Growing up I was afraid of the dark. For me, the 19th century Scottish poem, “from ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us”, was not all that helpful, because the mere mention of ghosties and ghoulies gave credence to their existence. To ask the Good Lord to deliver them was not much consolation: I just wanted to make sure they weren’t there in the first place. So I would occasionally (no, regularly) check under my bed or in the closet for monsters, ogres or escaped serial killers before I dared to turn out the light. When I was old enough to babysit for my younger sisters, there were more than a few times I would wake up the oldest of them to keep watch with me.
Darkness raises real fear. Over the years, I have gotten better at abiding the darkness. A segment of Night Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book has helped: “let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.”
Yet the darkness of the world continues to press in – especially this time of the year when the northern hemisphere has shorter days and longer nights. And especially this particularly year because, well, you name it – there is missile mongering with North Korea, climate change (if not approaching catastrophe), vicious insults and actions taken against a racial or religious minority across the world (with a seemingly growing permission to do so); regular public displays of moral emptiness, if not depravity; an expanding inventory of sexual assaults and mass shootings, and on and on and on.
There is a lot of darkness.
Advent greets the darkness. And greets it with light. Not much light; it is a flicker really, compared to the world’s darkness. And yet, as the writer of John’s Gospel has written, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
That Advent light may not be much, but it is real. It is hope and promise – even peace. We have been given that light – it is planted in each and every one of us, and we have been commissioned to trust that light and to use that light to do at least two things: to join our embedded light with the light of others – and then bring that growing light and shine it into the world’s darkness.
There are forces and voices that would say this divine light is not real. Or it is too small, or not effective. Or that we are wasting our time. Those forces and voices would point us to other, more dramatic light – produced by Disney or Madison Avenue or the shiny object of yet another unrealistic political promise. Those expressions of light can be entertaining or even creative, but mostly they are distracting. Distracting us from the darkness.
We are asked to look into a particular corner of the darkness, in the confidence that we are accompanied by Christ’s light. Look into the darkness. Stare it down. We have enough light to do so.
And that light will not go away. And it will make a difference.