Read Isaiah 9:1–2.
I won’t soon forget a short text message exchange I recently had with a friend from out of town. He was doing the whole NYC tourist thing. I asked him for an overview of his itinerary. He responded via text: “first stop is to the 9/11 memorial.” Reading those words put me in an immediate, unforced state of reflection.
You see, although I’m a native New Yorker, I’ve never been to the 9/11 memorial. It’s not that I don’t know how to get there. It’s just … well … darkness. I’d have to face the darkness of that day and be reminded of the ongoing manifestations of darkness that pervade our world—the wars, the racism, the loss and fragile nature of life. So much darkness.
Yet, with all the darkness before us, Advent situates our world within a larger, more hopeful story. It’s the story of God’s overpowering light among his people. A light that illuminates the individual and collective darkness we experience and witness. A healing light.
Advent invites us into a prayerful expectation, a holy waiting, an attentive gaze. What are we awaiting? Resplendent light. God’s light.
Isaiah announces that a great light is coming—coming from an unexpected source. It’s making its way through a child, the Messiah. This light is not to be found in some new political power, or in some cultural movement. It’s not located in a particular ideology, but rather is found through the living-God-in-flesh. This is an important theme in Scripture, picked up by John, the Gospel writer. In John’s words, the light that has come is not some impersonal electromagnetic radiation. It’s the staggering truth of the personal manifestation of God’s very self in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (1:5).
Isaiah prophetically speaks about a day that would be coming—a day that has already come in Jesus. Yet we also await another day when the darkness will be fully and finally overpowered. This is the promise in this season.
Advent reminds us that no matter how dark it gets, the light has come, and the light is coming. So be of good cheer! The darkness you feel today will not have the last word. Neither will the grief, uncertainty, and despair. As Wendell Berry once said, “It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.”
Rich Villodas is the lead pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York. He is the author of The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.
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