In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The light noticeably begins to fade around 3:30pm each day. This season is a dark one in the northwest. Though they say the constant clouds and rain make Seattle a dreary place, I think it’s the darkness. Celestial changes throw off one’s inner clock and restlessness sets in. The darkness goes beyond day and night and sets into the bones. This season I always rediscover the comfort of candles with their soft light, quiet warmth, and mesmerizing flicker.
When God spoke light into being, I wonder if it appeared as a cataclysmic burst, or as a soft candle-like flicker. Most fires don’t begin at blaze, but rather as a small spark. Perhaps the light of creation began the same way, just as the light of the world was kindled in the backwoods of Bethlehem.
The scripture acknowledges our restless darkness when it says that the light was for mankind. We are the ones in need of warmth in the cold dark of night. And, though God “dwells in unapproachable light unseen,” he has approached us with the humble light and warmth of a candle. God does not overwhelm us with a blaze of glory but rather invites us with the flicker of hope. This is why our Advent wreaths begin with a single candle aflame—the light of God comes slowly and we wait with patience and watchful hearts.
But we mustn’t mistake the softness of candlelight for weakness. For, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
One of my favorite parts of the story that we tell this time of year is when the wise men embark after a star. There is a subversive irony in following a star that offers us the comfort of hope while calling us to the risk of faith.
Stars are persistent. Always, they unassumingly hang in the heavens. We obscure them with city lights and ignore them with faces to the ground, yet they quietly twinkle on. The persistent presence of the stars reminds of the reality of hope. No matter how dark it may seem or how distracted we may become, hope flickers on, waiting for us to pause and glimpse it.
Then comes the risk. The irony of following a star is that it can only be seen in the darkness. The wise men had to embark on their journey in the vulnerability of night. Faith is just as vulnerable a journey, taken not in the familiarity and security of daylight, but rather confronting darkness with the light of Christ. Faith calls us to face the darkness of the night around us and also the darkness within our own hearts.
The light of Christ, quiet and constant, is enough to dispel both.