Light and Dark
Posted on: Dec 2, 2021
I like stormy weather. A fond childhood memory is sitting on the long front porch of our house in rural Berks County in the midst of a thunderstorm.
The flashes of light in the darkness, the roll of the thunder, the howling wind—unite to produce both awe and fear. Among other destruction, down came the power lines and out came the flashlights and candles.
Candlelight is both illuminating and comforting. One candle can seem very bright when the darkness is intense. When several candles are lit, a room takes on a glow that seems to push the darkness away, even though the darkness still surrounds us and takes the space captive as soon as the candles are extinguished.
Light is one of the most prominent images in scripture. Given the centuries long ago when the Bible was written, we aren’t talking about rural electric lines. Candles and oil lamps were the daily source of light to push away the darkness.
So it’s not surprising that “light” has assumed such prominence among Christian symbols. One of the best known is this verse from Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.”
In John’s gospel (8:12) Jesus announces, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
As we approach the longest night of the year during the Advent season, the Word as the light, Jesus as the light, and Jesus as the Word all tumble together to communicate that Christ’s coming brings new light to the darkness of the world.
Richard Rohr offers a poetic perspective on the Light coming into darkness.
“Christian wisdom names the darkness as darkness and the Light as light and helps us learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us.
“If we have pie-in-the-sky, everything is beautiful attitude, we are going to be trapped by the darkness because we don’t see clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are completely apart and above the darkness.
“Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness, even our own—while never doubting the light that God always is . . . . That is the narrow birth canal of God into the world—through the darkness and into an ever-greater Light.”
Rohr observes elsewhere, “The darkness of this world will never totally go away. I’ve lived long enough [as many of us have] . . . . to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s gospel says, ‘The light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it’ (1:5). This is our own belief in paradox and mystery, the Christian form of yin/yang.”
God coming to us, God among us, God within us—we hear these words a lot during the Advent and Christmas seasons. They all evoke a certain mystery, even though many people assert they don’t point to anything that’s “real.”
Our celebrations at this time of year remind us that the Light is always available to us. God calls on us to receive that Light so Christ can shine through us into the darkness and storms of the world.