It is strange how people see glimpses of the light of Jesus in us. The great romantic novelist, Barbara Cartland, tells how she was drawn to the saintly light shining from a curate at Tewkesbury Abbey, the Revd Allan, who prepared her for confirmation. Miss Cartland, who began her writing career under the unlikely pseudonym Marcus Belfry, describes how after her confirmation she went to stay at Nailsea Court in Somerset, a manor house used as a backdrop in her novels such as No Heart is Free, A Gentleman in Love and Cupid Rides Pillion. One night, convinced of spirits haunting the dark rooms of the ancient house, her heart thumping with terror, she found herself repeating from Evensong, ‘lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.’ Swept up into this mystical experience, it seems likely that this spirit was none other than in her words, a jolly major staying there on leave, who, ‘captured by (her) pretty vivacity’ invited her to his bedroom next to the billiard room, ‘to show her how his revolver worked’. Barbara Cartland exuded an aura as she recounted how in the days before Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, she would experiment with her face so that she seemed to shine. From the three shades of rice powder that were available, chalk white, sulphur yellow and café au lait, she chose the white which made her petal-fine skin almost translucent. Her iridescent green eyes were like headlights. The quintessential maiden, she was launched into society in a white evening gown trimmed with sparkling silver tassels costing £15 from the best shop in Cheltenham. She became a prototype of the 700 odd maidens she would portray in her novels, a beacon brightening the lives of many.
In all seriousness it is not so well known that Barbara Cartland had a deep Christian faith, a High Anglican drawn to ancient churches where she could feel the light shining from all the saints who had worshipped there before her, making the pews vibrate. While she admitted that Princess Diana’s love for her novels did not pass on useful life lessons to her step-granddaughter, the formula of light overcoming darkness is a consistent theme of the novels’ romantic formula. But what about us!
Have you ever been told, perhaps by a lover, a partner or a parent: “you are the light of the world?” I saw a young mum about 20 sat on a churchyard bench, bouncing her toddler son on her lap in bright spring sunshine, telling him between his giggles “you light up my world”. I want to explore that with you. And how each of you can shine like a bright star.
First, each of you has the ministry of Jesus inside of you. That’s why you are vital in teaching about Baptism, helping couples prepare for their weddings, in vital maintenance. But there is one special, sacred thing which towers above all of these. Which is bringing people to the person of Jesus himself; and that will make you shine as the brightest of stars in our Lord’s eyes. And know that you are qualified for this work. Let me explain.
A lady gave me a beautifully carved pair of candlesticks. I asked her: how long did it take you to make them? “It took me three weeks”, she said, “but it took me more than three years to find the right wood”. The grain is so exquisite, I said, how did you get it like that? “Ah”, she said, “you should have seen it when I found it, all bent and gnarled and twisted like it had little knuckles and elbows in it but this wood makes the best candlesticks.”
Secondly, those people who have really gone through it and are bent and twisted out of shape as a result, are often those who are touched by Jesus in such a wonderful way that Christ’s love for them spills out on to all they meet. A lady, Denise Cole, from Stroud suffered enormous abuse and humiliation as a girl. Every evening at 6 o’clock she was summoned by her father to account for what she had done that day. Whatever she had done was never good enough and every evening at 6.05 pm her father would beat her with his belt and she would spend the rest of the night in darkness. And yet, when she reached the point of not even caring what happened to her, she met Christ in the darkness and her life was changed. Think of the bent, gnarled and twisted wood that made the candlesticks and think of this frightened girl cowering in her room before Jesus holding her and saying: “you belong to me now” and the beauty in her grain was brought to the surface as she was ordained in 2001 and she changed hundreds of lives, including mine.
It makes you think, what could I do for Jesus. Could I shine brightly enough. Be careful, when our Lord’s selection is made there’s no going back. Being shaped by Jesus is not easy to bear, but it has to happen. If he picked up us from the forest floor, put us in his bench, his plane and chisel would soon come up against our knots and flaws and there would be jolts and shudders. God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
How does Jesus look at you? What could he see in the unstable, inconsistent ones, the ones who let him down? He wants to use you. He is there striding ahead, looking back over his shoulder, reaching out his hand to you, urging come, follow me, I will make you the person you want to be, who I want you to be! And we reply: make me into something beautiful and good, for you Lord, make me shine. Amen.