By Carolyn Shields
The days are getting shorter. And until this year, it’s never dawned on me how Advent is a season that actually has a lot to do with darkness. I mean, heck, my family always had out our Advent wreathe growing up, and I knew the gradual rhythm: purple purple pink purple. (I remember not only fighting with my sister on taking turns lighting the candles and being so miffed when she got to light the pink one, but fighting with my siblings over who gets to blow them out). But I never connected the dots on how this season is about the light overcoming the dark…even up until the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.
Winter is always a particularly challenging time for me. I think it is for a lot of us, but I find a lot of comfort in this new understanding of Advent. When I was little, I used to stare up at the sun thinking that must be the place where God hides all the secrets or where you could see the Holy Family. (Probably why my sight is terrible now!) But this steady light that each candle represents got me thinking. Where in scripture does light play an important role?
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:1-4
That’s significant. Light was the first thing that God created and said was good. And unlike the heavens and the earth, God separated light from its cousin, darkness. He saw the need to keep them apart. And I can’t help but love the fact that a single ember or flame is enough to kill the darkness. Think about it. Darkness can never suffocate the light; a decimal of darkness will never defeat it. But the smallest flicker of light will drown it out. This calls to mind the title of this article, taken from John 1:5.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
This has always been one of my favorite psalms and one of my most recited. So often in life we wish that God would illuminate the way before us, like he could floodlight the road ahead. But thank God He doesn’t! We think it’d be easier, would avoid so much hurt and confusion and frustration, but God lets us see exactly what we need to see when we need to see it. He provides a lamp at our feet. That means literally just enough to sometimes see the next step, or sometimes just enough to see where we are. And that should be enough for us.
Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Matthew 5:15
This verse usually gets stripped down to its grade school finest. I’ve never given it a glance probably since sixth grade. It’s simple truth is right there, which is nice, but as we know, we can always grow deeper. It wasn’t until my drive home last night when I was thinking that this verse doesn’t necessarily mean our greatest talents or greatest gifts. Sometimes our light is a simple joy, and gosh, how often do I fall back on my complaints or nuanced frustrations when I am with others? Example: “Hey, how was your weekend?” “It was good…pretty quiet. Over slept. Did a ton of laundry. It went by too quickly.” (Oh, what about that moment you bellied over in laughter?) Or another example: “How are you?” “Alright…this weather is getting to me though. I’m so tired of all the rain!” (Oh, what about sharing a compliment?) It’s so easy for some reason to stash the light under the basket.
…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Matthew 4:16
This verse marks Jesus beginning his public ministry. He heard that John was imprisoned and so he withdrew to Capernaum and began to preach, picking up John’s infamous words: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This verse is also taken from the Book of Isaiah and stirs a hope within those who are surrounded by darkness. The light is coming.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12
The light of the world. Born beneath a star. And if we remember that the Lord is our light and salvation, truly whom shall we fear?
This Advent season, as the darkness falls earlier and earlier, let’s commit to lighting our Advent wreaths. Not because we want to keep up with a tradition. Not because we feel guilty that we’ve had the same candles for five years now. Not because it’s festive. Let’s light our Advent wreaths to remember this steady truth: the Light of the World is coming and will overcome our darkness.