I have a problem. I can’t go to sleep with the light on.
I do have a solution, however. I use a silk mask, nice and smooth on the face. It blocks out all the light. It really does. It’s completely black in there behind the mask. But I still struggle to go to sleep. Why?
Because before I put it on, there is light in the room. So, when I place the mask over my eyes, my brain knows I’m in a lit room. It seems I don’t need my eyes to perceive the light. My brain simply remembers the light my eyes were seeing before I put on the mask, and carries that memory into my experience of lying there trying to go to sleep.
I can’t see the light but I know it’s there.
Dark equals “time to sleep.” Light equals “unable to rest.” It’s been that way my whole life.
As I was lying there with my mask on the other night, it caused me to think of Advent. The coming of the light. The star in the heavens, the angels lit up brilliantly in the night sky.
Advent is all about anticipation. Looking forward to the coming of the light. In some traditions, this has to do with the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus, now combined with the excitement of Christmas Day approaching. The First and the Second arrival of our Saviour, anticipated by followers who long for the day when all will be made right and new. When there will be no more darkness.
The Apostle John is the one who writes most about light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
In John’s telling of the story, metaphors take centre stage. The seven “I am” statements are all metaphors, ways of describing a diamond, whose brilliance cannot be contained. It must be viewed from multiple angles in order to appreciate its true wonder. The Resurrection and the Life, the Door, The Good Shepherd, The Way, the Truth and the Life, the Vine, the Bread of life. And of course, the Light.
John sees the world in dualistic terms. Either darkness or light. You cannot live in both worlds. Either you walk in the light. Or you live in the darkness. Notice, also, how John links light to life.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The life of the Word illuminates all mankind. It is a light shining in the darkness, and where there is light, there cannot be darkness. Perhaps that’s why I struggle to sleep. I know there is light, and where there is light, there cannot be darkness. My struggle, however, has a hopeful aspect to it.
I shroud myself with darkness. I put on my mask. But I know there is light out there. I cannot see it, but I know it. This is the Advent experience we should embrace. For while we are surrounded by darkness in this world, and so often we cannot see the light, we know the light is there. We know it! And one day, it is coming to illuminate the entire world again. In my bedroom at night, I cannot sleep while light gives me life. It’s as though my body is saying, “Light gives life. Do not sleep!”
Light is life. It gives life to those in darkness.
Right now, I see many churches cowering in fear. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of death and disease. Instead of giving our lives away, many of us are doing our best to protect them. But what is life for, if not to be given away? What has Advent to teach us?
The light has come and is coming again. Though the world is dark, filled with lies and deceit and fear, the light of the world gives life, and in turn invites us to give it away for the sake of the one true light. What have we to lose if we have gained the light of life? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Perhaps we fear the darkness because it seems so pervasive, so powerful. It destroys bodies, crushes souls, causes heartache, and steals life. And if we fill our hearts and minds with the darkness, it will indeed consume us. But we who know the light, who have been given life by the light, we do not live in the darkness. And the darkness has no power over those who live in the light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
All around us is darkness. Broken lives, suffering, conflict, hatred, anger, and violence. But like a man lying with his mask on, we all, like him, know there is light out there. Even when we wear a mask, and we cannot see the light, we know it’s there.
You know it’s there. Your congregation knows it’s there! And if they’ve lost their way, remind them this Christmas. Remind them of the light who gives life and hope. No more cowering in the darkness. Embrace the light. Walk in the light.
For it banishes darkness. It is a hope for the future and a daily reality, a truly glorious paradox. Hear the words of Isaiah, writing centuries ago.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Hold onto hope.
Hold onto the light.
For the light gives life.