The longest night is over. The light is already beginning to shine on this earth for a few more moments each day.
But the last few months have seemed dark indeed. Bad news upon bad news. Even good news has been dimmed by the worry that a shadow might be cast over it at any moment.
Each time I open up the paper, or look at the TV, or scroll through my social media newsfeed and see haggard bodies walking through torn-apart streets, and weary faces seeking a place to rest, and desperate people pleading for rescue, there’s no ignoring it: there is darkness in this world. When I hear story after story of individuals or communities being targeted and harassed because of race, or religion, or the way they choose to express themselves, there’s no denying it: there is darkness in this world. When I read about land being willfully polluted by greedy profiteers, or natural disasters sweeping away entire landscapes, or rising temperatures destroying ecosystems, there’s no avoiding it: there is darkness in this world.
When I look ahead at the future, it doesn’t look as bright, crisp or clear as it once did when I was younger. It looks rather shadowy. As a mother of three young children who are rapidly becoming more independent, my maternal mind is primitively wired to sound warning bells whenever I sense danger, to ensure the safety of my offspring. I’m no longer that naïve child, that foolhardy teenager, that idealistic college student, that hormone-empowered pregnant woman, that blissed out baby mama. No, I’m the mother of three children who have their own legs, with which they can (and should) walk out into this big, bad, dark, dangerous world. I’m the mother of three individuals who have their own personalities, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own hopes and insecurities, and it is heart-wrenching to think of the pain or suffering they have, are, and will inevitably go through. I’ve witnessed too much sadness in the lives of loved ones for whom things have not always turned out rosy, and I know that things something go very, very wrong in this dark world of ours.
There is darkness. Many have been sitting in darkness for the past few months. Many have spent their lives sitting in darkness. Many will sit through darkness in the years ahead. There’s no use pretending that this isn’t so.
In the beginning of Genesis’s account of creation, “darkness covered the face of the deep.” God creates light, but God doesn’t destroy darkness.
“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. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)
God does not banish the darkness. It remains.
Darkness remains. Darkness covers us with its shadowy blanket, casting mystery and unknowableness around us. Ancient peoples’ great fear was that darkness would not end, and that the light of the sun would never again return. Perhaps we are not so different, anxious as we are that the darkness might overpower the light; worrying as we do, that it might swallow us up forever.
In our darkness, we utter the same words prayed by others in countless times, places, and life circumstances, wondering whether God has left us.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13)
“O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.” (Psalm 88)
The people who have prayed these psalms in their own times of trouble are our companions in our darkness.
But with voices echoing through thousands of years, these companions also testify to their own experiences of God’s faithfulness, assuring us that even though we cannot always see God’s face, our God has not left us alone.
“Even though I walk in the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23)
“In the watches of the night… my soul clings to you.” (Psalm 63)
“At night, God’s song is with me, a prayer to the God of life.” (Psalm 42)
One thing we know: there is darkness. But there’s another thing we know, and that’s that darkness does not last forever. The psalms also remind us of this.
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God saved them from their distress; God brought them out of darkness…” (Psalm 107)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27)
“Weeping may linger through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30)
Morning by morning, we know that light will come. Morning by morning, the dark shadows scatter as the sun’s rays break over the surface of the horizon. At this particular time of the year – especially following the longest night, especially in the days leading up to the birth of our Emmanuel, God with us – we celebrate this profound truth.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” declares John 1:5.
Right now, I hold tight to this core belief. It is precious to me. It is a message that I want to live into as a parent, as a pastor, and as a human being. It is a message that I want to pass on to my children, and my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children. It is the greatest truth there is, because it counters our deepest, most primitive, most reactionary fears. It is a belief both profound and simple, expressing the everlasting, undying hope to which we cling: that even though darkness remains, it will not prevail. Light will always pierce through even the darkest night, and a new day will dawn.
Until then, we wait. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130)
And when we do sit in times of darkness – which we inevitably have, are, and will, even during this Christmas season – may we find some small part in ourselves that can trust that one day, our Light will come, and all things will be brought into the full brightness and warmth of God’s hope, and peace, and joy, and love.
The image above is called “Woman before the Rising Sun” by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).