This weekend we’re decorating for Christmas: Putting up and lighting a tree, hanging stockings, etc. We don’t decorate outdoors because the landlord, who lives next door, is an eccentric German who lights up our shared yard all year long. I am sure that planes use it as a landmark in preparing for descent to YVR.
We moved here from California 25 years ago. In California – and most of the U.S., to my memory – Christmas lights started appearing right after U.S. Thanksgiving, and came down shortly after New Year’s. And that was it. We reminisced noticing how early the lights went up in Canada – often as soon as the Halloween decorations came down. Our first winter was a dim, dark indicator of why this is so, especially the day we went to get our Christmas tree right after school, which already felt like the middle of the night. When the days are more dark than light, you create as much light as you can.
A few of weeks ago, city crews were hanging lights and I smiled because I really appreciate those lights. Light and darkness are persistent biblical metaphors for the human condition. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis, we read that in the beginning Earth was formless, void and dark.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good …” The beginning of creation is light. Light is the beginning of everything. The creation continues by separating light from dark (day from night) and later creating different forms of light: Sun, moon and stars.
Now, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, which starts, interestingly, with the same three words, “In the beginning,” we have a new take on the concept of light. This Gospel actually starts with the notion of the word of God, but this word (the Christ) is “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And we go on, “The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world,” announcing the birth of Christ. Here the light represents the presence, the ministry, the saving work of Jesus, the Christ and the son of God.
The world seemed so dark to the children of Israel under the aegis of Rome, and before them the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians … Israel had spent much of history in exile.
For many Jewish loyalists in Jesus’ time, the Messiah was an expected military and political hero whose coming heralded the victory of an independent nation of Israel. Historically speaking, that plan failed miserably, and the temple in Jerusalem was ultimately destroyed by Rome about 60 years after Jesus’ death. But the Messiah, as a light of the world, is the victorious Christ who comes to us daily, moment by moment, as light. Light for the soul’s journey through dim times, light as inspiration and wisdom, light as hope in the face of darkness.
Darkness can be a metaphor for pandemics, isolation, elections, national division and acrimony. As the sun dips lower into the southern horizon, we become, quite literally, “the people who walk in darkness.” The ones of whom Isaiah spoke when he proclaimed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in lands of deep darkness, on them has light shined … for to us a child is born, to us a son is given … and his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.”
If 2020 has seemed like a long, lonely walk in the dark, put up extra lights this year. The Prince of Peace is with us.