Fall 2018 Convocation Address: Post Tenebras Lux

August 21, 2018
Fall 2018 Convocation

Most people who travel in Baylor circles are mindful of the Baylor Lights messaging that has marked our University’s communications over the course of this calendar year. In more and less subtle ways, Baylor is calling those who have a care for her to embrace and extend the message that our beloved University is coming out of a period of darkness and walking into a season of light, stepping out of the shadows and leaning into the dawn of a new day.

Truth be told, because God is Light and in him there is no darkness at all, things are never as dismal as we might imagine. “Even the darkness is light to him,” Psalm 139:12 declares. Moreover, given humanity’s demonstrable propensity to fall short of God’s glory, our lights are perpetually dimmer than we would wish. The words of famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden seem apropos and applicable here: “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

In ways that are congruent with our stated convictions and ongoing commitments, we at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary are seeking to employ and embody #baylorlights. So, for example, the theme of the most recent edition of our news magazine, The Cord, is “Light of the World.” If you have yet to read this publication, I wish that you would do so. It is available in both print and digital formats. In fact, if you would like you may pick up a copy of The Cord on your way out of Chapel this morning.

Back to Baylor Lights @ Truett, before us this morning, beautifying this sacred space are new banners declaring that “Jesus is the Light of the World” on the one hand and that we as his hands and feet, as an extension of his kingdom in the world, are to be light unto the world on the other. We are not to place our lamps under a bowl or peck measure, as the King James Version of my childhood would have it. Rather, as Jesus’ followers, we are to be like a city on a hill and are to place our lights upon lampstands so that others might see the good that we do and thereby call upon the only One who is good—God alone. As a worship artist of our day, my friend Chris Tomlin, puts it, “God is a good, good Father—that is who he is.”

As it happens, a call to let our lights shine brightly is not new to either Baylor University in general or to Truett Seminary in particular. For example, near the conclusion of his now famous “Immortal Message,” Samuel Palmer Brooks, Baylor’s 8th President, spoke of handing a torch to Baylor graduates past, present, and future, even as Baylor’s school song “That Good Ole Baylor Line” speaks of lighting “the ways of time.”

For our part, not only do we presently sit in the beautiful Paul W. Powell Chapel where light streams in through stunning, significant stained glass, but we also find on our building’s Clock Tower a phrase from John 9:4, “The night cometh.” Truett’s third dean, Paul W. Powell, explained this gospel phrase as follows: “These words [from John 9] remind us of the urgency of what we do at Truett Seminary as we train ministers and missionaries for world-wide service.” As Jesus’ followers we are to join him, the Light of the World, in doing the works of the One who sent him while it is still day, for the time will come when time will be no more.

As it happens, the words on our Clock Tower also appear on the clock-face at the Park Cities Baptist Church on Northwest Highway in Dallas, Texas, a church that has supported and continues to support this seminary very generously, for which we are most grateful. Such links to light, which we could illustrate further, cause one to see the wisdom in Rudyard Kipling’s quip: “The craft that we call modern, The crimes that we call new, John Bunyan had’em typed and filed in Sixteen Eighty-two.” Qoheleth was right in large part when he observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes also notes well, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Early last month, I was privileged to visit Geneva, Switzerland for the first time. I was duly impressed with the beauty and the history of that Swiss city. Indeed, I am now calling it my new favorite city. (I was less impressed with how expensive everything was, but I digress.) As you may well know, Geneva was a seat of the so-called Swiss Reformation. In fact, through the considerable effort and influence of the Frenchman John Calvin, Geneva became known as the “Protestant Rome.” Even to this day, there are remains of that now distant day, not least in the Latin phrase Post Tenebras Lux, which is strategically inscribed at various places throughout the city, including on the rightly famed Reformation Wall.

The phrase Post Tenebras Lux, which alludes to Job 17:12 in the Vulgate and translates into English as “After darkness, light,” not only became the Calvinist motto but also served as the motto for the entire Protestant Reformation. The contention of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other such reformers was that Scripture, faith, and grace had been eclipsed by questionable, harmful ecclesial perspectives and practices and that nothing short of reform was required.

Such darkness-dispelling, light-infusing reform could cause one to recall the very beginning when “the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

Fall 2018 Convocation

For the Christian, Post Tenebras Lux, comes into full and final focus in the Person and Work of Jesus, in Johannine parlance, in the Word becoming flesh and pitching a tent among us. Jesus reveals God’s life and light to us even as he rescues us from death and darkness. As 1 Peter 2:9 puts it, he has “called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Because of Jesus, the Light of the World, we can joyfully sing, “I saw the Light, I saw the Light; no more sorrow, no more night; I’m so very happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.”

In John’s Prologue, of which Jan Cason read a portion a few moments ago, Jesus is extolled as the Logos who embodies and reveals divine reason, wisdom, and communication. As such, he is co-eternal with God and the One through whom God made all things. Indeed, John maintains that Jesus, who is God of God, has exegeted God to the world.

Both in and beyond the Prologue, the Fourth Gospel lauds Jesus as the Light. He is “the light of humanity” (1:4), “the true light” (1:9), “the light of the world” (8:12). It is also clear both in and beyond the Prologue that John the Baptist—and every other harbinger and follower of Jesus for that matter—is a lesser light. John 1:8 insists, “John the Baptist was clearly not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” John 1:15 points in the same direction, where John the Baptist declares, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” Then again, in John 1:27, John the Baptist contends that he is not worthy to untie the straps of the sandals of the One coming after him. Lastly, John the Baptist aptly states in John 3:30 that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease.

Scripture clearly calls Christ-followers to walk in the light, to let our light shine before others, and to shine like stars in the sky. Be that as it may, the light we are to give is the very light we have been given. Like the earth’s moon, we are to reflect the sun. Divine light does not originate with us. Ephesians 4:8 reminds, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Second Corinthians 4:6 puts it this way: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Returning to John’s Prologue, in as profound and poetic a way imaginable, the Fourth Gospel insists that grace has a face. “Out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace,” John writes. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus came into the world to dispel darkness. Jesus states in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

As those who have been grasped by God to bear winsome witness to God’s good and beloved, if beleaguered and broken, world, we do well as we begin this 2018-2019 academic year to “Arise and shine” knowing that our “light has come.” We do not achieve the Light, we receive the Light, and having done so, we are to reflect that which we have received as fully and faithfully as we possibly can by the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of the people of God.

In so doing, may we also recall that the Light of the World is one and the same as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, ours included. In Revelation’s vision of heaven, neither sun nor moon will be necessary because the slaughtered Lamb will serve as a lamp. As long as it is day and while it is still called today, let us work to shine and shed light on the Light who is the Lamb and on the Word who is the Way, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, let us declare with our lives and our lips: “Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory; Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire; Flow river flow, flood the nations with grace and mercy; Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light.” Amen.

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