More Light

Until I locked the door of our van with the keys in the ignition and the engine running I had been feeling quite serene. But my serenity dissipated in those milliseconds between my shutting the driver’s side door and my hearing that tell-tale click of the automatic lock.

Sometimes it only takes seconds to go from feeling like things are alright (if not perfect!) with the world to feeling like a complete idiot. So there I was standing beside my locked and running car, snow falling in thick flurries, feeling like an idiot.

To back up, locking the keys in a running vehicle was not my first mistake of the evening. Already I had left on a light in the van by mistake, draining the battery, and forcing me to call someone to come and give me a boost. We had just gotten the van running when I experienced those fateful aforementioned milliseconds.

After nearly an hour of trying with a coat-hanger to open the car-door, we agreed it wasn’t working. And even though I had parked on the street outside our house, I couldn’t go inside for any reason. All of my keys were together, hanging from my van’s ignition.

This particular adventure took place a couple of days after Christmas, during the aftermath of a snowstorm and an ice-storm. As it happens, while leaving my running vehicle to wait for help elsewhere, the neighbourhood lights came to life, illuminating what had seemed like an impenetrable darkness. At least for us, the power was back on. Lights in my house shone once again.

Made me think. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

What does that have to do with feeling like an idiot because I locked my keys in a running vehicle? Not much, I suppose. I just thought it was a funny story.

Anyway. This Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 9 has given my family the opening words to our Advent devotions for years. It’s sort of a variation of that cliché proverb, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Perhaps a more substantive version of it, one grounded in history, in the centuries-old expectations of a people who had known more than their fair share of darkness. In any event, the “dawn” in this case is the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the one who calls himself, “the light of the world.”

The thing about darkness is that your eyes can adjust. When I put my four year old sons to bed, the room seems completely dark. After a while, though, you can discern shapes. When I was standing outside waiting for help on that snowy night, the power out on my street, all was quiet and black. The absence of light becomes an afterthought. Despite being unable to see properly through the thickness of shadow, we come to prefer darkness. What we’ve never seen, we can’t see our need to see.  

Christian apologist and literary critic C.S. Lewis once said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Without light, we don’t see what we’re missing. Beyond affirming that Jesus is the truth of all reality, the epistemological center of the universe, it is in knowing him that we also begin to understand everything else. Put another way, the reality of who Jesus is illuminates the rest of the world, all of creation, and all of our experiences.

That Jesus is the truth, and that, as Scripture says in Colossians 1:16, “All things have been created through him and for him,” is the anchoring reality for my entire life. Particularly when I was younger, in high school then early university, knowing what true was most important. Truth became my light; Jesus became my truth, the way and the truth and the life. 

This Christmas was one of the strangest in recent memory. Freezing rain. Snowstorms. Two weeks of church cancelled. No Christmas Eve service. No phone service. And of course no power. Which meant no light. Darkness everywhere. Except we lit candles, reminding us that even in the deepest darkness there is still the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome. Over this holiday season, the one constant is that Jesus was the light, is the light.

Light

christmas lights photo: lights 1 christmas-lights.jpg

It’s the third Sunday of Advent, and I am sitting in our living room, having put our twin boys to bed, enjoying the warm glow of Christmas lights. There are multi-coloured lights adorning our Christmas tree, and white lights are strung through the garland across the top of the piano and around the entryway to the room. The kids also put out a miniature Christmas tree which is decorated with lights. With all of the other lights off, these small, luminous bulbs create a peaceful atmosphere.

We don’t go all out when it comes to Christmas lights. In fact, this year we don’t have any outdoor lights up at all. I’d prefer to have at least some. But with everything else, that bit of decorating got left out. Some people, however, completely transfigure their entire yard, creating a radiant holiday landscape. No doubt NB Power is grateful. My family certainly is, and we often slow down to look when driving past.

A couple of years ago (2011) I remember really feeling like I needed some Christmas lights. I had the outdoor ones up early, before both the cold and the snow would make it a thoroughly unpleasant task. You see, the year prior it was just before Christmas that my Mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. Six months later, she left us for the presence of Jesus. But throughout the Christmas season of 2010 the lights were dimmed by her illness, by the impending sense of loss, and by all that accompanies the reality of such a diagnosis.

So the next year, I really needed to get up those Christmas lights.

Light is not just light. Light illumines. It shines. It dispels shadows. By it we can see other things. Particularly in our world, one often shrouded in darkness, we have to, as Bruce Cockburn reminds us, “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

And light is especially important at Christmas. The biblical story of Christmas is familiar to many of us. There are shepherds, angels, astrologers from a far country, a paranoid king, a young Jewish girl, and, of course, a very special infant, Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the Christmas story is found, recount the story well.

There is more about Christmas found in John’s Gospel. No, there is no account of angels revealing God’s plan, no surprising or miraculous pregnancies, not even a manger or a star that mysteriously moves across the heavens. But there are words that describe the identity and nature of the child at the centre of all these narrative details. Actually, there is one word. And, as it happens, it is Word. The Word. A title for Jesus. After telling us about the divine nature of the Word, we are told that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

More than this, this Word is also called light. Elsewhere in John Jesus calls himself the light of the world. And at the beginning of John’s Gospel we’re told that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

The light shines in the darkness. Words of hope, words of consolation, words I needed to see embodied before my eyes a couple of years ago—and not only then but always. And Jesus—because of the fine-print of who he is—is the one who shines in the midst of our darkness, whether the darkness of grief, loneliness, anger, fear, or hatred.

Because it was never only about dozens or even hundreds of incandescent bulbs of light; rather, it was always about Jesus, the light that no darkness can ever overtake. And while I am not constantly conscience of it, that’s why I appreciate and even need Christmas lights.