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Daily Devotional • February 2
The Feast of the Presentation

James Cornwell
The Light of Christ
A Reading from the Gospel of John 8:31-36

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

When you are in an otherwise completely darkened room with a single, stationary point of light, the light will appear to move. Perhaps more interestingly, when placed in that room with others, discussing the “movement” of the light brings everyone to a common agreement on its movement, such that each person really perceives the light is moving as much as others say it is. When new people come into the room, they too begin to see the light move the amount agreed to by consensus, even if they do not know anyone else in the room.

This “movement,” called the autokinetic effect, is an illusion. The light does not move, we only believe it does, and we become sure that this illusion is real when consensus about it is achieved. This effect served as a foundation for understanding the social nature of human perception and cognition, but it can also tell us something about darkness. Without being able to see our surroundings to get our bearings, we begin seeing things that are not there. Worse, our very perceptions are governed not by the reality before us, but by our consensus about our illusions. In utter darkness, our very perception of what is real becomes enslaved to our fickle senses and the rule of the mob. In this darkness, sin can distort our senses of right and wrong, and reinforce it with an unjust social consensus.

Into this darkness steps Jesus. Today, the Church commemorates Candlemas, in which Simeon the priest declares Christ the “light to enlighten the nations.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who abide with this light will “know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth of Christ shines in our darkness, dispelling the darkness, and with it illusions of sense and social consensus. 

This is the final message of the Christmas season. Into our darkness has come a great light, and in the light of his countenance, we see things as they really are — we are free.

James Cornwell lives and works in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

All Saints Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Florida
The Diocese of Pennsylvania
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