Today’s hymn, keeping up the theme of light in this Epiphany season, is “Awake, awake, fling off the night”. The light of Christ is contrasted with the darkness of sin. It is a biblical message: “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Sin and evil are often associated with darkness, because when we know that what we are doing is wrong – and most of the time we do – we naturally want to hide from it. So most crime is committed at night, or down dark alleyways, or in other places where the criminal will not be disturbed.
The constant theme of Scripture is that God is everywhere and knows everything we do, indeed every secret thought. There are no dark places, no hidden corners, where we can hide from God to do our evil deeds unnoticed. As the psalmist puts it. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7).
That sounds scary – God the policeman who patrols wherever we choose to walk, as well as being the judge who passes sentence. The good news is that in Jesus, God also becomes the one who pardons. But as in human relationships and penal systems, there can only be pardon where there is contrition. The first step is to admit our sin to God and ask forgiveness. Then the pardon can come, and light replace the darkness. So the last verse of the hymn encourages the forgiven sinner to sing for joy and praise God.