by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
Our young daughter, Monica, once observed, “A smile is like a rainbow that’s been turned upside-down.” In its simplest form, each is just a curved line, a basic natural shape. Each is bright and makes you feel better. And each conveys a meaning beyond its simple form.
In the 1960’s, the late Marshall McLuhan, of the University of Toronto, became famous for saying, “The medium is the message.” What this means is that if you are watching television, for example, the fact that you are watching television is far more important than the specific program you are watching. The message is the way in which you receive the program—the “medium”—and not the content of the program itself. Watching a story on television, listening to the same story on radio or tape, and reading it in a book are all very different experiences, even if it’s the same story in each case. McLuhan went beyond this to say that the medium not only affects the message but becomes the message.
A smile means “I’m happy,” “I like you,” “I want to be your friend,” or any of a number of things, depending on the circumstances. For the people of God, a rainbow is a reminder of the story of Noah (Gen. 9:8-17). After the flood, the rainbow was a sign that things were different. Previously, God had spoken through thunder and lightning, wind and rain; afterward, God spoke through color, light and beauty. the rainbow was a sign of a new covenant—a new promise. Where once God had spoken through sound and fury, God now spoke through “a still small voice.” (1 Ki. 19:12b).
The birth of Christ was heralded by a star that shone brighter than all the rest (Matt. 2:1-6); again, God spoke through light. In the birth of Jesus, God once again spoke through a new medium—a small, weak, helpless baby born in a simple stable. As Jesus grew, God was revealed through a man. The man Jesus went on to live and die for all humanity. At the Last Supper, he gave new significance to the simple elements of bread and wine, making them symbols of “my body which is given for you” and “the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20). And in his death and resurrection, he gave new meaning to the simple form of a wooden cross (1 Cor. 1:18).
It can be almost anything: a rainbow, a star, a baby, a stable, a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, or a wooden cross. The hand of God touches each of them, imbues them with transcendence and makes them a medium, each time God makes covenant anew with God’s people.
We are called to bring a word of love, a helping hand and a smile to those around us. God sends us forth into a world devoid of light, color and joy, and calls us to be “the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14-16). Sometimes, a simple smile can brighten someone's day, and send an upside-down rainbow into a life otherwise filled with darkness, clouds and rain.
The medium is you. The medium is me. The message is love, forgiveness, grace and hope.
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. . . . But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, . . . and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:18-19, 22 & 24 RSV.)