Even many of our songs reflect this dark reality of the season. Silent night, holy night...O holy night, the stars are brightly shining...In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth still hard as iron...It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old...O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
It is, in fact, the darkness surrounding the light...the light of stars, the light of candles, the light reflected from snow, and even the light of electric displays...it is the darkness that makes the light all the more poignant. And this, I think, is how it was meant to be. The darkness making us drawn to the light.
One of the dearest Christmas verses to me in all the Scripture is not found in the account of Mary or Joseph. Not in the angels or shepherds. Not in stars or Magi or even in the manger where the baby Jesus was laid. No, instead it is found in the picture perfect account of St. John (1:5):
"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it"
This is it. The Word was made flesh. He came to dwell among us. We beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. And it was a light shining in the darkness.
Perhaps this is why we are so drawn to lights at Christmas. They are pretty and mesmerizing, to be sure, but there is something so much more. It is light casting out its beams of hope against the dark backdrop of nothingness. It is reflective of the true Light who came...likewise casting hope for all of mankind against the dark emptiness of sin and hate and woundedness and humans posturing for positions of wealth and power.
So whenever we see the lights, we should think of That Light.
It is dark, yes. But generally I find that dark to be comforting for it gives me warmth in the light.
One of my favorite experiences every year is sitting in the dark with just the tree lit...hundreds of little reminders of the the Incarnate One who came to shine in the darkness.
But as I sit here this night...I feel more angry at the dark. Somehow this time around I see the blackness not so much as a backdrop to the lights I am warmed by, but rather a part of me I am bitter towards. It is dark and I am unsettled.
I fear my children most often see me not as their loving father but as a hard to please taskmaster. Always driving them to do the next thing...and do it up to my standards.
I fear my church isn't seeing enough converts for Christ. That while I do my best and everyone pretty much seems satisfied with my pastoring...I don't set a very good example in pursuing the lost. People in my community don't know Jesus, and I'm not doing enough about it.
I fear the warped mess of emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize certain relationships I once cherished will never be unraveled. I see little hope and I know people are hurting and I can't fix it.
I fear for those closest to me. The ones whose health and stamina and hope are all under attack. I wonder if any answers can be expected for them, for us. I wonder if they can depend on me.
I fear I am a hypocrite. That my love for Jesus borders on rhetoric. I so often feel nothing. I am coming to believe emotion is to be mostly absent in this most precious relationship of all.
I fear I do not know for certain the things I should. My answers fall short. I have gaps in my confidence in truth.
I fear. I fear many things. And as I fear, I feel. I feel the darkness. Not the darkness of the outside pressing down upon my light, but the darkness of my inside growing and threatening to extinguish every light around me. Darkness is no longer a romantic balance to the light of Christmas. It is a disease, an all consuming disease.
But then I think, but the Light shined in the darkness. And here I have to force myself to pause. NO, the Light did not just come to shine in the darkness. He came to shine in MY darkness. His advent was meant to be taken personally. His incarnation is the relationship of God to man, not God to darkness.
Just like the Jewish leaders of that 1st century, I am inclined to see the coming of the Messiah as an event for the purging of the darkness around me. A way for truth to win out over superstition and misled mankind and evil people. But that is all secondary. You see, if the Light is to shine in the darkness, it must begin by shining in my darkness. For what is that darkness out there but a manifestation of all the darkness I harbor within myself?
And now my mind begins to race back to the beginning. When that all powerful Word which was from the beginning spoke His first commands...into the darkness. And He said "let there be light!" Yes, I am certain He said this in an exclamatory fashion, for He was looking at that which had nothing...no light, no form, no meaning...and He was calling it into something. He was giving it purpose. In fact, could it be that by declaring that there should be such a thing as light in this darkness He was insisting He Himself would be the source of all that proceeded thereafter?
And this Light that shone in that darkness then went on to see water and sky, trees and mountains, fish and birds, animals and man formed for His own good pleasure. Yes, my very own existence in this creation was because that Light, that Word, was more than just a cry out against the darkness...it was a divine interest in a relationship with me.
And now my mind leaps to the end of the story. Where I am told of a new heaven and new earth where this Light, this God-man, will be forever worshiped in the eternal bliss of relationship between Himself and His most beloved creation...His bride, of which I am part. And in that place...in that never ending harmony...there will be no night there. For the Light that was from the beginning will be the all that is needed. I think this must be so much more than just the fact the sun will no longer be necessary. Indeed, my own attempts at pushing back the darkness I fear within and around me will no longer be necessary. A backdrop of emptiness will no longer be required in order for me to better appreciate the light. For this Light will be more grand and glorious and real than ever I could have imagined.
But wait. The Light spoke in the beginning. The Light will shine in paradise forever. But that same Light has come to shine in my darkness here and now. I need not wait for eternity in the city of God in order to experience that Light shining in my darkness. My fears, my inadequacies, my failing, my misery...indeed all my darkness...are subject to this Light even now. For Advent is the hope brought, not by some ancient story, nor by some fanciful dream, but by the presence of God in the flesh. In the present. In this moment.
Whatever I lack He measures out to me if I but let Him.
Wherever I fail He forgives me if I will only accept it.
However I cease to represent or to proclaim Him He still miraculously shows Himself faithful if I am humble enough to acknowledge it.
When I am certain my own strength is sufficient He gently reminds me He is all I need if I will trust.
This is the beauty of the Light shining in my darkness. And what I find is that as my darkness is dispelled, the darkness of others is also. The miracle of Advent moves on from me to transform the community to which I belong and the world in which I exist.
It is dark. Not just out there, but in here...in me. But I peer into the abyss and I see the glimmer of my fearful soul...grounded in the the only thing I know for certain. I am loved. And that is the light I need. I wish I knew more. I wish I held all the answers, but I do not. But I am loved with an everlasting love that springs from the very nature of the God who created me and called me out of the darkness and into His marvelous light.
So here I shall remain. In the Light. Surrounded by darkness, but in the Light, nonetheless. And that is Advent...the Light has come and I choose to abide in it. I want it no other way.