My wife did a phenomenal job this year with the Christmas lights. The house had that glow that says softly and boldly that Christmas is here. Now the time has come to take down the decorations and lights that announced Jesus’ coming. The de-decorating at the beginning of the new year is always a little depressing for me. But, when you think about it, we should be leaving at least one new light up shouldn’t we? Isn’t that what we believe, that belief drives practice; that a new, dark defying, unquenchable light has come into the world? A light that gives direction, clarity and warmth. A light that gives courage, comfort and enlarges community. A light that cannot be extinguished by religious calcification, political egocentrism or judicial dereliction. This year at my house we are leaving a string of lights up to help us remember Isaiah’s words, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
For People with Bishop Rob Wright
The podcast expands on Bishop’s For Faith devotional, drawing inspiration from the life of Jesus to answer 21st-century questions.
Read the Transcript:
So, I guess what I want to say they’re thinking about Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful work, is I don’t want to say that darkness is someplace that God can’t reach or that God can’t use. In fact, the truth of the matter is is that God uses darkness to achieve God’s purposes. The point here is is that the light, this light, the God light cannot be overcome by darkness. So, in other words, darkness serves God. It is not equal to God.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau. This is a conversation inspired by For Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. Howdy, Bishop.
Rob: Happy 2023. Here we are.
Melissa: Happy epiphany.
Rob: Happy epiphany.
Melissa: This week’s devotion is called Shine, based off of Isaiah Chapter 60, Verse 1 which says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” And you challenge us to consider leaving at least one new light on. I love the whole story. So, I’m curious though, has this ever hit you before like on past epiphanies, past year ends and year beginnings?
Rob: Well, I mean, a definition of epiphanies is just that time of year when some Christians pay a lot of attention to the distance and the difference between the actual birth of the Christ child and the wise men. And no doubt there were some wise women actually arriving at the manger. And so, we do not understand that it all happened the same day. And so, we call that day when those wise men and wise women arrived at the manger, we call that epiphany. And it launches out for us a season where we pay attention to the manifestations of God in our midst. And we’re going to look at Jesus’s miracles and all that all those things that tell us that God is real, that God is able, that God is near, that God is actually in the process of turning hearts and turning the world, you know, right side up. So, that’s epiphany in a nutshell.
And yeah, I want to pay attention to that. Just like lots of things. I’ve had thoughts. But you know, when you write, sometimes they get clearer. And so, I’ve always sort of been a little bit depressed, or at least let down when you start taking down the Christmas decorations. And here we are, we’ve taken them down. And my wife did such a good job this year. She really lived into her vision. I mean, previous year, she was like, ah, we should do more. And, you know, I wasn’t getting in that because I know we doing more, meant me doing more. I’ve been a husband a little while, long enough to know when to shut up and when to comment. But nevertheless, she did such a phenomenal job. And it was a delight to drive up to the house. And you know, the living room around the fireplace was just picture postcard, right?
Then when we were getting ready to start taking some things down, and I just realized, you know, that’s actually out of step with what we say happens. So, like, we put all the lights up in advance the Jesus’s birth, and we celebrate Jesus’s birth and all that, that’s wonderful and hallelujah. And then the light has come among us, the light that the darkness cannot overcome has actually been born in our midst, come to us. And then we take all the lights down, when really if what we believe is true, we should leave at least one new light up. And so, that’s the trajectory of the whole sort of vagrant thought business.
So, I told my wife, “Hey, we’re going to leave these sort of really colorful light string lights hanging over the banister. We’re going to leave them up.” And so, when you if you walk in our front door, you look like you’ve just walked into like a European disco or something like that. But I love it. I think that belief is supposed to give birth to practice. So, what we say, ought to be manifested in the real world. That’s why I’m doing it.
Melissa: I love that. I just have to share with everybody, a little Christmas pageant this year at our church. Of course, we did the Christmas pageant, you know, during the the 4:30 early service on Christmas Eve. And honest to goodness, we’ve never done this script. We kind of did our own little thing this year, but I wanted to have a really kick-a star of Bethlehem. One of my friends is really great. She’s awesome. I mean, she’s fabulous. She made this star according to like the concept that I kind of laid out for her. I’m like, I want this big star. And I said, I want it to glisten, kind of like a disco ball. And so, she made this incredible thing. And we had all the lights off. And it was awesome because we had a kid like turn it and twist it and all the lights were down except for we had a kid on the floor, shining two mag lights on it. And we got these like disco ball mirror liners. Oh my gosh, it was absolutely incredible.
But it strikes me, the light of Christ strikes me. So, what you said, I’ve never really put two and two together like that before. Light matters. Epiphany matters.
Rob: Light matters. I mean, you could stop there. I mean, that would be one hell of a sermon. I mean, light matters. The fact that we say this light, the God light has come into the world and into our hearts. And no matter how we try, it cannot be denied ultimately, and it cannot be quenched. I mean, you know, that’s quite a lot to say. And it gives hope. It makes us have hope, if we believe that that is true, and of course, Jesus’s life and then his death and then his resurrection affirms that. Despite, the stubbornness and hard heartedness and ignorance of the religious community, despite, you know, the megalomania of various political leaders then and perhaps now. And even judicial dereliction like I write in the meditation, despite all of that, we are somehow captured by this hope and this light. And we believe that this light is the light of the world. And it’s not so much an over and against statement. We believe it’s the statement big enough for all.
I mean, you know, this is what we say. This is what the angels sing when they announced Jesus is coming to the to the shepherds, that this is for all. And that is what we believe. And so, when I think about Isaiah is wonderful words, Arise and shine, you know, he puts action with all. So, we are in awe of this light. And this light is shining. And also, this wonderful new light, the God light coming in the person of Jesus Christ and through the power of the holy spirit, also invites us to take action. That is the verb. So, the light is come and it’s an invitation to do something just because of the light.
Melissa: My favorite line of the whole thing is, it’s so beautifully written. A light that cannot be extinguished by religious calcification, political egocentrism, or judicial dereliction. I mean, awesome, awesome words. Can you unpack some of those a little bit? What do you mean by religious calcification and political egos? I mean, I think I know what you mean. But what do you mean by that juxtaposed by the light of Christ?
Rob: Well, you know, bouncing around the Bible a little bit, you know, John’s gospel tells us He came to His own and they received Him not. I mean, he came to his own people who were reading from the same script. And it’s not antisemitic to say, this is a conversation within a community that we as non-Jews get a chance to take a look at. And so, he shouldn’t read any sort of reason to be antisemitic, but he came to his own. And he came using their own script, which has become our script. And they did not have the room in their theology. They did not have the room in their sort of political survival modes to embrace him.
When I say religious calcification, I want to notice within myself, and within the religious community, organized religious community, as a general matter, that we can become slaves to business as usual. That we can become slaves to form over revelation. And it’s a worrisome thing that we can squeeze the life out of tradition, we can hold tradition so tightly that we squeeze the life out of it. And so, I worry about that. I worry that we’re making or intending to make churchgoers rather than people who want to travel with God. And I think that the church is a gift to God, a gift from God to the world. I do believe that with all my heart. And I like to say, when Church is really good, humming along, it’s generative, it’s beautiful, it’s warm, it’s transformative. It’s a gift. And when it’s good, it’s really good. Like, it’s good with no peer. But when it’s bad, oh, it’s bad. It’s really bad. And it’s bad in a space that we don’t need to be bad. It’s bad and that we’re misrepresenting God. And that is a worrisome thing to me.
So, when I’m talking about religious calcification there, I’m talking about various characters in the Jesus story in the Bible, who like us so often, are caught, twix in between about religious convention, and a harder question is, what is God doing now? And that is a hard, hard question to attend to at home and at work and in marriage and in child rearing and with our money and our calendar. So, that’s what I’m saying there. I’m saying in all of that, the light pierces. Nicodemus finds it out and he finds the light at night, you know, in a funny way. Mary bends her life to the light when she says yes to Gabriel. The angel Joseph ceases to file divorce papers, when the angel comes to him and tells them that this thing that has happened to Mary is all about light. So, I mean, light breaks through even the most dense religious doctrine is what I’m trying to say there.
Melissa: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I’ve got more questions, and we’ll get to them right after this.
Easton: Hi, listeners, thank you for listening to For People, a space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook @BishopRobWright. And now back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, just before the break, you had said something backing up a little bit, you had said something that we need to be careful of not becoming slaves to form over revelation. And Revelation is something that I think a lot of people will associate with light and darkness as in not knowing. And yet I’m reminded of the paradox that light and dark often go hand at hand.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, different sides of the same coin. Absolutely. So, I guess what I want to say they’re thinking about Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful work, is I don’t want to say that darkness is someplace that God can’t reach or that God can’t use. In fact, the truth of the matter is is that God uses darkness to achieve God’s purposes. The point here is is that the light, this light, the God light cannot be overcome by darkness. So, in other words, darkness serves God. It is not equal to God. It is not peer to God’s initiatives. And so that’s the point I really want to make.
And so, I love that about, you know, in various pieces of Scripture where the dark is not dark to God, as scripture says, right? In other words, God uses everything, God is sovereign. And so, the light is an extension of God’s sovereignty. In other words, God has decided that this is the symbol, this is the work that God is going to do. And he’s going to use light to expose, to comfort, to give courage, to give warmth, to give clarity, all these wonderful, wonderful things, and that God does that while you and I are groping around in darkness. What an incredible light that is, that it can be seen, you know, in darkness, and actually ends up helping us to look back at some of the darkness that you and I have been through. And then see God was right there all along.
Melissa: Well, you also said, I think you said, belief shapes practice. And I would say the opposite is also true. I think, practice shapes belief. And so, in this season of light and epiphany and celebrating the fact that God is with us, how would you encourage us to practice, being able to recognize what God is doing now?
Rob: Yeah. Well, you know, here’s where we get back to basics. I’m not one of those who have like, an elaborate, you know, list of things that I want to commend to people. And I’m not a big sort of new year’s resolution type of dude, you know. I think where we start at is what’s really on our heart this year. One of the things that I would invite people to say is, is that what’s your question for God this year? You know, if we’re talking about the Weizmann, following a light, following a star, they came with their questions. And so, I always like to invite people. So, what’s your question for 2023 for your life? For your living? And let’s just walk a while with God with that question.
I like to point people to the Book of Common Prayer. That’s the book we use in the Episcopal Church. And it has various services, services for healing, services for confession of sins, etc. And I always like to invite people to locate yourself in one of those prayers. What season are you in and what’s the prayer you need to be praying right now? I also like to invite people to sort of ground whatever they do in their own actual biological rhythm. I’m an early morning guy, as I’ve said a thousand times on this podcast. I wonder what you are? I wonder what others are? So, maybe that’s the time to have a conversation with God.
I think it’s not about magical words or eloquence, all that sort of stuff. I think it’s about the intention of the heart. So, that is what God seems to want in scripture, earnest longing of your heart. And so what do you want to say to God? And what do you need God to say to you going forward? Then we begin to amass resources. That may be talking to a clergy person. That may be talking to someone who is a little further along in the journey than you. Buying them coffee. That may mean deciding to just serve in a food pantry for the year of 2023 or a battered woman shelter for 2023 just picking one thing. I think we gild the lily unnecessarily. You know, we serve a God who came in simplicity. And so, there’s something about simplicity that I think is enlightening.
I did the Christmas Eve service. I usually do it either at Aalto Arundale prison, or I do it at Common Ground, which is our church outdoors for brothers and sisters who don’t have shelter. And I couldn’t do it at Arundale this year, because they’re understaffed. So, they didn’t want to gather all the people there for a big worship service with me. And so, I went down to Woodruff Park in Atlanta, Georgia, where the water was literally freezing, you know, the waterfall had frozen. It was something and we celebrated worship outside.
And I was so struck there, I met a woman who had been a member of a Catholic church for a very long time, a very devoted Catholic. She had been praying and discerning about where she was going to be. And so, she ended up at Church of the Common Ground, herself and her family, serving there. Serving brothers and sisters who are without shelter there. I thought that was very beautiful that I heard recently. There was no trumpet, no fanfare, and no Facebook page, no, nothing, just her hands and a willing heart, you know, to serve. And she was fully committed there. I mean, clearly, it was a woman who was bright and well resourced. But she just decided that this is my place. And I said, so you know, thinking perhaps to traditionally I said, “Well, clearly, this is your outreach endeavor. Where’s your congregation?” She said, “This is my congregation.” And so, I would invite people to think in those terms, you know, what’s that one place that you can be that, you know God wants God’s light. And you can just commit to that for one calendar year. I think there’s a lot to learn about ourselves, when we pleasure ourselves in that kind of service. And I think there’s a lot to learn about the world. And I think there’s a lot to learn about the nature of Christ.
I mean, think about it for a second. I mean, everything we’re trying to do, we’re just sort of stealing from Jesus, right? We’re pouring ourselves in humility, into one little locale, and trying to be a blessing to that and trying to live out the teachings and trying to be kind to people who are on margins, and trying to point at God all around us. I think that would be my invitation. And of course, my big ticket item is read the Bible. I have a guy who was my mentor a thousand years ago, he said, “Hey, Rob, remember to say your prayers and read your Bible.” We can make it sound sexier than that. But it really is that, right?
Melissa: Yeah, yeah. Read your Bible, pray every day.
Rob: And it won’t hurt you none, right? It will not hurt you none. And you might get a new sense of this light yourself.
Melissa: Well, I love it. I love it. I love it. Love it, love it. I am still singing, rise and shine, give God your glory, glory.
Well, thank you, Bishop. And thank you listeners for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook @BishopRobWright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.
Mi esposa realizo un trabajo fenomenal este año en la decoración con las luces de Navidad. La casa tenía ese resplandor que dice suave y audazmente que la Navidad está aquí. Ahora ha llegado el momento de quitar las decoraciones y luces que anunciaron la venida de Jesús. La des decoración al comienzo del nuevo año siempre es un poco deprimente para mí. Pero, cuando lo piensas, deberíamos dejar afuera al menos una nueva luz, ¿no? ¿No es eso lo que creemos, que la creencia impulsa a la práctica; que una nueva luz, desafiante de la oscuridad e inextinguible ha venido al mundo? Una luz que da dirección, claridad y calidez. Una luz que da coraje, consuelo y ensancha la comunidad. Una luz que no puede ser extinguida por la calcificación religiosa, el egocentrismo político o el abandono judicial. Este año en mi casa dejaremos una cadena de luces decorando; para ayudarnos a recordar las palabras del profeta Isaías: “Levántate, resplandece; porque ha venido vuestra luz, y la gloria del Señor ha resucitado sobre vosotros”.