My pastor started his sermon this past Sunday reading a letter a friend of his wrote about having lost his Dad. He described that he had again come to know “the stench of death”.
The phrase sent me reeling as it sent me back into a hospital room praying hopeless prayers in between my own sweet Daddy’s spaced out breaths. I remember how I slept that night. The last night I would sleep in the same room as his breathing body. It was a deep and somehow somewhat healing sleep. There was a safety in his presence that I miss. I haven’t slept the same since.
I’ve come to know death and darkness this year.
Darkness is a weird thing. It’s scary and what you can’t see is scary, but once you’re in it, you feel comfortable. A type of comfortable where you just feel wholly welcomed. It’s not enticing in the slightest bit, but it’s easy to take refuge in its covering.
In Biblical times, when someone died the family would all sit in a dark house in silence and light one candle. Because that’s how it feels. Dark. Desolate. Empty. Silent.
Darkness doesn’t push you to see more, do more, be more, want more, or strive more. It just envelops you, yet never keeps you safe.
It’s a weird thing to me that we live in a world of both darkness and light. Half the world is experiencing light while the other half darkness, but we’re so used to this that we have found the very transitions of the rising and setting sun to be the most beautiful parts of the day.
It’s a hard thing for me to celebrate light coming into the darkness of the world as Christmas is just a little over a week away.
I don’t get it. I don’t get why this was Your plan. I don’t understand the hurt and waiting and the hopeless and the dark.
Generations after generations walked through darkness since the Garden- exile, oppression, silence, darkness. All of it.
And on the darkest of hopeless nights, following a painful birth in a nasty barn, you quietly whispered, “I am doing a new thing.”
You didn’t come and shine Your light so bright that all the darkness was diminished. No, the darkness lingered still. But you entered it. You entered it, familiarized yourself with it, and felt it.
I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the hard parts. The broken situations where You could have written the story differently but you didn’t. But it’s in the darkness of history from the garden to the stable that you were bringing about Christ.
I don’t get why you didn’t come more dramatically. Why you didn’t put a stark end to the broken and painful. But you came as small as You could.
Generations of writers wrote of the depths of despair of life apart from You and the need for You and you only came as a tiny little baby and somehow called that hope? God, we needed a hero. We still do.
I don’t think we can truly understand the joy, hope, and light of Christmas coming without knowing the darkness.
The most quoted passage in Isaiah that proclaims the birth of Christ to come begins in darkness,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And I think in the same way that the darkness of history was bringing about Christ so the darkness we know is doing the same.
You could have come and stopped it all. But you didn’t. You came and entered and knew the darkness, even in ways I never will.
You defeated it, yet left us in it and I don’t really understand why. Especially this year. This year when darkness feels more safe and familiar than the light.
Instead, you came and gave us hope. Not a hope that meant we wouldn’t face darkness, but hope in its truest since. “An ache for what is to come” as Anne Voskamp would put it.
You came and showed us that the dark and hopeless that we know and feels safe is not all there is. The very darkness we often have chosen because it has felt more loyal is not the end of our story and it wasn’t the end of yours.
I still don’t completely know how to live in the both and of darkness and light. How to live in a world classified by two very opposite things is just hard to reconcile. But I’m aching and believing that is what You are doing.
You are bringing about light in the darkest and emptiest of nights. And we will long and wait for a light that not only tells us there is more, but it brings it.