When I woke on Monday, it was dark. Very dark. And very quiet. No hum of the fridge or whisper of the heat turning on. No light from the streetlights outside, or from the kitchen of an early-rising neighbor seeping through cracks in the blinds. I checked my watch. 5:20. I reached to turn on the lamp. Nothing.
I bundled up and went for an early morning walk to get my blood moving, grateful for the streetlights that were on just a block away. And as I walked, I pondered.
The absence of light, heat, predictability always takes me back to my Afghanistan days. At this time of year, I rose to a frigid room, washed my face in the lukewarm water from the hot water bottle that I’d kept cuddled close all night under my sleeping bag. The dark night was cold. But also, since there were no streetlights and no night-time indoor lights to creep through mud-house windows, a moonless midnight crossing of the courtyard revealed milky ribbons of stars, and I understood for the first time how the Milky Way earned its name. Pitch darkness provided the perfect backdrop for light, revealing its glory even more brightly.
I remember rising in our little mountain village on Christmas and making the cold walk past frozen fields to see the few patients in the hospital, thinking on my way, “The Child has come, and no one knows!” I felt, then, like I was back in that first Christmas morning 2000 years ago, with an occasional donkey braying and the world quietly going about its early morning preparations, oblivious to the miracle in its midst. God! Among us! Not, then, as a mighty warrior, but as a tiny newborn, eyes unfocussed, small mouth open in a cry, then turning and rooting as his mother draws him close and offers him her breast.
I was grateful to be taken back to that moment again this week, grateful to be reminded in a visceral way that the light I so easily take for granted is a precious gift to be savored. And shared.
“Let there be light,” God said way back in the beginning.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come!” the prophet says.
“I am the light of the world.” Jesus declares.
And then, surprisingly, “You are the light of the world,” as he lives in us and shines through us.
The story doesn’t end there, for in our final home, “They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5, c.f. 21:23).
The story in which we live is one of light rising like the sun, of God making his light shine around us and in us and through us.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
A new star on that first Christmas night, the sky ablaze with angels—all this is nothing compared to the Light hidden in that tiny body lying in the manger, the Light that will ultimately turn the darkness of individual hearts and whole nations into a blaze of glory. Arise, shine, for your Light has come! Receive the light: bask in it, delight in it. And reflect it. Shine with all your God-bestowed glory.
Can we ever find words to explain this grand mystery of the Light becoming one of us, in us, shining out of us, bringing us more and more fully into his Light? Can we truly understand this bright truth?
In her lovely reflection on Dec 17th of The Promised One: Advent Readings from Christianity Today, 2020, Carolyn Arends puts words to a small bit of the mystery:
The Mighty God came in the staggeringly vulnerable form of a human baby. The Prince of Peace allowed himself to be birthed into a world of sin and chaos—God made huggable, woundable, kissable, killable.
Only the Light of the World can give us the power to begin to understand what God has offered us in the birth of Jesus.”
How true that is! We need the Light to see, to understand. And so she invites us, this Advent, to join her in praying “the prayer the apostle Paul offered the Ephesians (3:18): that we, “being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
May it be so. Amen.