Do you know the Chinese character for “light?” It is Guang (光). A Japanese artist explains that the original character represents two characters or images. The first image describes the three rays of a rising sun emerging between two mountains. Eventually, it became the pictogram for fire. This character evolved into three rays set on a straight horizontal line, which is what we have today. The second image is the bottom one, with two lines, one straight vertical line and another vertical line with a tail curled forward to the front. This image represents the older character for people or persons. So, “Guang” really says the light from creation is shining to everyone. Like what John said in John 1:11, “Jesus is the true Light, and he came and shone to all creation” (Jn. 1:9-13. Phillips). And this is the thought I want to share today.
Isaiah 55:12 encourages the readers “to go out with joy and be led forth with peace.” Verse eleven describes God’s word coming down from heaven and raining down on all the earth and fulfilling the purposes of God. Our study of the etymology of Guang certainly resonates with this Isaiah imagery. The text continues with the action words of “clap” and “go,” painting the picture of the “trees of the field clapping their hands” and the mountains coming out in singing. The biblical narration tells us of all creation rejoicing with the people.
We can do several things: clapping and singing, rejoicing and going out with peace. These are great ways of approaching the coming new year. But, all of these will not come without hardships and trials. The Covid pandemic has made 2021 a trying year, full of unwanted encounters and unpleasant surprises.
I am not going to suggest that we relive the many trials we have had this 2020. Many of us have personally experienced suffering brought by the Covid pandemic. Some of us are still struggling with health issues, family tensions, financial sacrifices, and other problems. What I am suggesting is that we clap with joy and bring in the New Year starting from our trials and tribulations. We move from suffering to joy because God is leading the way. He speaks His word, just like rain coming down from the sky to the earth.
The writer of Isaiah chapter 55 understands this joy that comes out of suffering. If we look back to chapters 53 and 54, we see that they are full of themes of suffering, trials, and hardships. Isaiah 53 is the location for the “Suffering Servant” portraying Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. And yet, the writer explodes with joy and celebration when he comes to chapter 55. All of creation will join in with clapping and singing.
This stance or attitude of joy in the midst of suffering is possible for all believers, not because of our own strength, but because God will be the One to lead us into singing and rejoicing. “His ways are not our ways.” (Isaiah 55:8). The writer reminds us in verse 11 that God Himself will accomplish His purpose here on earth. (Is. 55:11). God’s word will go forth and not return empty. Just like the image of the bursting light from a sunrise beaming over the whole earth, God will shower His blessings to everyone. God Himself will lead the way.
So, this coming year 2021, let us go forth with clapping and rejoicing, knowing that God will be the One to lead us. Even if we are still suffering, God’s word will come down from heaven and shine its light to all of creation, and He Himself will accomplish the good things in our lives. All we need to do is to remain faithful and obedient and to continue seeking our Lord, as the writer encourages everyone in verse 6: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6). Call upon God and allow Him to lead you in your life.
Sometimes, after we obey God and “clap with joy” to welcome the Light of the world, people forget who we are or what we have done. I think that is okay. We should remember that it is not about us. But it is about Jesus, the Light of the world who is the Life for all men and women. (John 1:4-5). The important thing is that others see Jesus in our lives, and that they in turn follow God and fulfill His purpose for their lives. All your friends will experience the “Peace on Earth” and they will be led forth by the peace of God. They may forget you, but they will always remember God’s goodness in their lives.
Let me end with a story of the lamplighter. In olden times, city streets were lined up with oil lamps set on poles by the side of the streets. These were the days before electricity. The lamplighter comes every day, at dusk, right before the sunset, and walks along the sides of the streets and lites up every lamp. He holds a long stick with a torch at the top end to ignite the street lamps. Everyone sees the lamplighter and knows what he needs to do. But once the evening comes, and all the city street lights are lit, no one remembers the lamplighter. And yet, everyone is joyful for the light around their neighborhood. The city is alive and darkness cannot stop the light. The light has come.
Let me read to you John 1:9-13 (NLT).
9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
May you allow the Light of God to shine in the world through you. May you celebrate God’s light for everyone to see. May you become a “Guang for Jesus.” Amen!