“Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” – Isaiah 2:5
“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:12
As I read the readings for the first Sunday in Advent, what strikes me is the image of light. Though Christmas became a tradition reltively late in Christian history (4th century), it seems fitting that is celebrated at a time when darkness is greatest, when the night is the longest, when all seems lifeless. Jesus as light and God as light is a common theme through scripture. Here are just a few of many references:
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:4-5
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:19-21
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.
“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” – Isaiah 9:2
It is only with light that we can truly see. Even those creatures who see well at night, do so because they are able to better harness the little light that is available to their eyes. in absolute darkness all are equally blind. And the picture we are given is that God Himself is light. That is, his very nature is such that nothing is hidden from Him. His very nature is such that those who attempt to follow Him will have their deeds exposed, both good and evil.
Therefore the coming of the light is both hopeful and terrifying: hopeful for those who are oppressed, and terrifying for the oppressor; hopeful to those who love the light, terrifying for those whose deeds are evil. Further, in each of us is both that person who longs for truth, and also the person who wants to hide. In each of us both oppressed and oppressor dwell together. For the beauty and the ugliness of humanity dwell together in each heart. To find the beauty one must also gaze on the flaws, to accept the beauty one must acknowledge the ugly. The light exposes all.
I have often been intrigued that John 3 does not contrast those whose deeds were evil with those whose deeds were good. Rather, it contrasts those whose deeds were evil with those who live by the truth. Those among us who love truth also have evil in us that needs to be exposed – our own inner selfishness, pride, ingratitude, hard-heartedness, blindness. It is not our perfect deeds that draws us to the light, it is our love for the light, our love and longing for truth.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” – Hebrews 4:13
For those whose image of God is a harsh taskmaster, such a thought would almost certainly be terrifying, but the same disciple who told us “God is light” also tells us this:
“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8b
It is not a harsh taskmaster that shines the light, but a loving Father, whose “mercies are new every morning.”