the value of light

A Great Commotion About a Lamp-Post

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)

Everyone is talking. People are gathering in groups and talking. And as they talk, divisions arise. Gaps widen. Family. Friends. Talking does not seem to bring people together as it used to. What is being said is being said openly or in secret. Under a lamp-post or in darkness. But what is said carries in its conversation a great commotion about light and darkness.

For most of our modern day, the familiar water cooler at the office has become a metaphor for the place where people gather to gossip and discuss. In the middle ages, people would gather at night under a lamp-post in the center of the town. And that is the location as metaphor Chesterton uses to describe how each man responds to the choice of Light or Darkness.

In this season of Advent, our journey to Christ coming the first time is liturgical. Our light is guided by the season. But our journey is also a personal inner journey of the heart toward his Second Coming for which we must be ready. At the beginning of our heart’s journey, our question is: how do we value the gift of Christ’s Light? At the end, the answer is: what is our philosophy of light? How do I actually act in front of others as a light-bearer of Christ? What guides every decision, every choice I make? My personal inclination or my effort at reaching out through obeying scripture and incessant prayer to put on the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). It is this that Chesterton discusses in the introduction to his book Heretics. And it is this that toward the end of the Advent season, we will revisit in another post to review what Christ has done in our hearts to humble us when revisiting his birth and prepare us for his return.

“Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.” – G.K. Chesterton, Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy, Heretics, 1905

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