January 22, 2023
“‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
For our final project in my astronautical engineering class in college, we needed to design a satellite that would perform a specific function and determine its orbit and launch trajectory. I was partnered with my roommate and we decided to design a satellite that could detect forest fires in Colorado through thermal imaging, giving early warning of a clear and present danger in the mountains. We had to present our design to the class, which carried a specific incentive. The pair which received the highest grade on the presentation would be exempt from the final. The catch was that the one to present of the pair would be chosen randomly right before the presentation, meaning that both partners needed to be prepared to present. Deciding to go for the dramatic, we devised a way to grab attention that took advantage of the fact that our classroom had no windows. When the lights were turned off, it was completely dark, devoid of even the slightest illumination. I was chosen to present.
In the blackness, I lit a single match and held it aloft. Describing the potential destructiveness of fire, I dropped the match into a pie tin in which we had poured a quarter inch of isopropyl alcohol. Of course, we had practiced, but the actual results were better than expected. A flame three feet tall leapt up from the desktop, lighting up the whole room and shocking all of us with a blast of heat. Extinguishing the flame and turning on the lights, I continued the presentation with all of the technical details. In the end, my roommate and I didn’t have to take the final. Our presentation scored the highest grade.
We hear above from today’s gospel, “… the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” Most of the time, my imagination drifts toward a bright star, my experience of seeing the Milky Way in the mountains of northern New Mexico, or the rising of the sun. It is a peaceful light, shining magnificent, but without much danger. Perhaps overwhelming in its beauty, it remains something passive and safe. The light of Christ, however, shining in the land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, may be something much more active. Maybe, it is a flame, ready to burn and consume, bright and hungry for fuel. The light of Jesus could be the fire of God’s love. In the midst of darkness, in a land overshadowed by death, the light that arises may be like that match that comes down and leaps up with blazing light and surprising heat.
The fire of God’s love may be more like the observation of Annie Dillard (a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of my favorite authors) about Sunday worship, “The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ” Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our God is a consuming fire. Let His light arise!