In the Darkness Shines a Light

I find history absolutely fascinating. To look back, whether to distant ages or only a few brief years (the equivalent of a historical heartbeat), is to witness the most compelling of stories. And there is much to celebrate. Men and women of exceptional character and courage. Bright flashes of creativity and even genius. Noble sacrifices both small and great. Whole civilizations born, each with their enduring glories. In a thousand different ways, we live in a world that is measurably better than the one inhabited by those who have gone before us. 

But…to consider history is also to be astonished at the stubbornly consistent brokenness and depravity of human beings. Not long ago I listened to an audio version of Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Medieval World (like I said, I like history), which not only surveys prominent persons and events in the Western world, but also devotes several chapters to cultures from Asia and the Americans. What struck me perhaps the most as I read the book was just how often human beings have been willing to shed each other’s blood, whatever the reason.

Of course, if we were tempted to think such violent tendencies are a thing largely of the past, there is no shortage of contemporary situations to disabuse us, not the least of which is the recent, soul-jarring shooting in Newton, or airplanes exploding into skyscrapers, or mass killings perpetrated on political, religious, and/or ethnic grounds. And these horrors are but the most shocking tip of the iceberg. One could wax on about the great mass of our more modest, everyday efforts at deceit, cruelty, and self-absorption. Indeed, anyone with an ounce of self-awareness knows that the problem isn’t just “out there,” but rather is alive and well in his or her own heart.

In the face of all this, I really do sometimes marvel at the patience that God has with his creatures. With me. 

But of course, he’s actually more than patient. He’s gracious. And that is what I especially appreciate about this time of the year. I appreciate the “glad tidings of great joy” that God, in the face of the pervasive darkness that has intruded into his good creation—even to every human soul, saw fit to shine a great light. In the familiar words of the prophet Isaiah:  

    [2]  The people who walked in darkness
        have seen a great light;
    those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
        on them has light shone.
    [3] You have multiplied the nation;
        you have increased its joy;
    they rejoice before you
        as with joy at the harvest,
        as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
    [4] For the yoke of his burden,
        and the staff for his shoulder,
        the rod of his oppressor,
        you have broken as on the day of Midian.
    [5] For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
        and every garment rolled in blood
        will be burned as fuel for the fire.
    [6] For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given;
    and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
        and his name shall be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    [7] Of the increase of his government and of peace
        there will be no end,
    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
        to establish it and to uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
        from this time forth and forevermore.
    The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9:2-7)

This is the good news of God himself becoming one of us, to love the unlovable, to give his life for ours, to restore a peace that we had broken and scorned. And if, in the face of darkness, we’ve shed many tears of pain and sorrow, we may also justly shed tears of joy for the one who was and is the Light of the World.

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