The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
I wonder if those old words are all but lost to us. I looked out my window just before midnight last night, some seven hours after the sun had disappeared, to see a dull, off-white dawn of street lights and glowing windowpanes still illuminating the city.
Despite the fact that we are diurnal creatures (waking, historically, with the rising sun, and returning to rest at its setting) most of the world’s human population now lives in cities that seldom sleep. If and when they do, the lamp on the bedside table is, so to speak, left on.
In 1994, to give an oft-cited example, a massive earthquake disrupted Los Angeles’ electrical grid, shutting off much of the city’s power, and, as result, a large portion of its network of artificial lights. Calls flooded the area’s emergency centers. Among them, it was reported, were those of a number of individuals expressing panic regarding a “giant silvery cloud” that had come to rest over the city.
Some, we are told, wondered if this mysterious mass of light was perhaps even the cause of the disaster. There was nothing to fear, the operators assured them; the blackout had simply allowed them to witness what was there all along – the massive glowing cluster of our solar system is a part, namely, the Milky Way.
What darkness? When have we known that sort of night?
Imagine, then, if, by some unprecedented means, every headlight, billboard and appliance display was darkened, and the stars were somehow swept, like little glowing marbles, from that great black blanket of sky. Imagine if the moon and the sun suddenly snapped loose from their fixtures and spun off to find homes in some other galaxy.
Imagine the weight and the thickness of it, how we would cling to each other. Even as children, with doors propped open to the hallway’s light, we curl up beneath our blankets and call out for those we love, for those who love us, to come and be near. How much greater, then, our panic as we reached out beneath the Shadow of Death?
On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
I wonder if those old words are all but lost to us, if the metaphor still holds. I wonder if we really understand the sort of place into which the light of the Incarnation came, and continues to come flooding.
There are moments, to be sure, when we are overwhelmed by the ways the world continues to tear itself apart, and are left bent beneath sin’s curse, moments in which the power cuts out, and the illusion is gone, and we are left with the fact that we are completely unable to fix this all on our own. I wonder if then we begin to look, and then we begin to see the hope that is bound up in Christ’s coming.