Peaceful Light in Gathering Darkness

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1-2). There is a paradox in the life of faith. We believe that through faith in Christ, we can have a relationship with God, who dwells in light inaccessible and whose wisdom transcends any human wisdom. Christ embodied this divine light. In the words of the Nicene Creed, we believe Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This Sunday/Christmas Eve, we celebrate the Great Light that will ultimately illuminate and renew our world, undoing the darkness of war, conflict, power politics, and human degradation and bringing a kingdom of peace. The light has come. We now await its victory.

At Christmas, we celebrate the mystery that the love of God was so great that he bridged the gap between time and eternity, between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the physical, between the demands of love and law, and became one of us so that we might be restored and become like him. Therefore, this Sunday, as Christians gather to celebrate the birth of Christ, we can join with Christians all over the world to sing:

O little town of Bethlehem,/ How still we see thee lie!/Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/The silent stars go by;/ Yet in the dark street shineth/ The Everlasting Light; /The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight. [1]

In the dark streets of our cities, wherever Christ is present, the Everlasting Light shines.

Walking in Darkness

Occasionally, humans all feel as if we are walking in a great darkness separated from the True Light of God’s Presence. Some of us think that way much of the time. Our human plans are unfulfilled and seemingly blocked. Our well-meaning prayers are unanswered. Our most important relationships are troubled. Our employment is uncertain. Our nation and the prosperity and freedoms we take for granted are at risk. Our character flaws seem impossible to overcome. In such situations, we can quickly feel overwhelmed. Our sin and selfishness seem inescapable and devastating to our hopes and dreams.

Recognizing Darkness

The prophet Isaiah foretold that those who walk in darkness will see a great light. He does not say, “Those who are already in the light will see a light.” He does not say, “Those who are sure they do not need any light will see a great light.” It says, “Those who walk in darkness, who understand their condition, will see a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). Light is reserved for those who recognize and are tired of darkness.

When we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” physically or symbolically, the assurance that there is a God of Mercy and Love who cares for us makes an incredible difference. The blessings of God may be delayed. The salvation of God may be impossible to predict humanly. The darkness may seem impenetrable. However, the Creating and Renewing God, who can do anything, is still there.

The True Light

How can we human beings know this? There is more than one reason, but the reason we celebrate at Christmas is this: Because God sent his one and only Son into the world, we can know that the Divine Presence is never far from us in steadfast and self-giving love, even if we cannot sense its reality at the moment. Right at the beginning of his gospel, John makes this point when he tells his readers that the true light has come:

 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:9-11).

Jesus himself refers to himself as the true light that can dispel the spiritual darkness of the human race. In John 9, after Jesus heals a man blind from birth. In explaining the healing, he declares, While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). There is no physical, emotional, or spiritual darkness that this true light cannot enlighten.

All human beings are strange conglomerations of darkness and light, good and evil, love and indifference, justice and injustice, diligence and laziness, and the like. We are all imperfect creatures, made in the image of God but in whom that image has been defaced to some degree. Nevertheless, God loves us and desires for us to be restored to the original image placed within every one of us. Each Christmas Eve, we celebrate the entrance of that true life into the world in human form.

The Peace that Passes Understanding

Perhaps this Christmas Season, the most challenging part of “O Little Town of Bethlehem for us to accept is the third verse, which reads:

For Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above,/while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love./O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, /and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

Jesus warns us that his peace is not the peace we might expect. In John 14, he tells his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:7). He would not have warned his disciples not to be troubled or afraid if he had not known that the peace he offers would leave them plenty of room reason to fear. There would be opposition, persecution, and even death. There would be wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). There would be dishonesty, corruption, and evil plots.

When we light the Candle of Peace this particular Christmas Eve, we can take heart that the peace we receive cannot be broken by terrorists or international intrigue. It is a peace that far transcends any human peace. It is not a peace that requires armies or agencies or great bureaucracies. It is a peace that requires only a heart open to a tiny baby born in an obscure village at the edge of a great empire. It requires ears to hear in the cry of that baby the Wisdom of the Ages incarnate. It needs the eyes to see the True Light that enlightens all who receive him.

Unless I am very mistaken, 2024 will be a difficult year. Fortunately, the peace and happiness God promises is not dependent on human circumstances but on the steadfast love of God.

Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved!

[1] Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” music by Peter Christian Lutkin. (Chicago, IL: C. F. Summy Co., 1867).