Advent: Walking in Deep Darkness

Third Advent

Lighting a candle each Sunday in Advent is part of the traditional observance.

Are you scared of the dark? My two daughters don’t like the dark. At night, when it is time for them to go up stairs to bed, they want lights on. And then they need a nightlight all night long. I think they will grow out of it – for now we leave the hallway light on for them.

Photo credit: SkyD via Flickr

Advent is a season for contemplating darkness. We remember the 450 years the people of Israel waited for God to act, and think about the “darkness” of this period when it seemed God’s light had been withdrawn. Isaiah touches this:

For behold darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the people (Isaiah 60:2)

But Isaiah 60:2 continues:

but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

And in Isaiah 9:2:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; 
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Christmas “sneaks” into our observance of Advent, for we know that Jesus comes as God’s light, and the hope of those ancient people was brought to fulfillment.

Dwelling in Darkness

But the fact is that many people still dwell in deep darkness.

First, those who do not know Jesus walk in darkness. If there is anywhere where “deep gloom enshrouds the people,” it is in the hearts of those who do not know the deep, deep love of God that is poured out to us in Jesus. Who are those around us that need “the Lord to arise upon [them]?” This Advent might be a good time to consider how we might call their attention to the Light!

And then there are those for whom these days are particularly hard. Because of life circumstances – job loss, financial difficulty, the death of a close friend or family member – the celebration of Christmas only brings further pain and a sharpening of grief. This kind of darkness is further deepened by the knowledge that the celebration of Christmas is “supposed” to be joyful. The mixture of grief and guilt produces a bitter drink indeed.

Observing All of Christmas

As I said in my previous post, the promise of Jesus’ return gives us hope that one day these wounds will be healed.

But for now we must walk in this darkness, the darkness of a world that is full of pain. It is notable that the celebration of Christmas contains a reminder of this fact. If you are new to the observation of Advent, you might not know the celebration of Christmas is not just one day – it is 12 days! These are the 12 days of Christmas mentioned in the song. (I encourage you to find ways to celebrate Christmas all 12 days!) On several of these days there is a observation of events that remind us of the darkness.

Right after Christmas we observe St. Stephen’s Day (Dec 26), remembering the first recorded martyr of the faith. We are reminded that even as we seek to spread the word about the “Prince of Peace,” there will be reaction against that news, some of it violent.

On Dec 28 we remember Herod’s orders to slaughter the children in Bethlehem. It should bring sobering reflection to us that Jesus’ birth could trigger this kind of evil.

Because a Jewish male was circumcised on the eighth day, on Jan 1 we observe Jesus’ circumcision (called the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus in more modern settings). This is Jesus’ first shedding of blood for us – a harbinger of Jesus’ final shedding of blood on the Cross. This day, in the midst of Christmas, reminds us of why Jesus came in the first place, to deal with the darkness in a dramatic way.

The Coming of the Light

So in Advent we can reflect on the fact that our witness to a dark world could be costly, that the darkness of evil yet prowls our world, and that Jesus comes to pay a great price to redeem Creation, and us with it, from the power of darkness.

We know that even as we walk in deep darkness, light has, and will again, rise upon us!

12/5/2012 8:15 AM Editors note: For ESN’s developing Advent archive click here.

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Charlie Clauss

Charlie Clauss works with Intervarsity's Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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One Comment

    Micheal Hickerson commented on December 13, 2011 Reply

    How timely, Charlie! Last night, my wife and I had to comfort our 8-year-old daughter because she was frightened of something in her room. Her fear was so strong, that even I got a little scared, even though I knew there was nothing to fear. I spent yesterday morning reflecting on Psalm 23, so I reminded her that God was her protector and shepherd, even in the dark.

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