As autumn moves along, do you find yourself bracing for the dark days to come, as I do?
It’s early December in northern Minnesota. I love this state, but its bleak landscape seems to mirror my dread of the coming winter. The relentless flatness of the prairie gives little protection from the piercing wind. Harvest is past and the fields lie sere and spent, tufts of the first snowfall caught in their stubble. They brace silently for the coming cold. Their work is done for the year. Halfhearted sunlight, thin and watery, spreads over the land. Abandoned farms dot the countryside, their greying barns weathered to softness, their buildings leaning into each other, crumbling inexorably into the earth. Farmhouses once brimming with life now gather dust. The families that lived there are long gone, taking their yuletide memories with them. No cheery Christmas candles will shine from these windows into the dark winter nights.
We are heading into the shortest, darkest days of the year. Every day brings a later sunrise, an earlier twilight. Children wait for the school bus in the dark. People fumble their way to work in the half light of morning. By midafternoon the light is waning and I often find myself longing for those endless summer evenings that hold the darkness at bay.
Light to the world
As the winter dark encroaches, my thoughts turn to the comfort of Scripture. Genesis is a good starting point: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4). This may be one of the greatest understatements in Scripture. God, who is himself light, speaks the universe into being with these words. And so the universe continues today, still filled with his light in spite of the evil that seems to surround us.
I recall the words to an old hymn: “This is my Father’s world … [and] though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” As I shiver and reach for my fleece jacket, I rejoice that as the songwriter wrote, “Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” God is in control. We can see him moving through his church in the darkest corners of our world, as Jesus’s followers reach out to the needy. At any moment I can turn to him and remind myself of the reality of his love. That is good to remember on a dark and dismal winter’s day.
The light of hope
And Christmas is coming, as it always does, in good times and bad. At dusk, my neighbor’s window brightens as her Christmas tree pops on. Its lights remind me of John’s Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Through the gift of his Son Jesus, the Father shows us what he is like. And when Jesus’s life becomes ours, we come into our own relationship with the Father. Another good thought as I edge up the thermostat once again and preheat the oven for the annual baking of my Aunt Judy’s Swedish rusks.
My mind moves on, remembering the next treasured phrase in John’s prologue: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Israel’s Messianic hopes seemed dim. After exile and conquest, had God forgotten his people? The famous hymn captures the centuries of anxious waiting: “Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” The songwriter answers for us. “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” Soon, out on the dark hills, isolated shepherds would be the first to hear the good news. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). In God’s perfect timing, in Bethlehem, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
In spite of my worries, in spite of indifference or hostility from those still in darkness, I am reminded that the light of Bethlehem will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day of his coming (see Proverbs 4:18). It’s definitely time to brave the attic’s chill and dig out the nativity set.
Light in me
As I climb into my Honda for the morning commute to work, I need the reminder that light overcomes darkness. As the sun rises, it dawns on me that the same God who spoke creation into being now dwells in my heart, showing me his glory in Christ, transforming me. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
I offer my frustration to him as the traffic grinds to a painful halt. I pray my favorite prayer—“Help!”—and there it is again, that flash of grace that changes everything, even me. Time to stop and pray for my kids as I inch along. Well, look at that! The first snowflakes drift down and settle on the car’s hood. As the snow softly transforms the earth with its beauty, I relax. I may not be perfect, but the light of Christ is working in me daily to make me more like him.
A winter challenge
Sitting there, I remember Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.” How will these words make a difference in my day? Now there is a challenge that might get me through the winter, even after the Christmas decorations are tucked away for another year. So what if it’s ridiculously dark on this shivery morning? So what if we have yet to pass the winter solstice, when we can at least begin counting the days until spring? I’m challenged to let this light shine through me on these dark days.
At what time of year could it be more needed? What plans might the Holy Spirit have for me today? Who will God put in my path today in desperate need of light? What words can I share that will dispel the darkness in someone’s heart? I’ll be watching and listening. Winter light is shining!
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