All I want is a little light.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out how to change the light bulbs in my outdoor sconces. For months these lights have been out. You turn on the lights to merrily greet guests arriving at your home only for them to be welcomed with continual darkness. I’ve tried every option, unscrewed every possible combination, and done everything short of shattering the glass to get the bulbs inside. Honestly, it is hilarious … and hilariously frustrating. Because I want nothing more than to bring a little light into the darkness.
Last weekend I rejoiced to put up my Christmas lights outside. While I love Christmas lights, I dread this task. Typically it involves uncoiling rolls of lights that worked 11 months ago when put away nicely and neatly, only to find that they have become ensnared around each other, twisted into Gordian knots of impossibility. And then, after what seems like hours of frustrating work of unweaving and detangling, you realize that half the strand is burned out. You are forced to try each and every bulb looking for the culprit … or to give up and go buy new lights. Lacking any of the Christmas spirit these lights are supposed to muster, I mutter, All I want is to bring a little light into the darkness. Is that too much to ask?
Recently I was speaking with a friend who is facing their first holiday season after losing a loved one. This friend was speaking enthusiastically about all of the things they were looking forward to about Christmas … and then quietly lamented how they will be doing it all on their own this year. And we spent a few minutes talking about love, loss, and the sense of darkness this friend felt about facing these difficult days. Another friend has just had a recurrence of cancer and, while they are hopeful, they also have a sense of doubt and foreboding at the impending medical battle. Yet another friend deals with depression each holiday season due to a difficult life of disappointments, desertions, and despair. Each holiday is accompanied by hurt, not hope. All of them need a little light in the midst of the darkness.
This Christmas, I have been struck by the metaphor of light. The incarnation story is full of images of light:
- In proclaiming the coming Messiah, Isaiah prophesied, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end…” (Is. 9:2, 6-7)
- While John doesn’t have a traditional birth narrative, he does connect to the incarnation story using Isaiah’s metaphor of light: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 9, 14)
- When the shepherds were out in the field they were overwhelmed by the glory of God that shone around them. (Luke 2:8-9)
- It was a star that led the magi to the town of Bethlehem, where they encountered the Messiah and were overjoyed. (Mt. 2:1-11)
The light shines in the midst of darkness. For Isaiah’s audience, that darkness was governmental oppression, spiritual dementia, impending violence and war, and eventual exile. For John’s community, it was the darkness of living under a political and spiritual oppression. For the shepherds, their darkness was ostracism and rejection. For the “pagan” magi, they saw the true light even though they weren’t familiar with the stories and prophecies of Israel. Each one experienced darkness … and each one received a promise of light.
We’re in need of a little light this Christmas, aren’t we? Many of us experience the darkness of pain, grief, frustration, sadness, and despair. But we are reminded that Jesus is the Light of Life. For those experiencing grief, the light brings joy. For those who are dealing with death, this light promises life. For those who seem overwhelmed to the point of despair, the light promises that despair can be overcome. For those who are dealing with doubt, the light is the reminder of the glory of God.
Let us remember this Christmas that we celebrate the Light that broke forth into the world. As Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Let us also remember that Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, too. We are called to bring light to dark places, to let the light of hope shine forth from us to those around us. So we are to speak words of hope to those in need. We are called to comfort those who mourn. We are commissioned to care for those in despair. We join with Jesus in sharing joy with those who need it most. We are called to remind those dealing with pain and death that there is a Light of Life that can’t be overcome by darkness.
We’re in need of a little light this Christmas. So let’s remember the Light, and let’s shine our light to those who are dealing with darkness.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.