“The people who wandered in darkness have seen a great light.” ~ Isaiah 9:2
Can I press pause for a moment, in this third week of Advent, as the days are giving over to night, and the Christmas preparations have me wrapping kid gifts on the bathroom floor while the baby is in the tub beside me? Can we stop and acknowledge the presence and the weight of the dark?
Isaiah’s words have been preached and proclaimed from pews and pulpits ever since they were first put to paper, and the darkness not only precedes the light in the sentence: the darkness is not destroyed by the light either. The darkness is real, and it is overwhelming, and even with the impending birth of a Saviour, I am finding myself wandering in the dark.
The world is weary with suffering: violence in Syria and the Sudan, gunshots in Paris and California, oil prices causing economic pressure and joblessness for families. Jesus may have come and be coming again; still my heart aches every time I hear the news.
As if the news were not enough, life continues. A friend far away is battling a depression that will not lift, and other than pray, I can do nothing to ease his suffering. There are more people on my list of people I would like to call and visit than could possibly happen in a year. A woman I have long loved was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovaries in the first week of Advent and her longing for a baby is triggered with sadness as each candle on the wreath is added.
There are parents in my community whose son will be back in prison for Christmas, whose children are not coming home because they died this past year, whose partnerships have crumbled and died. There are too many people in my world whose hearts are breaking because the darkness is choking out every bit of light they can see. Our own restlessness through unemployment and job transitions seems pretty small compared to what so many others are carrying, and still, it is heavy.
For just a few disquieted and impious moments, I want to cry out, “Where’s the promised, ‘Peace on Earth!?” Advent is a season to mark the darkness, to wait and wander around in it. To be reminded that it is real, and that God comes for a reason, with all the same grief and aching that we feel. It’s how he comes that amazes me.
He comes tentatively and quietly into our suffering. And his coming brings more of it, for the parents whose infants will be slaughtered by Herod’s fear, for his parents as they flee to save his life, for his grandparents and extended family, who not only miss the birth (displaced by the wise men and shepherds) but then wait while the family seeks refuge in Egypt. His whole life, Jesus’ action is limited by the bounds of his body, the people he meets and the circumstances presented by history. He wanders around in the darkness, a flame for those who draw near, extinguished by the confusion and violence and rising again, to new life in and through us, a new body for wandering more.
This is the light for the darkness: tentative, vulnerable, mercifully small. A light to obliterate darkness might blind and destroy us, which is easy enough for me to write. Excuse me while I go beg God to change the way the light works.
Because I have never seen another light capable of dispelling the dark like the Christ-Child, I am wandering in the darkness, clinging to my memories of light and the promise that He is always here and ever coming, not to remove the darkness but to dispel it.
One of my favourite phrases from a Christmas song is from Faith Hill, “A baby changes everything.” This has been my experience. Every baby I have ever had the privilege of holding, of watching, and birthing has changed my world – not by destroying darkness, but by lifting it, if only for a moment, so that I can see the light of a single miracle and touch love.
This is how the Creator of the Universe is at work creating and recreating the world. I do not understand it. Most days, I don’t like it very much. And every day, I will enter in as deeply as I can with those who suffer, because wandering in the darkness is a prerequisite to glimpsing the light.
A baby changes everything. The dark may not be going anywhere, but Isaiah – and I – have seen it. It will not win. The Baby showed us how to face it with tears and outstretched hands. Wander with us, Jesus. We are waiting in the darkness for you.