Let there be light

by Bob Bach

On Sunday, October 21, 1894, the public in and around the neighborhood of North Park College was invited to a celebration of the opening of the school, which had recently relocated to Chicago from Minneapolis. Classes had already been in session for one month, but school officials wanted to present the new college to the citizens and introduce North Park’s presence to that part of Chicago. The speaker that afternoon was Professor Fridolf Risberg, who headed up the “Swedish Department” of the Chicago Theological Seminary. Risberg had also been serving to help North Park in their development, and his topic for that day was “God’s Light In the School.” During the course of his message he related that he had seen the words, “In Thy Light Shall We See Light,” on the façade of a school building in Sweden. Addressing the students in the audience, he urged them to apply this motto, so that everything that they studied would be considered in the light of God’s light. The leadership of North Park College was so impressed by this message they decided to make this the motto of the college.

Christmas is a time of light. Festive lights are all around us. They adorn homes, churches, and commercial buildings. Many people drive or walk around neighborhoods just to see the Christmas lights on display. There is something about lights that are warm and welcoming – some homes have only a single string of lights glowing softly, some have icicle lights hanging brightly, and some have only the lights of a Christmas tree shining through the window. No matter how one chooses to display lights, the message is the same – it’s a way of giving a warm gift of cheer to brighten the way of those who pass by. There must have been some bright light in the heavens when the angels appeared before the shepherds to announce the birth of the Savior, for it is written in Luke 2, “that the glory of the Lord shone all around them.” It was the shining light of the star that guided the Magi to the newborn Christ child, and Isaiah 9:2 records the coming of the Lord this way, “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

I can vividly recall when, as a college student at North Park more than 50 years ago, going home by car to California for Christmas with a couple of friends. We would take turns driving the 2400 miles straight through, stopping only for necessities. We came all the way on old Route 66. This historic two lane highway stretched from Chicago to California, threading its way across eight states and three time zones. John Steinbeck called it “The Mother Road” and it was also dubbed “Main Street USA” because it went through the center of so many towns. To the Oakies who hightailed it out of the dustbowl, it was known as “The Glory Road” which would lead to the good life out west. To my two buddies and me, it was miles and miles of road that we shared with occasional hitchhikers, bouncing tumbleweeds, and scampering jackrabbits. That was a long time ago, but the memories of the miles of that long, lonely drive still remain. I can still remember going through the big towns of Springfield, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Tucumcari, Albuquerque, Gallup, Flagstaff, Needles, as well as all the little places that didn’t get listed on the map, but sold a coke.

for a nickel and gas for 22 cents a gallon. My keenest memories of the trip, however, happened in the dead of night when I was at the wheel of the car and my friends were sleeping. It would be lonely, cold, and pitch black, especially in northern New Mexico and Arizona. But then through the darkness of the night, I would see them – lights coming from a Christmas tree shining from a distant ranch house, a warm and welcoming sight piercing through the still night. It was those lights from scattered houses along old route 66 that perked me up and kept me focused on the journey and the anticipation of getting home.

In the days following my heart transplant as I lay in my hospital bed, swollen, shaking, shivering, and often feeling smothered in the darkness of uncertainty, the light of the Lord, in a quiet and soft way, would enter the room. It wasn’t like the unexpected brilliant light that surrounded the shepherds, but it was a soft glow that came with Maria, the cleaning lady. Each day she would quietly come into my room to clean and sterilize everything in an effort to protect me from infections. She would silently go about her task, often looking at me with little tears in her eyes because she knew how high the stakes were. She knew that the immune system in transplant patients is severely weakened, and that her job was critical in my healing process. She made certain that all dust disappeared, that all fixtures in the room were shining and free from smudges, and that all the bedside monitoring equipment was wiped clean. She would bring warm blankets not only for my bed, but also for the bed that was made available in my room for my wife, Marlene, to use when she stayed throughout most of my hospital stay.

No doubt there are those who might think that at a place like Stanford University Hospital, where there are so many brilliant doctors, surgeons, nurses, technicians, and researchers, that a cleaning lady may be a lowly and menial position. To Marlene and me, however, Maria can best be described in the Scriptures where it is written that a servant with a meek and quiet spirit is like an adorning ornament “which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4).

When Maria was finished with her tasks, she would carefully gather her things together and with a tender smile silently head for the door. Before she left the room, however, Marlene would always go to her, hug her gently, and say, “Thank you Maria, we love you!” In her lilting English, Maria would whisper back, “I love you, too.” Thinking back on that now, the words of the Christmas hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem come clearer than ever – “how silently, how silently this wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His heaven.” On our regular trips to Stanford for post-transplant follow-up, we often go back to the D3 wing of the hospital where transplant patients are in recovery. We will usually find Maria – we’ll all hug each other and once again be warmed with the soft glowing light.

In Thy Light Shall We See Light