Until pretty much the twentieth century, darkness divided the day. With the setting of the sun, darkness dominated and dictated what you did and when and where you did it. Darkness changed the tempo and style of life. Oh, the “edges” of darkness could be temporarily neutralized by a campfire, a flame in the hearth, an oil lamp, a candle, but between dusk and dawn darkness was in charge. When the last flame winked out everyone knew they would have to deal one way or another with the inconvenience, the difficulty, even the danger, of darkness.
I’ve read where the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that during the fall and winter approximately 20 percent of the population suffers from some form of light deprivation called Seasonal Affective Disorder or a milder form known as the Winter Blues. Symptoms of light deprivation include fatigue, irritability, anxiety, weight gain, social withdrawal, and lack of alertness. Physical problems can include backaches, muscle and headaches, increased susceptibility, and reduced immunity.
The point is darkness not only serves to cover evil but also to oppress people.
So what can we conclude? That even in this age when the abundance and availability of artificial light can do a lot to battle the onset of darkness, there is still unavoidable predicament to darkness. With darkness there is physical threat and insecurity and secrecy and danger. There is emotional fear and loss and grief and suspicion and distance and separation. And then there is the spiritual. The darkness of sin — which is spiritual confusion and ignorance and unbelief and death.
There is no one who really believes that simply moving from Dec. 24 to Dec. 25 offers rescue from the predicament of darkness. Life is not a Hallmark channel movie. There is no romantic holiday magic that can hold a candle to the incursion of darkness. And the sober truth is the words of Ephesians 6:12 are more than words but are realities: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Oh you and I can turn on some lights at home in the evening, but light bulbs are no match for the darkness of sin.
So consider what is packed into, for example, the image of watchmen mentioned in Psalm 130. “My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.” We know ancient watchmen were the first alert security detail responsible for protecting the city by detecting enemy movements in the dark. That the watchmen who waited for the morning breathed easier when dawn brushed the horizon with first light is an understatement. Darkness was perilous for it served as friend to evil. Light was rescue for it served to dispel the darkness. In that sense everyone waited for the morning because everyone breathed easier at first light.
Isaiah 9:2 is traditionally understood to be an Old Testament mention of the first light of Christmas. “The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.”
The people to whom God first gave this Word were just like you and me. In fact, whereas much of the message of Isaiah is dark — dark over the sin and rebellion of God's people and the inevitable consequences that would come from that sin and rebellion — God includes this message of light, that is, hope about the relief and joy that comes when God is present. In other words, into the predicament of our darkness, God promised His light. And God born a human being in the person of Jesus Christ means Jesus Christ is your light.
2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of [Jesus] Christ.” As light bulbs are no match for the darkness of sin, the darkness of sin is no match for the light of Jesus Christ.
Light into darkness is the Good News of Christmas. God born human is light into darkness. Jesus Christ dead on a cross is light despite darkness. Jesus Christ alive from a tomb is light overcoming darkness. So that when Jesus baptized you He placed you in His light and when Jesus feeds you His body and blood He places His light in you.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.