Religion Magazine

From Prison Cell to Mousetrap Camera

By Richardl @richardlittleda

 A sermon for advent

In a silent and lonely universe, God had an idea. There was no-one to hear it – like a tree falling in the forest…but forests hadn’t been invented yet. God’s idea was a complex and beautiful one – with roaring waterfalls, lace-winged butterflies, sleek and glossy panthers and humans too. God’s idea would start something never to stop, and love would echo out across the galaxies.  And it all began with …a spark, a glimmer, the coming of the light.

And God said, let there be light.

Later, much later, the sky would grow dark and the first of many storms would come. Darkness would leach back into the earth across the angry face of the skies and seep into the hearts of the few who walked out onto dry land when the storm was done. Sometimes, just sometimes, there would be flashes of it again. Moses saw it as he stepped closer to a burning bush and felt the heat on his face. Later the light of God’s glory would shine back from his own face – like an imperfect reflection from and old and spotted mirror. Ezekiel the prophet would see would see it – reflected from the dazzling throne of the Holy One and glowing in the temple yet to be restored. Malachi – a hopeful voice in a hopeless time, could shut his eyes and see the sun coming up over an unimaginable horizon. Speaking on God’s behalf he would say:

For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.

Many suns and moons would come and go before his words came true. An angel would come to a fearful girl – like an insistent beam of light finding the crack in the door. A star would come to light a mucky birth, and angels would come to to light up a sky to the shepherds’ delight. An old old man – wizened by the years of waiting just for this one moment, would hold the little boy to his heart and thank God that he had lived to see the day:

My eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of all nations
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And the glory of your people Israel

The boy would scamper off – to poke, and fall and graze and learn, as boys do…and the light was coming. Later, as full grown man now – and bearer of more light and truth than any could see at the time, he would ascend the temple steps one day. There above him, a huge bowl of oil flamed up into the sky, sending shimmers through the view.

I am the light of the world, he said, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness

John, like many others, would try to do just that. Through thick and thin he would follow his dazzling Lord – ending up in the dark place of a prison camp. Opening his eyes in the act of prayer he would see Jesus, wreathed in light and all but ablaze:

His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace

Closing his eyes, he would see wondrous things – a city of spectacular beauty where all the friends of Jesus would live – like moths gathered round an inextinguishable light.

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.


That day is yet to come. Every year when we light the candles at the start of advent.  Every year when we enjoy the dancing reflections of flame on tinsel and bauble we hold out that hope. Listen to the words of Alfred Delp, a young Roman Catholic priest written from prison cell on Christmas Eve 1944:

When I pace back and forth in my cell, three steps forward and three steps back, hands in irons, ahead of me an unknown destiny, I understand very differently than before those ancient promises of the coming Lord who will redeem us and set us free. This is the deeper sense of Advent: that we scrutinize this centre, little by little, and set up lights of recognition in our lives, and, from the centre, master life’s gloominess. Light the candles wherever you can, you who have them. They are a real symbol of what must happen in Advent, what Advent must be, if we want to live.
In 1835, a century before Delp, a British inventor started playing with light. His name was William Henry Fox Talbot. He started off by placing leaves and lace on treated paper to make  ‘photogenic drawings’. After that he started setting “mousetrap cameras” around Laycock Abbey.  These little wooden boxes with a glass lens contained treated glass which were given a short exposure to the light and the world’s first true photographs were born. Fox Talbot had achieved his dream and learnt to ‘draw with light’. (Photo graphe)

The mousetrap cameras were nothing special. In fact, the first one was cigar box crudely sawn in half and stuck back together with a hole in one end. However, they captured the light in such a way that they created enduring images. Right now, Christian men and women are the way that God focuses his light to render the image of Christ. The lens is dusty and has imperfections in it. The box is nothing much to write home about either. His light brings life, though, – always and without exception.

Our prayer this advent should surely be that God would focus his light through us in such a way as to render an enduring image of Christ – despite the shabbiness of the camera!

From prison cell to mousetrap camera


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