We have a problem with darkness.
Not only because the white majority in the U.S. has some seriously, immoral unresolved needs for power and control over people with darker skin. Not only because we anesthetize ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, caffeine and all manner of other substances to alleviate the pain we don’t want to deal with. Not only because we have numbed ourselves so much to the suffering of others that we support politicians who do not prioritize the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the dispossessed. Not only because we feel the need to put up the Christmas lights long before Advent even begins to avoid the darkness of waiting and preparing.
Perhaps our dis-ease with darkness disguises another really important issue. Maybe this is why fear seems to have us perpetually by the throat. Perhaps this is why we wallow in scarcity-driven greed. Perhaps this is why our spiritual and emotional numbness breeds so much violence, pain and grief.
This Sunday marks the first day of Advent — the time in the Christian calendar in which Christians are supposed to rest in the dark of winter and prepare themselves for the coming of the Christ child. This is a time to wrestle with the awe-someness of the reality that God (GOD, y’all!!!!) came in the form of a tiny, fragile human to share in the breadth of human suffering and joy, fragility and strength.
Baking cookies and wrapping presents does not do this awesome wonder justice. Mind you, I’m not totally against wrapping presents and baking cookies — I do some of that myself. Too much of that shiny wrapping paper and sugary cookie-high can insulate and distract us from this world-altering miracle.
On Sunday in churches across the world, there will be readings and the lighting of the first of five Advent candles, usually positioned around a wreath, symbolizing everlasting life. That light in the first week symbolizes hope.
I began to wonder this week why hope would be the first candle, ostensibly the weakest light. “Don’t we need more hope than THAT,” I thought to myself. Then it dawned on me — it’s actually EASIER to see a single light amidst the pitch darkness. Think of how annoying that electronic device can become once the sun has set and you’ve turned off the bedside light. You don’t even notice it during the day, but in the pitch-black of night, you want to throw that annoying light out the window.
We need the blessing of the darkness to see the hope in our midst. Darkness is not evil, bad, to be avoided or numbed. We must come to know the fruitfulness of darkness and the growth that happens in it. After all, the womb, the earth all gestate new life in absolute darkness. Jesus himself grew in Mary’s dark womb. Observing Advent should feel a little like being in that womb, wrapped up, safe, sustained, being allowed to grow into the person you were meant to become. Until you get too big for the space and it is time to enter into the world. Embody and point out the hope that you see especially among the devastation, the violence, the hate and the indifference that threatens to engulf us all. If God can come into the world in the form of a tiny child as a reminder of the fullness, belovedness, even Godliness of our humanity, then we can certainly slow ourselves down long enough to take a look for that one hopeful light off in the distance.