Genesis 1:14 And God said, “Let luminaries be in the firmament of the heaven for illumination of the land come into being and rule the days and the nights and make a separation in the midst of the day and in the midst of the night. And let them be for a sign and for seasons and for days and for years. 15 And let them be for illumination in the firmament of the heaven so that they might give light upon the land.” And it happened in this way. 16 And God made the two big luminaries, the big luminary to have authority over the day, and the little luminary to have authority over the night and the stars. 17 And God placed them in the firmament of the heaven so that they might shine upon the land 18 and rule over the day and the night and to make a separation in the midst of the light and in the midst of the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day.
Now I’m no scientist, and I’m not going to get into how things were possible in creation scientifically. Instead, I’m going to look at the perspective on the significance of God’s acts of creating on the fourth day and what it means for us today as we look at the stars, moon, and sun. We see that Christians of the past used these objects as reminders of significant realities in our own lives. Yet there is also the difficulty that Jesus’ view on Scripture is extremely high so we need to take it seriously in conjunction with science. So I wish I didn’t have to be a scientist, but I have to mention a couple of things at least.
First of all, there is something that has always been puzzling to interpreters everywhere. People who desperately want to fit Genesis into a really literal framework of some kind. It’s been three days and God still hasn’t created the sun, but He said, “Let there be light”, on the first day. Weird huh?
According to Augustine, when it says, ‘“And darkness was over the abyss.” The Manichaeans find fault with this and say, “Was God then in darkness, before he made the light?”…they do not understand the light in which God was before he made this light. For they know only the light they see with the eyes of the flesh. And therefore they worship the sun that every creature sees. But let us understand that there is a different light in which God dwells.’
Now this gets a little complicated but stay with me,
John of Damascus says a few centuries later, “Fire is one of the four elements. It is light and more buoyant than the others, and it both burns and gives light. It was made by the Creator on the first day, for sacred Scripture says, “And God said: Let there be Light. And light was made.” According to what some say, fire is the same thing as light.… And into the luminaries of the firmament the Creator put the primordial light, not that he was in want of any other light but that that particular light might not remain idle. For the luminary is not the light itself but its receptacle.
Now you may have heard scientists talk about “dark matter”. What does it look like? No idea. Here are some thoughts about it in relation to God though that I came across: ‘Dark matter certainly has some of God’s attributes: It is invisible to all wavelengths of light. Science doesn’t exactly know what it is. It influences the behavior of the entire universe. It has spawned many scientific and philosophical discussions. It is largely misunderstood.’ And scientists by and large do believe it exists. So it doesn’t seem as far of a leap to me to talk about the light and darkness as something invisible!
Anyway, let’s get a bit more into this and then see the value of it for our lives in relation to God and creation.
Ambrose says, “Look first on the firmament of heaven, which was made before the sun. Look first on the earth, which began to be visible and was already formed before the sun put in its appearance. Look at the plants of the earth, which preceded in time the light of the sun. The bramble preceded the sun. The blade of grass is older than the moon. Therefore, do not believe that object to be a god to which the gifts of God are seen to be preferred. Three days have passed. No one, meanwhile, has looked for the sun, yet the brilliance of light has been in evidence everywhere. For the day too has its light, which is itself the precursor of the sun.
So this is where it gets tricky. Jesus clearly affirms Scripture as God’s Word, and He rose from the dead and is God…so I’ve gotta go with Him and try and figure out what’s going on here. As we look at this consensus of the early Church, it seems like there is a general understanding that there is a type of unseen light, kind of like how scientist agree today that there is an unseen ‘dark matter’. I don’t think this light and dark are to be understood merely physically, as we read from Augustine, but as the reality of spiritual forces in the world today. It seems that God wanted us to understand that there was a deeper reality to light and darkness than merely sun and moon and stars, so let’s approach the rest of the passage here as such.
I hate the word “Allegory” because it makes it sound like this is a cop out method, but I think it is a greater way of understanding the text in light of Christ in creation and His purpose for our lives.
First of all, let’s look at what Origen says in reflecting on creation from this standpoint of our purpose and identity in Christ:
Origen: As those lights of heaven that we see have been set “for signs and seasons and days and years,” that they might give light from the firmament of heaven to those who are on the earth, so also Christ, illuminating his church, gives signs by his precepts, that one might know how, when the sign has been received, to escape the “wrath to come,” lest “that day overtake him like a thief,” but that rather he can reach “the acceptable year of the Lord.” Christ, therefore, is the “true light which enlightens every man coming into this world.” From his light the church itself also having been enlightened is made “the light of the world” enlightening those “who are in darkness,” as also Christ himself testifies to his disciples saying, “You are the light of the world.”
Origen: “Just as the sun and the moon are said to be the great lights in the firmament of heaven, so also are Christ and the church in us. But since God also placed stars in the firmament, let us see what are also stars in us, that is, in the heaven of our heart. Moses is a star in us, which shines and enlightens us by his acts. And so are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, David, Daniel, and all to whom the Holy Scriptures testify that they pleased God. For just as “star differs from star in glory” so also each of the saints, according to his own greatness, sheds his light upon us.”
What did the stars do for people before electricity and GPS? They guided them. So we are guided through the lives of the saints, looking at Scripture, seeing their lives on earth and experiencing their prayers for us, onto the right path. But it’s as we look at the stars, those people around us who are receptacles of the primordial light, that we can find that path towards Christ. And the greatest shining light to a world of darkness who has already entered into night, is the Church herself, the moon, shining Christ always on us. Even at the time of eclipse, symbolizing Christ’s death on the cross, there is always the assurance that the light will soon return. Even so, when parts of the Church are unfaithful to the cause of Christ, eclipsing the bright sun, the sun still shines around the Moon into the world around us. This gives us assurance that Christ will shine around us even if we feel like we are eclipsing Him in the feeling of our sin and unworthiness. Yet we, as the Church, the Moon, are to be as much of a full moon as possible, not letting the world, which was originally in darkness, come between us and Christ, but always avoiding the passing pleasures of the world in order to receive and display the light of Christ to the dark world which we are facing.
Dionysius would say this: The great, shining, everlighting sun is the obvious image of the divine goodness, a distant echo of the good. It illuminates whatever is capable of receiving its light, and yet it never loses the utter fullness of its light. It sends its shining beams all around the visible world, and if anything fails to receive them the fault lies not in the weakness or defect of the spreading light but in the unsuitability of whatever is unable to have a share in light.”
What we like to do is focus on visible signs of light and darkness. We group people into one or the other according to race, social status, location, but remember that God said, “let there be light”, before there was any physical light anywhere in the universe. We merely choose to not have a share in the light and enter the darkness on our own accord.
But know, instead, that you are created to be a bearer of an omnipresent, eternal light. As you open yourself up to it and receive Christ and His goodness into your life, confess the absence of light that you are experiencing in your life as a gift from God. Why is that? Because when we acknowledge that we are not the source of light, we come to our greatest state of dependence on God. “God, I am in darkness without You.” As it’s written, “In Your Light, we see Light” and, “Even darkness is as light to You” because God You are not limited by physical light and darkness, but we limit ourselves when we choose to retreat from the light of all that You have demonstrated Yourself to be into our own spiritual darkness of rebellion against You and Your ways. Renew us again as receptacles of light, that we may receive that light as luminaries in the sky and illuminate the way to Your path for all of those around us.” Amen.
Closing service reflection and prayer: Why did God allow darkness and make His light precede that of the stars? So we could realize our immense dependence on Him for our participation in His goodness. As long as evil exists, darkness will exist, but also exists opportunity for others to freely join the light, and for us to be luminaries of that light to illumine the lives of others to the cause of Christ. Let it be so in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.