Dec 23: Walking in Darkness and the Breaking Light
Friday, December 23, 2016
Walking in Darkness and the Breaking Light
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2-7
It does not take much to conjure darkness this time of year. As the poet Tom Hennen says, “darkness sticks to everything.” By 4 o’clock we are already reaching for the porch light, grateful to the neighbors who got out their ladders and extension cords to make the block cheery. Our eyes are drawn to what glows this time of year – shop windows, candle-blaze, musicals on the big screen. Our feet seek out the cozy in a pub or bar, boîte or club. If we can’t get to a southern-hemisphere beach to beat the dark, we’ll take the bottled antidote Napa and Sonoma offer.
If the literal experience seems always close at hand, appreciation of the metaphor is instantaneous. Aleppo. Water-protectors. Cancer. A single word can do it. Before you know it you are walking the valley (Psalm 23), or sitting in the shadows (Luke 1:79), or as the verses just preceding today’s text put it, with your nose in the dirt “in the gloom of anguish” (Isaiah 8:22). Just how our own experiences of darkness compare to Ancient Judah’s – whether God’s expansive promise to them is deserved by us – whether we might expect God’s grace to break on us with ah! bright wings – these are all questions that must be considered. Of course. It can be dangerous to take a Scripture text at face value. On the other hand, sometimes a Biblical text just seems to flatten us, roll over us. This is one of those texts. This is a text that bowls us over, questions and all. Especially at this time of year. In the end it is impossible to read the great poet’s lines and hear a small or time-bound promise, a promise meant for somebody else. The words of Isaiah 9 soar – they jump from the page into our starving hearts, promises we didn’t know we craved until we heard them.
We are indeed people who walk in darkness. Lonely, lost, and lone. We are those people. And we do not deserve the light that breaks on us. Nevertheless it does. It does, it has, and it will. It breaks on us as it did on Isaiah’s people because its source is the God “in whom there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5), and its cause is Love. It breaks on us because it can’t not. So while we consider the questions involved in interpreting this ancient text, we might also ponder what we will do with all that light this time of year. There are, the poets tell us, two ways of spreading light – to be a candle or the mirror that reflects it. What do you say, my friends, shall we flame?
Rev. Dr. Jana Childers
SFTS Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs
SFTS Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication