One of the loveliest presents you can give a child is a prism. Not only does it teach the physics of light, dividing light into the colors of the rainbow or combining them into one pure ray of white light but also there is so much other teaching to be had from this one simple object including the story of Christmas.
When I was a boy, sitting in the choir, I used to sit during the sermons and watch the light come through the huge stained glass window behind the altar, where it set out a colored cloth that covered most of the sanctuary. I thought of it as a cloth of colors that I might fold up and take home to decorate our house. I did not know then that, if these colors could be rolled into one the light would become pure white.
Image then the colors of the rainbow and project them down into a single point of pure white light. Let it gleam through the prism and out again on the other side in a new set of rainbow colors.
If you can imagine this you can imagine the history of Israel. On one side we have Israel, God’s covenant partner that was called the bride of God. Here we have a people full of hope and yet filled with tragedy. A people who are constantly unfaithful and yet whatever happens God remains true. He is wounded, grieved and hurt but always true to his word and promise. He has set the laws of nature and does not change them just because some misuse them. Throughout Israel’s history there is a multi-colored prophetic message of constancy, of love and of loyalty that shines through the murky gloom and darkness of Israel s turmoil of seemingly endless night.
Those who see the colors of the prophetic message wait anxiously for the rays to focus themselves on the small point that might make sense of them. Be silent, everyone, in the presence of the Lord, for he is coming from his holy dwelling place. For those awaiting the Messiah these words of Zechariah are nuggets of gold. He will come to live among you, Zechariah says, once again Judah will be the special possession of the Lord in his sacred land, and Jerusalem will be the city he loves most of all. Then silently the light is focused at last and the Lord comes to Judah, though not to Jerusalem because of the treachery of Herod, but to Bethlehem, the city of David just a few miles further south.
Israel, the daughter of Zion, God s holy bride risks everything in order to gain everything. She becomes the prism in which the many-splendored radiance of Israel’s hope and consolation is drawn together into the single spark of pure light; the pure light that the darkness cannot overcome. His name is Emmanuel, God with us, though we know him by the later name of Jesus. Through him Israel will at long last be set free from the exile that her behavior has earned her.
We seldom read the genealogy that Matthew writes in his gospel. We should look at it occasionally, because it focuses on three points of history; Abraham, David and the Babylonian exile. Through this genealogy Matthew is telling us that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham by sending the true heir of David to liberate Israel from her exile.
- We make prisons for ourselves through our behavior, especially our bad behavior, and nations do the same. We lock ourselves in our past.
Freedom and forgiveness can only come when, as the Lord said through Zechariah, I will come and live among you. I remember a couple that were about to be married suddenly broke off their engagement because, unexpectedly, they lost their trust in each other. Later they rethought their position and re-established their former trust. Without that forgiveness they could not come together and live with each other. So it was with God and Israel God forgave Israel and this forgiveness enabled him to come again to be with his people. It was Christ who brokered the deal; the point of white light in an otherwise dark situation.
No one ever thought it would be like this even though it was the Emmanuel promise that had sustained Israel through the dark times. God’s bride whose character was less than perfect, who was unfaithful at almost every opportunity yet God still wants the wedding to take place and is prepared to forgive and be with his people and through them reclaim the whole world. The prophesies had predicted it but no one knew how it might happen and no one ever dreamed that it would happen because of a single person. Yet this is how it was and when this small point of white light shone once again onto the giant screen of history we see the rainbow in all its beauty and this time it is without the black background of Israel s betrayals.
The holy city that the Christians called the New Jerusalem comes from heaven as God’s pure bride. The theme is the same as before, these two are to live together in peace and harmony. The old regimes are gone; the separate administrations of living apart are over. As it says in Revelation, the sea is done away with. The sea is the mythical source of evil. Israelites were terrible sailors and saw everything to do with the sea as a mystery of evil. With evil gone there would be no more sickness or sorrow, nothing to cry about. God, says Revelation, will wipe the tears from every eye .
What had once been a promise to David about his son now becomes a promise to all who come to drink from the living fountain. The promise is this and is for each one of us. It is a true promise and is unequivocal in its unmistakable clarity.
If you live by the multicolored light of the prophetic promises that God will come to rescue you then you must place your trust of multicolored living in the prism of Christ’s life who will change those colors to the one true and pure light of God’s grace the light that can overcome every form of darkness.
In that light God will be with us, and the promise will be realized, I will be his God and you shall be my son and you shall be my daughter.
The night will be over and dawn will have broken on a new world of peace.