LIGHTING THE CANDLE
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Can you look back to a dark time in your life when unexpectedly the light of God shined more brightly for you? I often tell others that it was the Advent after my wife Melodee died from a five year battle with cancer, when I unexpectedly had a greater understanding of the light Jesus brings. It was a painful holiday for me, but one more rich and meaningful. I was able to see in new ways the meaning of Jesus’ coming. In grieving Melodee’s death I understood as never before that Jesus did not come just to give us a reason for Christmas joy, songs and presents, but He came for so much more: to defeat the powers of death and sin. I think of this as I light an Advent candle today.
It was a dark time for Alfred Delp who was awaiting execution by Hitler’s Third Reich for his leading role in resistance to the Nazi Regime. Shortly before Delp was hanged he wrote the following while in his cramped prison cell:
I saw Advent this year with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in iron and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release… But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come.(Peter Price, A Shaking Reality)
In today’s Scripture, Isaiah tells of one of the darkest and most hopeless times in Israel’s history, as God’s people are captives in pagan Babylon. They are left with nothing but memories of a homeland, a nation, or a hope for the future. It is into their darkness God commands His people: “Arise, shine; for your light has come…”. Into their long night of rebellion and judgment God shines the light of His love and forgiveness. God foretells a time when all nations will come to God’s light and see His grace and love. His glory will shine over all! Today we live in the light of that Day!
By late 1942 the confessing churches in Nazi Germany had been closed and pastors threatened with prison. Shortly before his own imprisonment, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to fellow pastors about recent events, including the deaths of colleagues. As darkness deepened around them, Bonhoeffer wrote with conviction about the joy of God’s presence with them:
This joy, which no one shall take from us, belongs not only to those who have been called home but also to us who are alive. We are with them in this joy, but never in melancholy…Joy abides with God, and it comes down from God and embraces spirit, soul, and body; and where this joy has seized a person, there it spreads, there it carries one away, there it bursts open closed doors…The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there.(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945)
We have passed through a dark and difficult year, and who knows what the New Year will bring? But this we can know: Jesus is God’s true light shining in the darkness, and the darkness of death and sin will not overcome Him!
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
Loving Father, help us this Advent and Christmas to see beyond the commercialism and glitter to the real meaning for Christ’s coming. We praise you that through Jesus Christ you have conquered the reign of sin and death. We want to live in the light of what that means. We pray for brothers and sisters who face persecution for their faith in Jesus, the world’s true light. Stand with them and strengthen them as they bear witness to Him. Lighten their darkness. Amen.