Th’is the season of darkness, at least in the northern hemisphere. And here on the prairies t’is the season of winter cold, despite our current “balmy” temperatures of -5 degrees Celsius (it’s all relative, right?) But many people’s lives are covered in darkness no matter where they live, no matter what season it is, no matter what is considered cold or hot:
* Desperate families trekking 1000+ miles on foot in dangerous darkness, driven by a wild hope for a better future.
* Dear friends in their senior years raising a young granddaughter with courage and loving dedication, only to see their best efforts sabotaged by the darkness of her origins.
* Indigenous youth turning to suicide before the icy darkness of addiction and no-future kills them.
* Even in the best of families, discord is spreading darkness through animosity, distrust and betrayal.
* Loved ones grieving deep, deep losses – children, parents, opportunity, spouses, homes, jobs, dreams, a voice, dignity, health, friends – fearing to be buried alive in the cave of brutal and merciless darkness.
For too many among us, darkness is the norm, so much so that we stop screaming in protest. There is nothing more lethal than the loss of hope and love, of peace and joy.
Yet Advent comes each year, inviting correction of the course of events, inviting to level the ground of our heart, to straighten paths of life. Advent, with its honed tradition of lighting candles on a wreath, one more each week, stubbornly insists on piercing the darkness, trying hard to rekindle life-giving dreams and visions. But for too many Advent remains elusive, a vision unrealized, a dream unfulfilled, an illusion only the silly ones buy into. Yet our spirit needs a vision — without a vision of what life can be, ought to be, meant to be, we perish.
For the Jewish people, Hannukah comes each year, with the ritual of lighting candles, mirroring the Christian Advent practice. This Jewish Festival of Lights recalls the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem. If any city has seen darkness, it is Jerusalem. If any people have lived darkness, pitch darkness, it’s our Jewish sisters and brothers. Hannukah stubbornly comes, bringing light into darkness, hope into despairing hearts. This light is desperately needed for all people, including our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters who are deprived of the very light their Jewish fellow citizens are cherishing.
Sometimes, maybe often even, we ourselves cause another’s darkness. Hurting one another seems to come more easily than loving. It is part of being human, but that does not make it right or excusable. That is why Advent also invites introspection: how have I contributed to the suffering of my sister, my brother? I had to do this recently in a situation of discord that had resulted in a six-month shunning by loved ones. Swallowing all pride and self-righteousness, I tapped courage and my faith in Jesus to confess and own up to the transgression. It never gets easier, it always makes my insides tremble, and makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. But every time I risk honest contrition and confession and reach out in reconciliation, Advent light shines through, straightening my path, leveling the ground of my heart, and growing me into fullness of love and mercy, preparing my heart to receive the Christ-child. Each time we risk overcoming the darkness in our own heart, the world sees one more candle of hope lit.
The persistence of vision, of seeking light, of crazy dreams of beauty and love, are the surest evidence of the existence of God. Why else would stubborn forces unrelentingly kick at the darkness of the world, if not for their origin in a Divine source stronger and bigger than today’s despair and pain? Can we long for something we have never known? Can we dream and hope for things we have not at one time seen and tasted?
We have been kicking the darkness forever, because God keeps seeking cracks for the light to break through.
My friend Scott shared the following thoughts at the start of Advent. Scott articulates a vision of light and hope, not by denying or ignoring the darkness, but by squarely confronting it, in a bold attempt to stare down its demoralizing power. His words have bored their way into my heart, fueling vision and dreams against all odds: Christians light candles at the start of Advent, and Jews light candles to mark the beginning of Hanukkah. This is no small thing. We both light our lights to kick at the darkness. Sometimes it is the darkness in our own hearts, and this is always where the push back must start. Sometimes it is the past and present darkness in our communities, including religious ones. Sometimes it is the darkness that seems to loom over so much that goes on in our world. Our candles are not the same; yet the light to which they point most certainly is. May this season of bold resistance and active hopefulness draw Christians, and Jews, and all people together to heal our hearts, reconcile our communities, and mend our world. Amen.
- With thanks to Bruce Cockburn for the inspiration of “kicking the darkness” in his song Lovers in a Dangerous Time.
- Others have done their part in kicking the darkness. Here’s one from 1964: Hello darkness my old friend.
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