The most intense light I have ever photographed was generated by a clump of burning steel wool. I had been fascinated by images produced this way so one cold January evening I enlisted several friends from the photo club to join me at a nearby boat landing to attempt some of our own. I wanted to be near water even though there was snow on the ground because I knew technically we’d be “playing with fire”! I’d watched several tutorials on Youtube and felt competent enough in the “how to” process that I was sure we’d get some good photographs out of our adventure. After a few practice runs we all felt confident enough to do the “real thing”. Once the steel wool is lit in its holder it is swung around in the air like a giant “sparkler”. The camera records the light at a slow shutter speed and when the image is viewed back all the flying sparks plus the central area of where the steel wool was swinging remain illuminated and clear while the area surrounding the light is pitch black. The pictures are fascinating and beautiful!
It’s not surprising to me that many passages of Scripture which describe angels refer to them as a form of intense light. The first mention of them in this way is the angels which were assigned to guard Eden after Adam and Eve were banned from residing there (Gen. 3:24). Not only are the cherubim clothed in brilliant light they bear “flaming” swords which literally means swords made of fire. I have a picture in my mind of Adam and Eve attempting to enter Eden only to be blinded by this intense light like I get blinded by SUV’s with those extremely bright halogen lights set on high beam. They instantly raise their hands to protect their eyes. Several Scriptures where angels and humans meet record a similar effect upon humans who encounter angels in their heavenly state (Ex. 3:1-6; 1 Chr. 21:28-30; Lk. 1:8-13).
Many years ago a young woman in the hillside village of Nazareth was waiting for her wedding day when suddenly an angel appeared to her with some rather unusual news. However, unlike Adam and Eve, David and Zacharias, Mary is not fearful. Instead she is curious as to why God has chosen her and asks the Heavenly Messenger, “How could this be?” You can hear her humility as you read her admission, “Lord, I’m not that special, but I am glad to do Your will.” (Lk. 1:26-38)
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the angel Gabriel’s message is the revelation that God is going to come among His people to dwell with them. God first dwelled with humankind in the Garden of Eden, but sin broke that communion/community. God continued to desire to be with His people even after the Fall and there are countless stories in the Old Testament which demonstrate this. However, none is more vivid than the time when Israel wandered through the desert led by the Glory of God. The Shekinah (as it is called) was God’s version of the Luxor Sky Beam- a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). Talk about an intense light! God also resided in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). In each of these sacred spaces it is noted that “the Glory of the Lord” rested on the Mercy Seat. God’s presence was (and still is) always associated with the most intense light humanly imaginable. It is almost too bright to bear and just as exciting as a clump of steel wool being lit and swung about to produce an amazing picture.
But the prophet Isaiah said that God would dwell with us in an even more intimate way (Isaiah 7:14). The day when Gabriel showed up at Mary’s home put the fulfillment of that prophecy into motion. Years later when the apostle John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14) he was using the image of all those Old Testament passages and remembering that the Lord made Isaiah’s prophecy truly come to pass. It would be a fine ending if God’s dwelling with people stopped at Jesus’ birth. But the story goes on in that now God’s Spirit dwells in us (1 Cor. 3:16)! God no longer guides people on earth through sky beams or by living in the Temple in Jerusalem. He now lives in you! The intensity of God’s Light in us depends on how willing we are to do God’s will as Mary was. A new year is about to begin. Maybe this is the year to work on your intensity and aim to be as bright as the Luxor Sky Beam while living for Christ each and every day.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre