One night, our grandkids were having a sleepover with Carla and me. Just as they were getting ready for bed, the power went out. As soon as everything went dark, six-year-old Alex said: “Grandma, you know I have darkness issues.” So, we turned on a flashlight and aimed it at the ceiling. We put the kids to bed using it as a nightlight.
Like Alex, I also have darkness issues. I am painfully aware of the dark and broken places within me – hidden recesses where I have not yet allowed the light of God’s presence to shine. My inner darkness includes my childhood shame that can still be triggered in vulnerable moments. It is my tendency to demand perfection and respond to my shortcomings with harsh self-judgment. My inner darkness extends to berating myself with demeaning self-talk rather than treating myself with understanding and compassion. My growing awareness of my darkness issues urges me to open myself ever more fully to the light of healing and redemption.
We all struggle with darkness issues – whether we want to admit it or not. They include the ways our frustration and anger can boil over – wounding others and hurting ourselves. Darkness issues can lead to denying the worth and dignity of people we consider “other” because they are different from us or don’t belong to our preferred groups. Darkness issues can result in an excessive possessiveness that focuses on making sure I get what I think of as “mine.” They can escalate into systemic injustice, nationalistic agendas that pit nations against one another, and armed conflicts that leave death and destruction in their wake. Whenever we open a newspaper or turn on the news, we are confronted with the ways darkness surrounds us.
The Season of Advent is a journey from darkness to light. It comes during December as the days are getting shorter and darkness closes in around us. It is a time of waiting and preparing. Advent invites us to acknowledge our darkness issues, to ache for the light of Christ, and to hope for wholeness and peace.
Finding our way through the darkness takes us back to our beginnings. The Book of Genesis begins with God creating light.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. (Genesis 1: 3-5)
Separating light from darkness and day and night demonstrate that God has power over both light and darkness, day and night. That power allows the divine presence to extend from the vastness of the universe to the deepest places within us where we long for light and healing. The light of God reaches into the hidden recesses of our deepest selves to gift us with forgiveness and reconciliation.
John’s Gospel also starts “in the beginning.” It takes us back to creation and before – when “the Word was with God.” (John 1:1) It proclaims that Christ is “the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 4-5) John identifies Jesus as the incarnate light of God in the world. His life and ministry are bathed in light, and it brings the light of God to others. Jesus’ teaching enlightens, his healing restores wholeness, and his table fellowship forgives and reconciles. Ultimately, the self-emptying love of his suffering, death, and resurrection reconciles his enemies, each of us, and all creation with God.
Advent is a journey from darkness to light. As the days get darker, it reminds us that Jesus urges us to walk in the light.
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 Christ empowers us to overcome our own darkness issues and to be light for others.
You are the light of the world . . . No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to the Father in heaven. (Matt. 14-16)
The journey of Advent reminds us that our vocation is to people of light. It calls us to heal those who are wounded and encourage those weighed down by suffering. Advent urges us to bring hope to those losing heart and comfort to those burdened with sadness and grief. It invites us to forgive those who have wronged us and to reconcile with anyone who is estranged. Advent reminds us that wherever we find ourselves and in whatever circumstances we face, we are called to choose light.
Each and every day we encounter opportunities to choose to be the light of Christ. When our relationships falter, we can remain neutral and passive or we can choose to be the light of encouragement and support. In situations of conflict, we can join the fray and pile on or we can decide to be the light of honesty, understanding, and reconciliation. In the midst of sadness and grief, we can let ourselves be dragged down or we can choose to be the light of empathy and compassion. When we are confronted with negative thinking and energy, we can join the downward spiral or we can opt to be the light of hope and optimism.
Our Advent journey takes us deeper than providing Alex and the grandkids a nightlight. It includes dealing with our own darkness issues, but there’s more to it than that. The Advent journey from darkness to light reminds us of our vocation to be light. We are called to live grounded in the light of Christ and committed to being that light for others. The dark days of Advent will pass, a child will be born, and the eternal and unquenchable light of Christ will continue to gift us with forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Our vocation as disciples is to embrace the light of Christ and to become that light – each and every day – for people we encounter who need it and a world that is desperate for it.
Questions to Ponder
Here are some questions to help you ponder our vocation to be people of light.
- What are your darkness issues? How do they hold you back?
- In what ways do you experience darkness issues in the world around you?
- In what ways is Advent a time of waiting in darkness and longing for light?
- What is your experience of Christ the light?
- How can you more fully open yourself to the light of Christ?
- Who are the people that have been light for you?
- In what ways are you being called – today and every day – to be light for others?