It is dark; inky, jet-black. I wave my hand in front of my face, the air moves but I can’t see a hint of my fingers. Once my eyes adjust, I can just make out the door of the tent. I crawl over, hunt for the zipper and peel it open. A short stumble and I am out in the bracing air. Then I look up, above me is a breath-taking spread of stars. From low on the horizon, across the dome of the sky it seems every spot is diamond-pricked. The stars are even more intense in the south where the Milky Way flows down. They illuminate on the landscape, casting a faint shadow.

That is one of my abiding memories of camping near Wilpena Pound. I’ve been thinking about it this week since I noticed the way light and dark play in Ephesians 5.

In modern, electrified, 24/7 culture, it’s easy to forget the difference between light and dark. We hardly ever experience real darkness, and don’t appreciate the difference light makes.

The Bible was written to people who knew the difference.

Ephesians 5:8-13 tells Christians that they once were darkness. They lived away from God and rejected his life and his ways. He describes their old way as “the fruitless deeds of darkness”, which shouldn’t even be spoken about. Maybe he includes the kind of sins that would shock us, but he also mentions bitterness, greed, foolish talk, coarse joking. The point is that any life turned away from God, no matter how respectable, is dark. Pitch dark.

The contrast is that they have become “light in the Lord”. Light is common imagery in the Bible for God. It expresses that he is life-giving, truth, pure and loving. And Christ is the “light of the world”. He has brought God’s light into the dark world, penetrating the darkness and filling it with light. Yet many people “loved darkness instead of light”, fleeing from Jesus to avoid being exposed. But those who, because of God, love the light came to him (John 3:19–21).

That’s what Paul is talking about in Ephesians, reminding Christians that by God’s grace they have come into the light so now they are “light in the Lord”. It’s not just that they are in the light, they are light. They reflect God’s light in Christ into the world around them through their lives.

So he says to “live as children of light”: living the way that reflects God’s character. They are to show “the fruit of the light … all goodness, righteousness and truth”.

It’s a stunning image, even better than the desert sky. God’s people receive his light, and enlightened by him, shine his light into the dark world. Let’s pray that’s what we can be.

A prayer from the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John McClean