The People Who Walk in Darkness

Scripture Passage:  Isaiah 9: 2-7

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

In a national survey this past week, The Washington Post found that the top three words that people use to describe 2020 are “exhausting”, “lost”, and “chaotic”.  We can probably identify.  We’ve spent this season of waiting looking for something, looking for a light in the darkness, a hand in the shadows, an order to the chaos.  Well, the darkness is beginning to fade as the light has begun to make its way into our lives.  The thing is that we have to be prepared to see it.  Are we?  After this long season of preparation in a longer year of chaos, have we done all our preparing?  Are our eyes adjusted?  Or will we again need turn away and look toward the darkness because we are so unprepared to see the light?

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. 

These verses begin by speaking of past events.  Darkness is a metaphor for despair and death and the light symbolizes joy and life.  What probably began with a joyous mood over the deliverance from a particular oppressor (perhaps the Assyrians) becomes a vision of perpetual peace and joy.  Then midway through the passage, the writing changes to present tense.  Taken together, it is a reminder of what God has done and the proclamation that God is indeed doing it again, this turning darkness into light.  This announcement of a joyous and hopeful birth, the fulfillment of the promise of a son of David’s house, was written probably eight centuries before the birth of Jesus.  They were probably uttered about the birth of a specific king in Judah.  The words became part of the lives and the faith of the people and were handed down as a glorious reminder for generations that followed. So when the early writers of the Gospel began to write what had occurred with the incredible birth of Christ, they drew on these words, affirming that God has acted graciously and fulfilled promises before and that God continues to do that.  They are powerful words—that God’s will for justice, righteousness, and peace is made flesh in the smallest and weakest of human creatures, a baby in a manger, a light that shines on those in the darkness.

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. 

But we are a people that tends to run from the darkness.  We don’t do well with it.  We don’t do well with the unknown, with not being able to see (and maybe even control or clean up) our pathway.  And yet so much of our faith journey is made in darkness.  In fact, so much of our faith journey actually begins in darkness.  Creation begins in darkness.  Seeds sprout in darkness.  Birth begins in darkness.  Even light begins in darkness. But we try our best to dispel the darkness, to light our lives with whatever artificial light we can find.  And we fill our lives with enough light so that we will never experience the darkness.  And because our lives are so full, there is no place to begin.  There is no room for light. 

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. 

In my old neighborhood, there was an old French colonial house with wonderful verandas lining both floors of the house.  For years, the house would outline the verandas with twinkling Christmas lights.  It was beautiful.  Then, for some reason I’ve never completely understood, they began to add more and more lights.  They started by stringing lights across the verandas three, five, seven, fifteen times.  Then the next year, they did the same to the house.  They must have had 50,000 lights!  I would describe it as a veritable blob of holiday lights—so many lights, in fact, that you could no longer see the lines of the house itself.  The house had been overtaken by light.  And, let me tell you, it was no longer beautiful.  Light is not pretty or comforting or even helpful alone.  In fact, it’s blinding.  Light is at its best when it illuminates the darkness and creates shadows and contrasts so that we can truly look at the light.

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. 

Part of our Advent journey is traveled in darkness.  Part of our lives are traveled in darkness.  It is a darkness where we wait for what is to come, not really knowing how or when God will come, but knowing that the light is just up ahead as we journey down this Holy pathway, never alone.  Traveling in darkness means that we must look to the One that guides us.  And, here, in the darkness, we will be able to see the light as it dawns on our world.  Do not run from the darkness, do not try to make it go away before its time, do not attempt to dispel it from your life because that is where the Light will shine.

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. 

This journey of waiting is nearing its end.  The Light will soon again pierce the darkness.  Think about that first journey.  Mary and Joseph were not wealthy, prominent citizens of the capital city of Jerusalem.  They were poor working class citizens of a no-name town in what was essentially a third-world country.  Remember the Scriptures:  nothing good comes from Nazareth.  There was nothing there.  And we tend to romanticize their trip to Bethlehem, making it into some sort of painting of a starlit camping trip with a lovely dark blue backdrop and a beaming star above.  That wasn’t exactly the way it was.  If they did indeed have to make that journey as the writer of the Gospel According to Luke claims, it’s about an 80 mile trip, a 4-day journey under the best of circumstances.  But, as we know, the teen-age Mary was pregnant and at that time, they would probably want to avoid Samaria (which was not the friendliest of territories to the Israelites), which means they probably would have circled through what is now modern-day Jordan, making it an even longer trip.  And, remember, the whole reason that they were traveling at all was for the tax census, imposed by a foreign government to pay for foreign rulers that ruled their lives.  These were not the best of times.  They traveled in darkness.  But that part of the story often falls away.  We need to remember that the darkness is part of the story, part of every story of God.

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. 

In every beginning, there is darkness.  The darkness of chaos seems eternal, Yet form emerges: light dawns, and life is born.  (New Union Prayerbook.)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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