The Tender Mercy of the Light of Christ

by Alina Sato
It was early December in the Ojai Valley. I was out of town for some personal respite and the evenings were getting chilly (well, by SoCal standards, anyhow). I went to the dark patio one night to gaze over the valley and noticed the outdoor fireplace next to me. I thought it would be lovely to start the fire to warm me a bit and add a sweet glow. Long story short, I probably turned the gas on too high before using the lighter to spark the fire, and a huge WHOOSH rushed over my face as I instinctively backed off just enough to avoid setting my entire head on fire. I kid you not, a few hairs at my forehead were legitimately singed. I could have literally had my body go up in flames with no one around to help. Once I got over the initial shock and realized I was fine, I enjoyed the warmth of this fire but also continued to tremble at my newfound awareness of its life, its potential to utterly consume me.
This was a sharp contrast to the other evening at Community Group when one of the hosts turned on a fake fireplace scene on the TV. We found it oddly captivating and even a little comforting, even though we knew very well that it wasn’t real. We had a good laugh at a couple of the kids who ran up to the TV and pretended to warm their hands over the fake fire. None of the parents jumped up to pull their children away, because we knew none of them were in danger of actually being burned. None of them were being warmed, either.
We live in a world where we’ve gotten used to being the ones in control of light – flip a switch on, put a fake fire up on the TV. Because of this, when I think of God as our light in the darkness, I’ve tended to think of Him in rather flat, selfish, controlled terms. Is it hard to see in a dark room? I’ll flip the light switch and blink a few times while my eyes adjust. But once I’ve adjusted to having light, I don’t engage much beyond using it to find what I need to find. The light becomes background and my agenda once again becomes foreground. Is this all the light of God is for? To help me in my endeavors and perhaps provide something curious and lovely to look at as I go about my business?
While God certainly helps us see the world with greater clarity, when we look at Scripture, we find that His engagement with us as the Light of the world is both fiercer and also much more tender than we realize.
1 Timothy 6:15-16 describes Him as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” Hebrews 12:29 tells us that “our God is a consuming fire.”
We forget that the original source of light in our physical solar system is a fierce and brilliant star that mankind could never, ever tame. There is mercy in the fact that the sun is 91.5 million miles away from the earth. And yet, if we stand for too long in its rays, emanating from 91.5 million miles away on a warm summer day, our skin begins to burn. God, who spoke the sun and all the stars into being, is the ultimate unapproachable light, the ultimate consuming fire. If not for His mercy, nearness to His unapproachable light would consume us. The live fire at my retreat site was just barely controlled by the gas released to fuel it, but if I were just a few centimeters closer, the fire would have completely overtaken me. The comfort I sought emanated from a source that was much more powerful and intense than I’d realized.
We are in Advent, a season of waiting in the proverbial darkness for the light to appear. We are in Advent at a point in history where we’re still working through a global pandemic, we’re still experiencing political and economic turmoil, we’re still seeing mass shootings amongst adults and children alike. So many are asking, “Where is God in all of this darkness?” We ache deeply for comfort. I can’t help but wonder, though, if we are actually looking for a flat, controlled light switch so that we can just navigate our way out of stumbling and then go back to our agendas. Satan knows that, in our flesh, we’d love to have the benefits of comfort without having to deal with what an all-consuming light might reveal about darkness in our own hearts or what a fire might do to the extra idols we cling to. Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), might offer fixes to provide some temporary relief from dark situations, only to distract us and keep our souls from ever turning to the real light we actually need, the light of God.
But what to do with this problem of getting too close to a fierce, live fire? While the sun at the center of our solar system is a brilliant star with potential to burn us from 91.5 million miles away, God as the actual center of all creation is infinitely more fierce, brilliant, and untamable. If we get too close to this Living God, the true light of the world, our cold darkness might be consumed, but all of our very being would be consumed along with it.
And it is here that we find the incredible, tender mercy of God’s light in the face of Jesus Christ. We can’t approach this all-consuming fire on our own—as desperately as we need it—without being reduced to dust and ashes. And so this fire came to us in the most beautiful way. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Through Jesus, this light came humbly into the world in a form we could touch, see, and interact with. Through Jesus, we could be in relationship with the consuming fire of God without being consumed ourselves. Instead, He was consumed to ashes in our place.
This tender mercy meets us here and now as we look in anticipation to Christmas and meditate on what it means that God’s light shines in the humble face of our Savior. His tender mercy will also meet us again in the future as we, the redeemed, groan for our final redemption. God’s light will come again one day when the resurrected Jesus returns, this time in full and all-consuming brilliance. On that day, because the Savior has already done away with the dark stain of sin on our souls, we will stand in the full light of His eternal presence and not be consumed. He will make all things new, and the aching of our weary hearts will once and for all be put to rest in the full light of Him.

“…now he has promised, 'Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:26-29)
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