Advent Darkness

Luke 1:68-79The Second Sunday of Advent – for December 6, 2015

“Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness . . .” (Luke 1:78-79)

NightIn the song of Zechariah, the stunned—but not speechless—father of the future John the Baptizer announced, “The dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in the darkness.”

But I’m not so willing to abandon darkness.

Maybe I’m thinking about the dark because of Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” With questions and curiosities, Taylor wonders why Christians (and others) dread the dark. She writes,

[W]hen we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that we are running from God?

Can Advent, a journey toward light, also be a journey of divine darkness?

On wilderness backpacks, I tramp through alpine beauty. Before day’s end, a spot to camp is found. Dinner is prepared and shared. And then night comes. If there’s a campfire, the flames seem fragile in the immense forest darkness. If I turn on my flashlight, it is no more than a tenuous thread of silver barely penetrating the darkness. When the fire fades and the flashlight is tucked into a pocket, the world of the night explodes in glory. Stars, a billion and more, paint the sky. The moon, full or a fraction, glitters like a jewel. Water from lakes or streams appear to be shifting ribbons of light.

flashlightOf course, there are also bears roaming the wilderness night . . .

As dark as it is, the true night, absent the artificial lights we now shine onto our lives, inspires tender faith and terrible fear, new discoveries and old dread. The stars above are sublime, and the bears below aren’t picky about meals. Darkness is never one thing. Wasn’t it like that in ancient Rome or Jerusalem or Bethlehem? Wasn’t it like that by the long-ago Jordan River where John baptized?

How can we sense any of the darkness Moses or Jesus knew with our streetlamps and headlights and neon? Today’s world, day or night, is not just illuminated by, but inundated with, light.

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With a new puppy into our lives, I now circle the neighborhood before bedtime. Last night, the moon played peek-a-boo through the barren winter-ready branches. My puppy Kynzi padded beside me, oblivious to beauty—for dogs rarely engage in aesthetic observations—but totally alive as she hoovers up delectable odors and detects mysterious sounds. She revels in the night. And I do too. I can’t admire the lunar phases inside my house. I can’t hear branches rustling with the TV droning on. I can’t see the myriad textures of shadows when I cover every corner of my life with artificial light.

vegasAs with many, I’ve visited Las Vegas (though unlike others, only reluctantly!) Inside, in the casinos, it’s always light.

I’ve been stuck in airports across the country, confused about what hour of day it is, for inside seems the same fluorescent glow.

When shopping for groceries, every square inch of the supermarket is uniformly lighted. It’s forever high noon with specials over on aisle 2. The sun never sets on the frozen food section.

In the 21st century, we live in a bright, bright, bright world. We could spend days and nights with a hand shading our eyes.

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Scripture claimed John the Baptizer prepared believers for the light. I understand that ancient longing of the Gospel writers. They lived with oil candles and sputtering torches. Between sunset and sunrise, their hours could be as dark as a cave . . . like where Jesus was born. Or as dark as a tomb . . . like where Jesus was taken after the crucifixion. (Hey, might as well be obvious with examples!) In Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” she recalls the various traditions born or renewed in the darkest of places. Where did Muhammad first recite the Quran? In a cave. Plato wasn’t famous for the “Allegory of the Well-Lighted Starbucks,” but instead the “Allegory of the Cave.”

Are we a people of the light? Indeed! And so again, in this season of Advent, we proclaim and long for the light.

And yet, in this Advent, in this century, in this era of artificial light and hyped solar energy and cool, efficient LED options, let there also be a divine darkness where we seek rather than run from God.

In the darkness, I find my best rest. I know too many people leading frantic lives that need—desperately need—to literally and symbolically switch the lights off for rest.

In the darkness, I am more alert; careful to watch where I step, focused on listening to a vibrant world of growth and possibility. And yes, more alert to my fears and faith.

In the darkness, everyone appears nearly the same. Too often, our wide-open and biased eyes seduce us into only comparing differences.

Where has darkness accompanied your journey toward renewal?

When has night deepened your relationship with the Holy?

I believe a faithful Advent longs for the light, but also values the dark. God, Creator of all, is with creation in the brightest and dimmest of places along the path to Bethlehem.

Night at Cathedral Peak, Yosemite.
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  1. Exquisite piece of writing, restrained yet resonating with every phase and comment. Writing is partly gift but mostly structure in which the gem is discovered. You do that so well, I love it and am inspired to try again. Writing is like poetry, to borrow from Billy Collins, it leads to more writing. You are destined to write again and send your gift wafting though, what Teihard de Chardin called the “No-O-Sphere”. Ok, I admit that is a bit of an over reach, you get the idea. Cheers and enjoy being grateful this week. I will be grateful for you.

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