This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
-- John 3:19
Time was that every youngster learned in school that Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue and discovered American in 1492.” Although that’s not exactly accurate history, Columbus was indeed one of the earliest and most important European explorers of what became known as the New World. And rather making one historic transatlantic voyage, he actually made four.
That final expedition across the seas nearly cost Columbus his life. It was February 1504. Now picture the famous explorer in Jamaica, thousands of miles away from home and surrounded by hostile natives that were all-too-ready to kill him and his crew. And even if Columbus could talk his way out of a fight, his expedition still faced the prospect of starvation from the lack of food and supplies. They desperately needed a light at the end of the tunnel to escape a very dark fate.
A skilled navigator who used astronomical tables to help him venture into the unknown, Columbus studied his almanac and discovered that a total lunar eclipse would occur in the next three days. So to buy some much-needed time, he told the natives that his God was angry because they were no longer giving supplies to his crew. Columbus then warned that unless the shipments resumed, God would show His displeasure by swallowing up the moon to demonstrate the evils that the natives would soon experience. It’s likely that the natives laughed at Columbus’ admonition. But sure enough – and just as the almanac predicted – the full moon appeared; and without its lower edge!
As the minutes passed and the sky grew darker, the moon took on a startling, bloody red appearance. The formerly skeptical Indians were terrified at the spectacle and begged Columbus to intercede with God on their behalf. Columbus agreed to try and returned to his ship to confer with the Almighty. Columbus’ “conference” was really his opportunity to track the eclipse’s progress with his hourglass. At just the right moment, the Italian adventurer informed the natives that they had been forgiven and that the moon would be restored.
You can guess the rest. The full moon soon began to shine its bright light again upon the balmy Caribbean island. And filled with gratitude for escaping their close call, the Jamaican natives ran to supply Columbus and his crew with life-saving food and provisions. The crafty European explorers were saved. And within a few short months, they were able to depart on their return voyage to Spain.
It’s easy for us 500 years later to laugh at the over-the-top reaction of those Jamaican natives. When the lights went out, they panicked. But are we really so different? We learn early in childhood that the dark is a scary place. That’s because it’s not WHAT you see that can get you; it’s what you don’t see that does the harm. So it’s no wonder that the darkness is a metaphor for those who don’t know God. Their gloomy existence is not only deceptive, empty and lonely, it’s ultimately without hope.
But everyone – even the most devoted Christ-followers – shares this darkness to one extent or another. How easily do we use harsh words to our spouses and children, cut off other drivers on the highway or maybe even fudge a little on our tax returns? We’re hardly perfect. And that’s all the more reason why we need to let in the Light to drive out those things that should never see the light of day.
That warm Light is Jesus Christ. He invites us to follow and let Him live through us on the pathway to His kingdom -- and then spread His light to those who live in darkness. “I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side,” He reminds us through the Book of Isaiah. “I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations.”