Lent & Advent

Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – November 28

Jim Hopkins

November 28, 2021

A Time of Darkness and Yearning

Dale Edmondson
(Dale Edmondson is the retired pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He previously served congregations in Northern California and Arizona. He is an alumnus of Berkeley School of Theology and Regents Park College, Oxford University. He was a founding member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and in retirement taught in the College of Theology at Central Philippine University.)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1:9-18 (NRSV)

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Those who live in far northern latitudes can appreciate more keenly the feeling this verse conjures up. In the Advent Season, which looks wistfully toward Christmas, the longer nights mirror the yearning for light. Indeed, the intense quality which darkness can possess is sensed even more when we are removed from light pollution as occurs in the modern city.

The scriptures communicate a sense of the longing of the people of God looking for the coming of the promised Messiah as a time of darkness. Many feel themselves in such a time now—a time of keen longing for life marked by justice and peace and hope and honesty and caring and thriving and beauty. Like the psalmist, we may want to cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The writer of the Fourth Gospel pictures this as “darkness,” but, at the same time, pictures Good News as the coming of light. What more dramatic way can this coming be portrayed (“The light shines in the darkness”)? And can its sustaining power be expressed (“and the darkness has not overcome it”)?

No wonder when Pastor Philipp Nicolai wanted to describe it, he chose to write, “How brightly shines the morning star!” I doubt I will ever forget the sense this hymn conveyed to me one night at St. Mary the Virgin Church in Oxford, when, after hearing the Vatican organist play Bach’s chorale prelude on this hymn tune, I stepped outside the church and looked up to see a bright shining star high above (Venus, perhaps?). Our Lord Jesus has been described by many terms. But of them all, is there any more telling than “light?”

In spite of our elation, our savior never leaves us simply to adore him! He turns to us and confronts us with conviction: “You are the light of the world!”  We? Yes, we! John understood that, in the mystery of God, we become God’s embodiment in the world. The light coming into the world “enlightens everyone.” That’s how God carries out God’s work: through us—leaving it to us to bring light to a tragically dark world. Another hymnist (whose name we may never learn) knew of our task—our calling—and taught us to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine! Let it shine. Let it shine.” In this, we participate in God’s gift of light to the world.