Lighthouse or Bat Signal? An epiphany of mixed-up metaphors

By Zach Harris
Posted 1/10/20

Believe it or not, for those folks savvy concerning church-speak, we just moved into the season of Epiphany, which in many ways is a season of lights ironically celebrated during the winter months …

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Lighthouse or Bat Signal? An epiphany of mixed-up metaphors

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Believe it or not, for those folks savvy concerning church-speak, we just moved into the season of Epiphany, which in many ways is a season of lights ironically celebrated during the winter months when the light of day is scarce, but when one looks for a dark night (don’t worry, the Dark Knight is forthcoming).

The church themes are based in many ways on the story of the wise men coming to see Jesus. There is an emphasis on world missions, the earthly ministry of Jesus and on the images of light from the star the wise men followed to find Jesus himself, referred to as the light of the world. And the very name of the season, Epiphany, reminds us of the revelation given to the wise men that God was coming into the world. And it is that “a-ha” kind of moment of striking realization that is the very topic of my comments for today.

You see, last week for my children’s sermon, I was trying to come up with something to explain the concept of the “light overcoming darkness.” We had the beginning of John’s Gospel, which has that light imagery and a bit about John the Baptist. (As a side note, John the Baptist shows up in the appointed texts four or five times from the beginning of Advent to the first Sunday in Epiphany, making him an overly dominant subject for about two months.) Now I always like to use the image of a flashlight in reference to John because his purpose (and ours) is to be a pointer, an illuminator, of Jesus and not himself.

So when one is trying to talk about light in simple non-redundant terms, there are only a few safe alternatives to use for children’s sermons, and the flashlight was out. However, I happen to be a big fan of lighthouses and have any number of models, artwork and even Lego representations to choose from for just such a purpose. And even in different places in our church building, there are representations on posters, pictures and even wallpaper, so this seemed like a simple solution — that is, until I really started to think about it for the first time.

You see, while I know the lighthouse has been used cross-denominationally to represent Jesus as a beacon in the night, there was something that didn’t sit right with me. You see, even along the North Carolina coastline, the lighthouses were positioned close enough so that from sea, each ship could see the particular time phase of each light to know where they were along the coast. The lights were beacons to guide, but the message of the light was “Go away! Stay clear! Don’t come here because you will wreck on the coast!”

The more I thought about it, the less I thought that Jesus as the light of the world was trying to give that message. In fact, if anything, wouldn’t Jesus be saying the exact opposite?

Well, as fate would have it, I had been first looking at little flashlights I had before I dismissed the idea as being derivative. One of those little lights happened to throw off not simply white light, but the Bat Signal in a much smaller and less intense form than Commissioner Gordon is famous for using. But it’s when I saw that light that I realized what the Bat Signal is saying to Batman is not “Go away,” but rather “Come here!” It represents an invitation. In fact, it is a plea that he is wanted and needed.

And so, I had an epiphany on the cusp of Epiphany, that for more than a quarter of a century I had been using a backward image (along with literally millions of others, some of whom actually use a symbol that says, “Stay away!” as the very name of their church), while a much better image had been right before my eyes since 1966! As Burt Ward’s Robin would say to Adam West’s Batman: “Holy mix-up, Batman!”

And while I suspect my revelation to remain singular in nature (fear not: Lighthouse churches will most certainly not change to Bat Signal churches) and probably face revile from those who love the lighthouse image (most likely myself included down the road), my epiphany serves as an inauguration of the invitation to an event at the end of this month at Ascension Lutheran Church on Saturday, Jan. 25. Louis Small Jr. and myself are inviting all those who have enjoyed our celebrations of Geekdom in the past to come together at least one more time!

That’s right, we are sending up the Bat Signal to invite all you heroes in the community to come join with us once more into the breach for another free comic book event we are calling “Endgame” — guess where we got that idea?

This is a one-day gathering from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for all the artists, writers and Geek enthusiasts to get together and celebrate the ways that we have not only shown credence in the connections between the stories and images of Geek culture and the Bible, but as in my column today, shown how sometimes the concepts that have been embraced by Geek culture are actually better at illuminating the message of the Gospel — especially to the culture of today!

As we were planning this, our team wanted to make clear that just as “Endgame” didn’t mean that Marvel was through making movies but just through with that first phase, “Endgame” here should be seen in the same context. With God, there is always transformation and growth from one thing to another. This is an opportunity to celebrate what God has done while looking forward to what God has yet to do.

So, in the middle of this season of Epiphany, it is my hope that you will see the Bat Signal call you to “Come and see!” at our event on the 25th. But more importantly, I hope that you will recognize that Jesus as the Light is one who is not warning you to stay away in judgment, but calling you to come to be the hero that God has already called you to be!

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 28 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.