December 3, 2014
During Advent we look for the light in the darkness. In the soaring opening words of John’s Gospel, we hear this great truth: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Marcus Borg has written that light shining in the darkness is the central image in the stories of Christ’s birth. Think of the star shining in the night sky leading the wise men to the infant Jesus. Think of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night when the glory of the Lord shone all around them. Think of the heavenly multitude filling the night sky singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Light and darkness. The interplay between these forces seems to define so much of human life. The symbol of darkness is associated with things like blindness, gloom, despair, lostness, danger, and death. As Edgar Allan Poe writes, “deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” On the other hand, the symbol of light is associated with things like sight, hope, finding one’s way, safety, warmth, and life. As Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Isn’t much of human life found in the interplay of light and darkness?
Theodore Parker Ferris spoke of this interplay of light and darkness in human life. He said, “There are times when the visibility is high. . . There are times when you can see clearly everything that lies ahead of you. There are times when your way is plain. You know exactly what you want to be and where you want to live. You know exactly what you think and what you don’t think, what you believe and don’t believe. Those times of visibility are wonderful. Then the fog comes. It may come down upon you largely from the world around you as it is coming down upon many people today, the fog of prejudice and hate, of despair and disenchantment, of violence and doubt. This fog is so thick that it is often difficult to see anything clearly. Or, it may rise up from you, yourself. It may come out of your own condition or mood. You can brew your own fog out of the breath of something that has gone wrong in your own life. Whatever it is, it rises up and blinds you to everything around you. Then you need some fixed point to steer by.”
Sometimes we need a fixed point to steer by. Sometimes in the midst of the shadows and fog of human existence we need a pole star. Sometimes in the midst of the rising chaos and the crashing turmoil of our world, we need the beacon of a lighthouse.
During Advent we prepare for the birth of the One who is our fixed point to steer by. In a world that is still plagued by violence, there is one who came to give us peace, the heaven-born Prince of Peace. In a world that is marked by death and the fear of death, Christ came to give us life and to give it abundantly. In a world where incivility and hatred seem to be the rule, Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbor. In a world still living in shadows and fog, there is One who is perfect light. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!
The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish, Annapolis