I have worked in academic or ministry settings for more than 20 years. Everyone whose vocation places them in this world experiences the familiar rhythm of an annual cycle. Our years are marked in quarters and semesters, by “ordinary” time contrasted with the “strong” seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas. We have arrived once again at the major transition point in both our academic and liturgical calendars. Reflection often accompanies transition, and this particular turn has brought me to a fresh consideration of Advent through an exchange of images from Isaiah chapter 9 and John chapter 1.
Let’s begin with Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned.” The starting point of all humanity—even the people of God to whom this is addressed–is darkness. We are born “blind” into a broken world over which a dark deception has been drawn. We are unable to “see” who we really are or even to understand why we are really here. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 recognizes, our perceptions of reality are but a dim reflection of how things really are. At its most basic level, our dark deception is this—we believe that “we are on our own”; or worse–that “we are our own.”
But by God’s loving mercy glimmers of grace peek through the cracks. In this land of darkness, a light shines on dawn’s horizon. The nature of this light is poetically set forth in John 1: “Life was in Him,” we are told, and contrary to our lot, “that life was the light of men.” This one born in light “shines in the darkness,” with power even “the darkness did not overcome.” What is so brilliantly illuminated by this Life that is “the light of men?”
In this “child [who] will be born for us,” this “son [who] will be given to us,” Isaiah sees the full reason for His coming: “The government will be on His shoulders.” With his coming, the oppressive darkness of our self-deception—that we are in control—is lifted for those who desire to see. The awful consequences of humanity’s hubris is set right when we rightly acknowledge the Lordship of He who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
This is why lights play such an important role in this annual journey through Advent and Christmas. Our neighborhoods come alive with light (and, alas, so much more!). Our sanctuaries are illuminated by candlelight. Our hearts are strangely lit by hope, whether we believe or not. All because, one day long ago, the Light “became flesh and took up residence” in our hearts, our sanctuaries, and even our neighborhoods.
Because He is Light, we are able to see through the darkness that blinds us. Because He is Lord, we are set free from the deception that we are. Because He was “born in the flesh,” we are “born of God.” No wonder these days we mark are so filled with wonder. Whether we count ourselves among “those who receive Him” or amidst those still “walking in darkness,” the Truth is that the Light has come. Let us rejoice and be glad.