Sunday, 5 January 2020

Seeing everyone in God’s
light makes more than
a shade of difference

‘The Beginning’ … one of the images projected onto to the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral before Christmas by Luxmuralis as part of ‘The Cathedral Illuminated 2019: The Beginning’ (Photograph courtesy Kathryn Walker / Luxmuralis, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 January 2020

The Second Sunday of Christmas (Christmas 2)


9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

The Readings: Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Wisdom 10: 15-21; Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: 1-18.

Colour-blindness makes it difficult to distinguish the different lines on a map of the London Underground

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our first reading this morning (Jeremiah 31: 7-14) includes a promise to the ‘blind and the lame’ that they will be gathered into God’s people and counted in in God’s promises, that they will see God’s ways, that they will be part of the great journey of faith.

Instead of a Psalm this morning, we read from the Wisdom of Solomon (Wisdom 10: 15-21), in which we are told that Wisdom has delivered God’s people from oppressive overlords, guiding them by day and by night, so that even the mute and small children could no longer be silent, but sing out God’s praises.

Sometimes, I have to admit, that when I am travelling through London, I get lost, not because I do not know my way around London, but because I am colour blind, and I find it easy to get lost when I am reading the maps for the London Underground.

Colour-blindness is usually genetic, and usually only effects men.

I only came to know about it in my case after I was disappointed with not getting the marks I expected in Art in the Leaving Certificate.

It is not a sickness, it is not going to be cured, but when it comes to finding my way around the Underground, it is a disability.

Light green blurs into light blue, light blue turns into deep blue, deep blue becomes purple, and purple becomes black.

Never mind the gap, I can see that. I just find it difficult to tell the Piccadilly Line from the Northern Line, Victoria from Piccadilly, and Waterloo and City from Victoria.

Before you could figure out how many Cs and how many Ls there are to spell Piccadilly, I am heading off on the wrong line, in the wrong direction, to I don’t know where.

It’s not a disability that is crying out for help, compared to what others go through with in life.

Actually, I prefer to walk, and sometimes I find it quicker and more pleasant.

But when I use the Tube, I have learned to have enough wisdom and enough humility to ask people to help me to read the maps and to point out which line is which.

There is nothing wrong with falling back on either wisdom or humility. And it makes for interesting conversations.

Our way of seeing colours is conditioned not just by colour-blindness and the different forms of it, or our lack of it, but also by our language, our culture and our politics.

Politics? Yes. Every time I see Trump wearing a red tie and Obama a blue tie, I wonder do they know the political significance of these colours in America is reversed everywhere else in the world. Throughout Europe, Green has a particular significance that is sometimes very difficult for the Green Party to explain in Northern Ireland. Try explaining in Northern Ireland how the words ‘Orange’ and ‘Revolution’ came together in Ukraine 15 years ago (2004-2005).

Culturally, although we have words for violet, purple and indigo in English, and know they are separate colours, we find it very difficult to distinguish them in our culture and to tell the difference between them.

Newcomers to learning classical Greek sometimes stumble at Homer’s reference to the wine-red sea (οἶνοψ πόντος, oinops pontos). We traditionally think of the sea as blue, although James Joyce gives it a particularly nasal shade of green.

Modern Greek has at least four different words for blue:

● γαλάζιο (galázio) for light blue or sky blue
● θαλασσί (thalassí) for sea blue
● μπλε (ble), a loan word from the French bleu
● κυανό (kyanó) for azure

And then there is τυρκουάζ (tyrkouáz) for turquoise, and other words too.

Since I started to learn to speak Greek, I can honestly say that I now see different blues as different colours rather as than different shades.

Yet a language that has at least four words for blue has to borrow from English the words for grey (γκρί) and brown (καφέ).

On the other hand, we don’t have separate words for different blues. Every time we want to be definitive about blue, we have to qualify it: royal blue, sea blue, sky blue, baby blue … and so on … we could even be singing the Blues or feeling the Blues.

Colours are not fixed. How we see colours is a combination of light or light waves and cultural conditioning.

We can see no colours without light. Without light, how would we truly see the colours underwater, how would we see the colours of sunrise or sunset?

In our Gospel reading (John 1: 1-18), we read how the light of Christ fully reveals God’s ways, and through Christ we have been given access to God the Father:

‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world’ (John 1: 3-5, 9).

Just like there are different colours and shades of colours that we can only distinguish in their true light, so there are different forms of light.

X-ray light allows doctors and medics to see inside our bodies: bones, organs, tumours, the workings of our muscles and joints … it is truly beautiful, but not a beauty we would want to see every hour of every day.

Artists work with different lights. They show their subjects in a light that we would not use consistently throughout the day.

We speak of enlightenment and of ‘light-bulb’ moments, because they are not regular, daily occurrences. We might want to think we are enlightened, but it would be an exhausted genius who had a ‘light-bulb’ moment every moment.

We need dark and shade to see and experience the light.

All are different forms of light, and we see each other in a different light, at different times, depending on the time and circumstances.

Imagine if we all saw each other in the same light, constantly.

We would be a very boring, monochrome collection of people.

But imagine if we see each other, just every now and then, in the way God sees us, in the way we should see each other when God’s light shines on us, ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’ (John 1: 9).

If only for a moment we could see one another in the light of God, the true light, which enlightens everyone, which was coming into the world that first Christmas.

That would make more than a shade of difference to the world.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

How we use language determines whether we see different shades of blue or different colours … four candles used as a sermon illustration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 1: 1-18 (NRSVA):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me”.’ 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ … sunrise over the coast at Igoumenitsa in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold).

The Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
Help us to walk in this light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Light eternal,
you have nourished us in the mystery
of the body and blood of your Son:
By your grace keep us ever faithful to your word,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

How we use language determines whether we see different shades of blue or different colours

Hymns:

652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 166)
425, Jesu thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … sunrise over the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford, creates different shades of blue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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