For unto us a child was born; in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:4)
With these words I began my Christmas reflection; closing from the same passage with: The light shone in the darkness, which could not overcome it. Light and dark are common metaphors for good and bad. Like Holman Hunt’s famous painting ‘The Light of the World’, St John’s grand Gospel preface clearly identifies Jesus with ‘The Light’ and, by implication, darkness is the place without God. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, darkness came over the whole land (Matthew 27 45). More mundanely, we talk of darkness when life is at a low ebb; things going badly wrong. In this sense, COVID is definitely casting a dark shadow. But is any place without God? Has darkness a positive side?
One of God’s first creative acts (Genesis 1) is to create light. Instead of banishing darkness, God separates light and dark; setting both within bounds and ordering celestial objects (sun, moon, stars) to rule over them. Darkness, it appears, is as much a part of God’s creation as light. So, perhaps darkness has a purpose after all. For much of creation, the hours of darkness are a time for rest and recuperation. From the germination of seeds, to the daily refreshing of our own bodies; darkness plays an essential part in the natural order.
The Israelite escape from Egypt, God’s great act of liberation, began overnight (Exodus 12). Jesus’ arrest, evil though the moment is, is an essential part in the redemption story and it happened at night. That night too, Jesus prayed for and received strength to face the coming day. The psalmist, when speaking of the valley of the shadow of death, walks us through the valley hand in hand with God; thou art with me, thy rod and staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
Darkness can be disorientating and painful. Darkness can also be a place of rest and restoration; the preparation for a new beginning. In darkness as in light, God is there, and where God is there is life, purpose and hope.
Rev Philip Payne 10 Jan 21
The Pew Sheet for 10th January can be found in Downloads