Sunday, December 9

Isaiah 8:21-9:2

Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan --
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.


Maybe it’s strange to take comfort in the fact that the people of Israel, according to Isaiah, walked and dwelled in deep darkness. Who would wish darkness upon anyone? Darkness can be scary. When I’m alone in it, it can make my heart race and my teeth clench as I wonder what might lurk in the shadows.

Fear of darkness is not relegated only to monsters under the bed. How often we feel the piercing darkness of the world around us. How often we know the agonizing heartache within us: the fear, the treachery, the bitterness, the coldness. Lament is a biblical concept that gives voice to this sorrow, distress, and tragedy. Lament is the language of suffering. Part of what we do in Advent is lament the darkness that has invaded the light of God’s good creation. Part of what we do in Advent is to tell the truth about the things God sees in us and in this world, to name the things the biblical prophets named: our own participation in the darkness; the ways we have become cold, callous, uncaring,
blind to the light. We name the injustice perpetrated even by God’s people toward the vulnerable. We name the oppression of those who are most weak and helpless. We name our own hard-heartedness and infidelity toward God.

But this is not the way God intends things to be! As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written, it is a bold act of faith to cry out to God in distress, and to trust God to bring new life out of what seems to be consuming darkness.

So let us tell the truth about the darkness this Advent. We must first acknowledge the darkness in order for the redeeming light of Christ to mean anything. We need to recognize what’s wrong before we can celebrate the fullness of hope and restoration Christ brings. Let us tell the truth about the darkness. But let us also tell the truth about the Light that has come. For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light! On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned! Let us bask in the forgiveness, cleansing,
healing, freedom, justice and abundance of God’s holy fire that purifies, and burns away the shroud of gloom.
Father Forgive Us by James B. Janknegt
The first thing I notice about this painting are the scenes of the people on the lower half. They are scenes of darkness: murder, sexual exploitation, greed that bleeds people dry, materialism. They are scenes of darkness. The message is heightened by the bland expression that everyone wears, as if what is going on is normal, to be expected, even inescapable. The Christmas tree in the bottom right-hand corner seems ironic, a way to visually express that we color over the darkness with festival, especially at Christmas.

But then my eye is drawn upward, to Jesus with arms stretched wide. The tips of his fingers touch the edges of the painting so that all the darkness below is covered by his redemptive stretch. I am reminded that there is an answer to the darkness: the Light who took on darkness for us so that we might reflect His light of goodness, love, and grace. The darkness is real, but it will not overcome.


Throughout the week, create a running list of the simple pleasures of life that require no expense. In addition to using the list as a way to give God thanks for life’s “simple” gifts, use the list as a filter: when you are considering buying something new, ask “Do I really need this as much as the simple and daily pleasures I already experience?”