Monday, Second Week of Advent
December 7, 2009

"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined." -- Isaiah 9:2

Darkness and Light

Here's what I love about the Christmas Vesper Service which happened in the chapel Sunday evening. Just as the light outside the chapel begins to fail, new lights are born. The candles in the chapel window illuminate. But the darkness grows. The familiar biblical messianic prophecies and birth narratives are read, including the text above, and after each lesson, a candle is lit. More light, but also more darkness. The College Choir sings heartbreakingly beautiful songs. We all sing the familiar Christmas carols, like Silent Night, and every person in the place has a lit candle in their hands. Just at the moment when the chapel is at its darkest, there is also light coming from every source around us.

A musician friend of mine told me about coming into the realization that you can express the depth of music only when you recognize that sorrow and joy are bound up together. Life and death. Light and darkness. When we sit in a darkening world, and realize how far away we are from any real desire for "peace on earth" and "good will toward all," we are grateful for the signs of lights when they are lit for us and in us. The Christmas Vesper Service, in all its beauty, brings the contrast together of darkness and light. The contrast reminds us that we are in a situation of darkness, but that light is both here, and on the way. Darkness is a reality for us, and we'd be in trouble if the light weren't close by and about to come closer. It's like we're living on a clear night, when the blinding darkness is everywhere, but then, the moon is rising, and it eventually turns out to be full, and by the time it's risen fully into the sky, the darkness which not long ago was king, is now cowering and failing.

The light is coming into the world. The Word is becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We come close to the light; we see its beauty. But the next minute, inexplicably, we embrace the darkness of separation and confusion. We are not schizophrenic personalities, we are human beings who hold together the darkness and the light, the joy and sorrow in almost all of our deepest experiences. Could this be why the center of the Christian understanding of redemption is the cross? "Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?" as the song goes. Darkness and light live together in us and in our world, until the glorious, bright day when our love is complete, and we experience the words of another old hymn:

Immortal, invisible,
God only wise,
In light inaccessible
hid from our eyes...

...All laud we would render;
O help us to see
'Tis only the splendor
of light hideth Thee,

--Jeff McArn