how powerfully God is willing to suffer. It's a hooded light in the midst of human weakness" is how Plantinga describes Jesus as simultaneously revealed and concealed.
Christians believe God's light shines through Jesus. Such light isn't exclusive to Christianity, though. Many religions speak of light as the vehicle by which their higher power, however defined, shines among us.
A center from which this light is reflected is the Vail Interfaith Chapel, which celebrates with the ski community its 50th birthday in 2012. I served on the ministerial chapel staff for a fifth of its existence, during the 1990s. Nestled alongside Gore Creek, this worship spot reflects divine light. Walk into the sanctuary. Light cascades through the windows. It fills this sacred place.
During the 1990s, five Christian congregations shared space in this chapel, along with Mormons who got a special OK from Salt Lake City to congregate there, too. A Jewish congregation also resided in this holy place.
Religious leaders didn't compete in the last decade of the 20th century. We pooled resources and complemented each other's effort to reflect divine light. Bringing truth to light, we asked hard questions, tackled tough realities and made the complexity of working together simple, without becoming simplistic.
Several religious traditions housed in the chapel focused the light of their ministry through a shared prism. Such endeavors brightened Vail's landscape and stretched to the ends of the Earth.
A blinding snowstorm hit the first time I led chapel worship. Only five people attended. Bob Scheid, a Presbyterian leader, sensed my disappointment at so meager a count. He said, "Remember that the world comes to Vail to ski. These five represent the big world as they go out from this small chapel, shining their religious lights."
Those five worshippers filled a pew, but the rest of the space was crammed with angels and archangels and the spirits of those pioneers who started the chapel. I was preaching to a packed house, although only five people showed up on a snowy Sunday morning. How enlightening!
Christians affirm Jesus as the light who enlightens people of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion. What's our response to him?
Methodist Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Rocky Mountain Conference rides a sunbeam of truth when she writes, "As the axis of the Earth shortens our hours of daylight, Christian faith invites us to turn toward the light. The Bible tells us that God enters the world with flashing light. Glory.
"Wait, watch, expect, wander, wonder, follow, yearn, learn, search, anticipate, prepare. Light will shine. Light will shine on us. Light will shine in us. Light will shine through us."
On this Christmas morn, let's follow the star to Bethlehem. Greet the Light sparkling in the infant's eyes. His divine heart embraces us, lightening our load in a dark world.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive. Van Ens' book, "How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes," is available in local bookstores for $7.95.