Sunday Night Worship – 11/30/08 – First Sunday of Advent

The Promise in Darkness

John 1: 1-5

National Geographic had the best recent cover article for Advent. The picture on the front was an aerial shot of a glowing yellow-lit city at night, one big orb of electric illumination. The title on the cover was “The End of Night: Why We Need Darkness” (November 2008 issue).

The article described how shortening the night with excess lighting and light pollution has confused other animals, causing birds to sing at unusual hours because they think it’s day. Bats now know to feed at lampposts because that’s where clusters of insects swarm all night. Nesting sea turtles go looking in vain for dark beaches where they can nest.

Our fellow creatures aren’t the only ones confused. Though we’ve found brighter methods to do so we are definitely burning the candle at both ends, extending the day in both directions and shortening the night. Besides the stresses of living in a society that is always “on,” there are some studies showing a correlation between breast cancer and the nighttime brightness of neighborhoods.

In a beautiful closing paragraph, the article ends with this observation (p. 109): “Living in a glare of our own making, we have cut ourselves off from our evolutionary and cultural patrimony — the light of the stars and the rhythms of day and night. In a very real sense, light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way – the edge of our galaxy – arching overhead.”

I know something about realizing the scale of my being measured against a night sky. As a child visiting my grandparents in the countryside near Blackstone, one of the most alluring treats were the nights spent outside in their pitch-black yard looking up at so many stars. Compared to the sky at home in the suburbs, the sky at my grandparents’ was inky black. And though I have never been any good at looking up at zillions of stars and picking out constellations from among them, I was amazed at the multitudes and the contrast of star with sky. I was humbled and inspired to be standing so small in such a vast place.

I guess it could have been scary to suddenly realize things were much bigger than they seemed when I was at home, but I was comforted by that night sky at my grandparents’. The National Geographic article hits it on the head: “[L]ight pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being…” Given that we seem so frantic to light up all the dark corners the night, it may seem counter-intuitive, but standing in that blackened yard as a child – and in many instances since then when I am given a similar vista – I feel full and satisfied and intimately loved by God, tiny against that huge sky and assured that I am somehow part of all that.

Tonight we lit our first Advent candle. It’s naturally a dark time of year. The days are very short and the darkness drops abruptly in the late afternoon before we’re done with classes or dinner or the many other things we want to do. So we carry illuminated cell phones and drive cars with headlights and walk around under the ubiquitous walkway lights on Grounds. In a festive spirit we display electric window candles and Christmas tree lights and lights in the bushes and icicle lights along rooftops. We drive past the municipal holiday lights on lampposts up and down the streets and shop in brightly lit malls open in the wee hours.

It’s a naturally dark time of year when we await the light of the world. Our Christian liturgy calls for adding just one candle a week to light our way to Christmas. John affirms that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1: 5).

The huge affirmation in that statement is that the light which was with God – part of God – from the beginning of all beginnings and which overcame the darkness is the light that still shines. Listen again to the verb tenses: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The darkness may still be visible but it is not a cause for fear.

This is rich, loamy stuff, this darkness. It doesn’t have any power but it is a good, quiet, fertile place for revealing light. Like the night sky and the stars, like a baby born in a stable. If we fearfully, frantically turn on the artificial spotlights so we can go on about business as usual what will we miss? What won’t we see if we decide to light up our own paths? Will we be tricked by our looming shadows into thinking we are bigger than we really are?

There is promise in the darkness of Advent. Stay with it. Fear not. Wait for your eyes to adjust and then see where the light reveals something you would have missed with the spotlights blasting. Don’t be anxious for the second candle or the third, stay right here for now, with the one light shining in the darkness, not overcome, and reminding us of our true scale. Receive the gift and the promise of darkness because it is from this season that our greatest hope is born.

Thanks be to God!

© 2008 Deborah E. Lewis

Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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