First Sunday in Advent, November 30 2014
On our trip to Finland last summer, we were greeted by days filled with eighteen hours of sunshine. While there, we visited the Arctic Circle, where there are days during the year when the sun never sets. Now this sounds nice, but our biological clocks actually crave darkness. Like chickens that know it’s time to roost because the sun goes down, our bodies are designed with certain ebb and flow that’s connected to light and darkness.
I went to Finland prepared with a blindfold to place over my eyes so that when it was time to rest my body, my brain would believe that night had truly come.
We don’t often see the benefits of darkness. It is our tendency to think that God is only working in the light.
We can affirm 1 John 1:5 which says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness,” but that does not mean that you cannot find God in the darkness, too.
In the Genesis passage, light has meaning because it is juxtaposed with darkness. Light has meaning because we understand what it means to be in the dark.
While it is true that in the creation story, it is only light that is called “good,” God did not choose to eradicate darkness. He could have said, “Let there be light,” and there was day, the first day, with no mention of night. He could have made two suns so that as the world rotated there would never be darkness anywhere. But God chose to allow darkness to remain, supposedly because He saw its benefits.
So whether you believe that God created darkness or just allowed it to continue to exist, it amounts to the same thing from a physical point of view. It forms one half of the day, depending on the time of the year, and where you live. It shapes our biological clock, and the patterns of the world in which we live. While he didn’t call darkness “good,” does anyone want to challenge God on the way he created the universe?
So, while darkness is not an evil entity in itself, metaphorically, darkness has received all the bad headlines. Never mind that we can be blinded by light, given cancer by light, burned by light, or frightened by light, darkness has inherited our negative metaphors.
The underworld has often been imagined as a place of darkness. The evil cowboy always wears the black hat. Villains are often dressed in black in the movies. When we grieve we wear black. We speak of the Dark Ages as opposed to the Age of Enlightenment. Halloween is a season where the ghosts, goblins, and spooks come out in the dark. Witches always wear black.
Has there ever been a horror movie made with much light? We talk about moving through dark times in life due to loss of health, finances, or life, and depression as being a dark pit.
While darkness has its benefits, I think we have established that metaphorically it is still widely accepted as something the opposite of good.
Throughout scripture, darkness, as a metaphor, is often associated with the absence of God.
For example, Jesus claimed to be the Light of the World. He said, “He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12
However, I don’t want you to assume that because you may be in the dark or in a dark moment in your life, that God is not present.
Listen to the Psalmist.
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret. (Psalm 139:7-15 NRSV)
What beautiful words! Even the darkness is not dark to God. To God, the dark is as bright as day.
If God could design the owl, tree frogs, bats, dolphins, and whales, to find their way in darkness, don’t you think God knows how to direct us through ours?
Yet when we find ourselves in darkness, we often panic. We are gripped with fear. A sense of doom and despair falls over us. We need to hear God say, “Fear not, I know the way through the darkness. I can see in the dark. Hold my hand.”
All of us know that just as surely as the day is divided into light and darkness, we are not always going to walk in the sunshine. When darkness comes, instead of going into a panic, what if we called on God and asked God what He wants us to learn while the darkness surrounds us?
Darkness is as much a part of life as the light. The Psalmist gives us the gospel for today. The darkness is not dark to God. God knows the way forward. God knows what we need to see in the dark. God knows where we can find the light that will eventually lead us to a new day.
When I took these words of the Psalmist and reflected on the first words from Genesis, it occurred to me that God didn’t create light so He could see. God created light for the benefit of the earth.
Darkness, whatever form it may take in our lives, is no obstacle to God. The same Spirit of God that swept over the face of the waters in Genesis is present to sweep over the dark areas of our lives.
God is as comfortable in the dark as He is in the light. God is not afraid. God is not anxious or intimidated. However, God does not want us to remain in the dark because he knows we need the light. While the darkness may be a teacher, God is constantly working to bring light into our lives.
In the Genesis story, we are told that God called the darkness night and the light day—the first day. While light was present on day one, it wasn’t until day four that God made the sun and the moon and the stars. Then the stage was set for God to be present in the ordinary. What could be more ordinary or dependable than the rising and setting of the sun and the moon moving through its various phases?
We should try harder to see where God is engaged with us in the ordinary events of our lives. God shouldn’t be exiled to the extraordinary.
Why can’t we discover God when we are going for a walk, when we are eating a meal, when we are holding a child, or when we are grieving with a friend? Why can’t we hear God in a Christmas carol, in someone’s request for help, or in the laughter of a friend? Why can’t we feel God in the crisp air of the morning breeze, in the hug of a friend, in the chill bumps we get when our heart’s been touched?
Yes, we can find God as Isaiah did, “High and lifted up with his train filling the temple.” However, those kinds of God-like experiences are rare. We need to look for God in the ordinary. Sometimes the ordinary will be experienced in the light and in other times in the darkness.
And where there is darkness, God wishes to walk with us and teach us what He wants us to learn. And where there is light, God wishes to walk with us there, too. For it is there that we often believe we need no assistance. We often think we know the way. In the light we can become proud or arrogant, and think we have no need for God.
We tell God that we can see how to walk just fine. While there may be plenty of light, we ignore what God has said is good and we venture into places that are not good for our soul and we end up bringing darkness into our lives through our disobedience to God. Often, we are blind to our own sin, even though God has provided plenty of light.
While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day gave a tenth of their income to the synagogue, Jesus said they “neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness.” While they thought they were people of light, Jesus called them “blind guides.”
Notice the ending of Genesis 1:3: “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” “The first day”—these words are words of hope because they announce there are more days to come.
It is a reminder that evening and morning are both gifts to us by God.
As I have mentioned, when we use metaphors of light and darkness, darkness usually loses out. Take this little ditty as an example:
Bows and flows of angel hair And ice cream castles in the air And feather canyons everywhere I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun They rain and snow on everyone So many things I would have done But clouds got in my way.1
And so it goes: most of our metaphors about darkness don’t open us up to anything we might learn about God or about ourselves while we walk in the darkness. But if evening and morning are both gifts, then we should experience God in both places.
What is it then that we should take with us as we begin this season of Advent? If you ignore the darkness in your life, you may miss what God wants you to learn this Advent season.
I am certainly not suggesting that God sends dark times in our lives, if we use darkness as a metaphor for all that’s wrong with our world. Darkness will come, welcomed or not.
It is part of what it means to be human, to experience both light and dark, so we must learn “to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up.”2
We must learn that to be human is to stumble and struggle with our imperfections and poor choices, even as we find ways to help others and fulfill our purpose in life under the Lordship of Christ. As we move through both of these sides of our being, it is important to always be listening to the voice of God.
It was their fascination with a star that eventually led the wise men, astrologers from the East, to find baby Jesus. They followed a star all the way to Bethlehem, something they could not have done during the day, for only during the night would a star have been bright enough to lead them.
“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 what we are running from is God?”3
During this Advent season, as you experience the darkness, look and listen for God. You will recognize God as the light. He will be the one who will bring you understanding, peace to your day, direction as you journey, strength to forgive, courage to fight for justice, and humility to admit you are wrong.
My prayer for you this Advent season is that God will move in your life where darkness exists, teaching you what He wants you to learn, leading you where He wants you to go, and bringing light where you most need it so that your faith will be sustained.
I am confident that God will do this, but will you be open to God’s voice? Right now, will you open your heart to God through this season of Advent? Invite God to reveal himself in your darkness and in the light so that His will might be done in your life.
1 http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/09/clouds-the-most-useful- metaphor-of-all-time/245851/2/
2 Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 54-55 3 Ibid, p. 56
© Copyright 2014 by J. Michael Helms