Scripture reading for today:

Isaiah 1:24-31, Psalm 90, Luke 11:29-32

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

– John 1:5

In the Christian story darkness has many different layers of meaning. Darkness can refer to those dry seasons of wondering in the valley of the shadow of darkness with the Psalmist. David received grace in his connection with Yahweh as he passed through the long shadow.  Sometimes darkness is the overwhelming feeling of being alienated from God’s presence. Sometimes we are thrust down a painful path that we would not wish on our worst enemy. Somehow in the midst of this dark path we lose the sense of God’s with-us-ness. The Immanuel seems beyond our senses and as we grope our way through the dark. Jesus felt this isolating absence of God’s presence as he choked out the words from Psalm 22 in his nearly last breath on the cross.

Others in our Christian story equate the darkness as so dark that it feels more intense than God’s absence, more like God is wrath-full and punishing. Darkness, for some, feels like God’s judgement. Many of us have a storied past when it comes to God and Church. Some of us are still breaking out in allergic hives at the thought of God the Almighty, the just Judge who is kicking ass and taking names. The thought that God has a list – one he probably borrowed from Santa Claus – with the names of those who have pleased him and those who have displeased him.  Guess which list I was on! Yet, there is hopeful news here. Years of good therapy, transformational encounters with good people, and God’s good grace have left me able to see this darkness in new light.

In light of this theme of darkness and judgement, read today’s lectionary Psalm chapter 90. I want to focus a few thoughts on verses 5 to 14.

As a father of three children I have to read this passage through my heart for my children. My children experience my ‘discipline’ as judgement–especially when they are in their mid to late teen years. As we think about judgement, let’s remember that a just judge simply declares what is true about a situation. Judgement is declaring the truth! There are times when (see verse 8) I have set my children’s iniquities before me, and their secret sins in the light of my presence. Insert self-deprecating smiley face.  

Sometimes my love for my children feels to them like darkness and wrath, and they would rather I not love them with such declarative judgement (truth). My love never seeks to embarrass or shame them, but this also means that my love will not leave their sins ignored. By the light of truth, my love does, at times, leave them feeling exposed.

When I read this passage through the lens of a father’s love, I see a God who is fiercely present to us. This fierce presence is something I want to hide from at times. Brian Zahand reflects on this in his book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. Zahnd says that the wrath of God is the purity of God’s love which feels like painful judgement at times. The purity of this love can feel like a scalding pain to those who are too stubborn to allow love to burn away our sin and untruth. Our pride can cause us to feel God’s love as painful wrath. (Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, 2017, chapter six).

Notice verse 12 of the Psalm. The end goal of the shadow of darkness is always the light of wisdom. Wisdom is simply living awake to reality and responding appropriately. The fool, in the biblical sense, is always the one ignoring reality and truth. The discipline of God can produce in us a heart of wisdom. Which is more important to you: a life of distraction, avoiding, and chasing after the wind, or a life of alert wisdom? If wisdom is what we seek, then the darkness of discipline is a most hopeful guide.

The problem of darkness is real this Christmas. We experience darkness and we experience God as darkness. But this darkness is always with the formation of our wisdom, our purity, and our love in mind. Darkness is always the middle of the story where wisdom is being forged through hard-pressed struggle and the loss of something we thought we couldn’t live without. The true wisdom of darkness is found on the other side in hope. We come to see a God who shares his eternal love and presence with us by proving it in Jesus. On the other side of the disciplining darkness is an unfailing love that awakens us again to hope and song, over despair and cynicism.

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The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.

photo credit: Fabrizio Verrecchia