By Alyssa Mallgrave
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Several months ago, a friend and I went backpacking in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We had gotten a bit of a late start, so by the time we parked the car and began trekking through the woods to look for a place to camp, we were genuinely concerned that the sun might set and we’d be stuck in the dark. Hiking at night can be borderline dangerous, and setting up a tent, finding water, gathering wood, and making a fire without daylight is challenging, to say the least. It’s an interesting position to be in – racing against the sun – one that’s quite rare and strangely humanizing. Because there’s something heavy about darkness, which, thanks to electricity, we don’t often notice.
Of course, darkness has no being, no essence, no substance. It’s literally nothing – a lack of something. But somehow it feels massive, like a force encountered. It’s a breathlessness, a unique anxiety. In the dark, we are vulnerable, unaware, unable to trust. Walking in darkness, we’re unsure of our way, on alert for unexpected obstacles, suspicious of every sudden movement, sound, or stranger that crosses our path. There is no rest in darkness.
So what then is light?
It’s practical, yes. A helpful solution to a logistical problem. But light-piercing-darkness is so much more than that. There’s nothing gradual about light; it’s often surprising, even startling. It cuts through the heavy darkness almost eagerly, crawling across every surface, filling every crack. In the light, we’re more sure of ourselves and our way, more trusting of the world around us. We can breathe easily, move steadily, and rest peacefully.
As a modern person who lives very much on the grid, my experience with literal darkness is limited. But I know that metaphorical darkness feels just as heavy. Uncertainty and restlessness – even in broad daylight – are real and haunting, invisible burdens in a world full of expectations. This is the kind of darkness that so many of us know in our own hearts, in our families, in our cities, and in our world. We go through life anxiously, unsure of how to navigate, unsure of who or what we can trust. So, what light conquers this kind of darkness?
In the biggest surprise of them all, our light-piercing-darkness is an ordinary person, born powerless in poverty. His birth, his life, his death, and his life-again tore through expectations and affirmed that this world and all its people are good and worth loving. Jesus the Light reaches everywhere, touches everything, pursuing his people through crannies and crevices. For comfort or peace, he’s our only hope. We have no rest without him.
During Advent, we’re called to dwell in the darkness: to acknowledge this world’s pain, anger, hostility, and the murkiness of it all, and sit with it for a moment. This part is easy because Advent also calls us to look up and ahead, toward the light. While we’re still living in darkness and wrestling with all that’s gone wrong, we know what the gospel has promised, we know where our hope lies, and we’re called to let that change us.
Yes, we are people walking in darkness. But our Light is great.