O Morning Star…

O Morning Star, you are the splendor of eternal life;
you are the dawning sun, the sun of justice:

o-jpg

Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death!
____________________________________________________________

lightA year ago last November Mary Lynn and I went to Hawaii to celebrate our Fortieth Wedding Anniversary. Because of the time change and the jet lag, I was up well before dawn on our first morning there.   And so I went out on the balcony of our hotel room with a cup of coffee just to sit and watch the sun come up.  It was truly spectacular.   It didn’t happen all at once, mind you.  It wasn’t dark, and then all of a suddenly light as if somebody had thrown a switch.  No, it was a slow and gradual change.

First there was just a warm glow on the far horizon, and then this tiny little sliver of light that slowly erupted into bloom that, in turn, became this great big ball of light that seemingly rose up right out of the ocean.   It was the most impressive sunrise I have ever seen.  And what’s stayed with me from the experience was the gradual process of the darkness turning to light that that morning entailed.

In his chapter on “Defining Conversion” in his book on Humble Apologetics (Oxford University Press – 2002), John Stackhouse described our usual way of thinking as Christians as being “binary.”   Spiritually we’re accustomed to thinking that we’re either in or out, saved or lost, spiritually dead or spiritually alive.  I once heard an evangelist say that just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, so you can’t be a little bit Christian!  Either you are, or you aren’t, and that’s binary thinking, and it’s Biblical, to be sure.

“You must be born again,’” Jesus proclaimed (John 3:7). “God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).  Only “those whose names were not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” would go to heaven and the rest to hell, prophesied John (Revelation 19:15) [Stackhouse 73]. It’s black or white, yes or no, in or out.  The Christian life begins with “a single, obvious, transformative experience of conversion” that fundamentally and irrevocably reorients the direction of one’s whole existence.  “When were you saved?” is the question that this perspective just loves to ask, and what it expects by way of an answer is a day, and an hour, and sometimes even a minute.  That’s binary thinking.

But the Bible also speaks of conversion more organically than this abrupt binary way of thinking might suggest. Just like that sunrise in Hawaii last year, there’s this beautiful process that gradually unfolds as the darkness turns to light.

growthThe Spiritual Life continuum from Willow Creek’s “Reveal” study describes the process as the movement from “Exploring Christ” to “Growing in Christ,” and then from “Growing in Christ” to being “Close to Christ,” and finally from being “Close to Christ” to becoming “Christ-Centered.” It doesn’t happen instantly or invariably.  We can get stuck, and we can regress.  But the ordinary course of the spiritual life is one of gradual growth into greater intimacy with and obedience to Christ as our Lord and Savior.

This is why every significant metaphor of the Christian Life that I can find in the Bible emphasizes this process of gradual transformation. Being a Christian is like a plant growing from a seed to a sprout to a harvest. Being a Christian is like a building going up from a foundation to a superstructure to the roof. Being a Christian is like running a race from the starting blocks to the course to finish line. Being a Christian is like the growth of a human being from birth through childhood to maturity.  And what this means is that rather than thinking about the spiritual life in strict binary ways, there is some real value in thinking about it instead in a more organic process that is slowly unfolding sort of way.   Rather than thinking in yes or no, black or white, in or out, “I’m saved” or “I’m not saved” sorts of ways, thinking in an “I’m in the process of being saved” sort of way opens us up to the more nuanced way that the experience of spiritual awakening occurs in most of us.

The Engle Scale was a tool that I learned about at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary when I was a student there in the mid-1970’s.

engel

What this tool helped me to see is that a “decision of faith” (#’s 7-8-9-10 on the Engle Scale) are just steps along the way rather than the sum total of what it means to become and then be a Christian.  Just as that Hawaiian sunrise was not a sudden throw the switch from the darkness of night to the brightness of morning experience, but rather a gradual dawning of the light dispelling the darkness kind of experience, so I believe spiritually that people, all people, are somewhere in the process, on their journey to Christ.  And I think about this at Christmastime each year when I pray the fifth “O” Antiphon –

O Morning Star, you are the splendor of eternal life;
you are the dawning sun, the Sun of justice:
Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death!

With this petition I want Christ who is the light who enlightens every person in the world (John 1:9) to rise and shine in each and every person’s life, dispelling their darkness like a sunrise and ushering them into the light of His glory forever (John 1:14). DBS +

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