by Erin Mackenzie
That was my high school theology teacher’s eccentric exclamation whenever he entered the classroom and found his students sitting in the dark. He’d flip the wall switch, enveloping the room in artificial, phosphorescent glory and eliciting irrepressible blinks all around. Thanks to his regular and enthusiastic reminders, I’ll never forget the performative words of our Creator God: “Let there be light.”
Beginning with its epic appearance in the opening verses of Genesis, light is a powerful image throughout Scripture. God’s presence is manifest in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead the Israelites through the wilderness. Joshua pleads for the sun to stand still amid battle with the Amorites; the laws of time and space halt momentarily and God’s people are victorious. A glaring celestial aura precedes Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. The disciples marvel at Jesus’ radiance as He is transfigured before them.
And Matthew 5:14 records Jesus succinctly telling the Twelve (and you and me as His disciples by faith), “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Me? I don’t feel like my light shines very brightly sometimes. My smoldering wick is a far cry from a heavenly body or a literally blinding brilliance. I’m plagued by worry. I say things I later regret. I don’t forgive as I ought. I’m prideful. Judgmental. Covetous. I’m less like a majestic tower of flame and more like the single bulb in the fan light over my dining room table that sometimes flickers faintly, even when it’s off. (I should probably get that checked out.) In no way, shape, or form should I be in the same sentence as “the light of the world.” But Jesus goes on. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Reeling from my failure to tick the first checkbox, smack! Here comes yet one more reminder of my inadequacy. My feeble filament is exposed; I have nowhere to run. Dim though my wattage may be, it’s laid bare on a pedestal.
Yet the second half of Jesus’s statement is also tremendously reassuring. A city, by definition, is a communal entity. The “you” in “you are the light” is “you (plural),” not “you (singular).” I’m not a lone ranger; I’m part of a whole strand of twinkly lights that God has placed me in for encouragement and edification.
My understanding of this “you (plural)” has been honed on the mission field. I’m reminded of the fellowship I share with my brothers and sisters in the faith every time I venture out and return home to Cerro Alto. Spanish lesson time: the name of my neighborhood in the Dominican Republic literally translates to “high hill!” Rather than flying solo from this elevated perch, I’m surrounded by trusted, experienced colleagues with a shared vision of spreading the Gospel, planting Lutheran churches, and showing mercy.
Furthermore, while I literally live in a city on a hill, I inhabit such a space figuratively, as well. My city’s slopes extend far beyond the avocado vendor and empanada cart near Cerro Alto’s entrance plaza. Untold numbers of prayer warriors and donors are helping to keep missionaries around the world doing what we’re doing. As they use their gifts and callings to bolster us in ours, our luminescence multiplies.
My prayer is that my high school teacher’s proclamation might be true for a world in darkness: Genesis 1:3. Let there be light. Thanks be to God for the verse that follows this: “And there was light” (Gen. 1:4) — the Light of the World, who died on a hill outside Jerusalem that cannot and will not be hidden. Rejoicing in the forgiveness won for me there, I confidently echo the familiar Sunday school song: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”
Erin Mackenzie is a career missionary in the Dominican Republic.When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program — too often, according to her cat, Freddy — Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble.