December 2, 2018 – Rethinking Darkness

Text:  Luke 21:25-36


Advent, for me, is so much more than an event or a certain period of time leading up to Christmas. Advent is a way of life. We take time to be fully present to the world around us because that’s where holiness resides. It requires our active participation. We slow down our pace, pay attention, watch, listen, smell and feel everything – big and small – using all of our senses. We stay curious, focused, wondering what God is up to in our lives and in the world. God the Creator took flesh and bones, taking shape as one of us. The Creator became a creature in the most vulnerable form, a baby. This is what the church has been celebrating over the two millennium, so it must be our oldest memory. However, we suffer from amnesia thinking that only special people deserve God’s attention as if we are not enough. We can only honour the truth – Immanuel, God with us – when we see ourselves and others in God’s ongoing story.

We can participate in Advent by affirming who we are, no matter how broken, lonely or vulnerable. We are just enough to be loved and to be loving. In fact, we are what we need to make a difference in our lives and in our communities. Let that sink in for a moment. We don’t have to look for signs of Advent somewhere out in the world unknown to us. Instead, Advent begins where we are, especially the deepest place in us. It’s where our souls cry out to God. It’s where our longings are revealed. I would call it a place of darkness within us.

The word, darkness has been so much misused that it’s almost impossible for us to grasp the full meaning of it without some negative images attached to the word. The dictionary defines darkness as the partial or total absence of light, meaning the state of darkness is something incomplete as it lacks what is essentially necessary to be complete and whole, the light. The second definition uncover an uglier side of using the language. It says that darkness is synonymous with wickedness or evil. The list goes on such as sin, iniquity, immorality or devilry. Darkness also means unhappiness, distress or lack of spiritual or intellectual enlightenment. I don’t need to remind you of what is synonymous good – all that is light and bright.

This belief, both consciously and unconsciously, has resulted in assumption, prejudice and discrimination based on skin colour or race. We really have to be careful about using the language because it has so much power. We can use it in a way that we maintain, if not enhance, the injustice system or we can use it in a way that we can dismantle the oppressive system.

Although the Bible has some references to this black and white binary image like in the Gospel according to John, “the darkness did not overcome the light” there are other references with a different nuance like Psalm 139, “Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!”

So we don’t have to think that darkness and light are two separate states. Blending or mixing up the two seemingly different conditions will bring a better and truer understanding of them all. Darkness and light bear each other, and require one another. In fact, we can pay attention to light only in the darkness, like looking at the numerous starts in the night. Although we tell about the change of daylight, no one can tell exactly what time the day ends and what time the night starts. The change from day to night or from night to day is so thin and momentary that they don’t actually exist except in our mind.

Of course, there are times we would call darkness rather than something else when we are overwhelmed by a sense of uncertainty, hopelessness or helplessness. I understand the anguish that comes as evening has fallen. We do have a reason to fear the unknown or unknowable. Our task is to name what we experience as darkness, and to find what it asks of us: whether it is darkness that asks for justice to bring the dawn of hope to a night of terror, or for a candle to give warmth to the shadows, or for companions to hold us in our uncertainty and unknowing, or for a blanket to enfold us as we wait for the darkness to teach us what we need to know.

Darkness is where Advent begins. A seed that one day will sprout and grow and bear much fruit must grow its root in the dark soil. A new life is formed and nourished for nine months in the dark womb of the mother. Everyone, no matter how much power they have must go to sleep in a dark room once a day. Without it no one can sustain their lives. After all, we are going to celebrate the one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary’s womb, who knew that darkness is not evil but the tending place in which our longings for healing, justice, and peace grow and come t


¹Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions – searching the shadows of advent and Christmas (United Church Press: Cleveland, 1998) p.3