Light in Darkness
by Jack Wald | December 24th, 2011

Meditation

One month ago, four days after arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand to visit our daughter and her family, I began to feel achy and tired. I had a fever and began sleeping during the day. After five days of this, I went to the hospital to confirm that this was the flu and not pneumonia or an infection. Five days later I went again and this time there was an infection so they gave me some antibiotics. After another three days I began to feel better but the head cold and tiredness lasted another week or so after that.

For ten days I lay in a dark room sleeping, day and night. While Annie and our daughter’s family went out to the night safari or some other trip, I lay in bed sleeping. All I did was cough, blow my nose, drink some fluid and rest. This cycled through the day and the night. I was trapped in this dark world and I began to think what it would be like to feel like this for the rest of my life. Rationally I knew it would pass. But on an emotional level, it seemed this would never end.

I ask myself existential questions all the time. What is the purpose of my living? Why am I here? How does the experience I have make any sense? And when I am sick, laying in bed, then I go into overdrive. As I lay in the dark, feeling miserable, I asked how this made any sense in the eternal scheme of things. I felt distanced from God, distanced from my family, distanced from all relationships. What was the purpose of all this?

As I lay in bed, I thought of a young woman I knew when I worked during one of my university summers at a home for severely and profoundly retarded people. This woman was born with cerebral palsy, a disease that cripples the body. Because of this, her family left her in a crip without stimulation, only feeding her and changing her diaper. Her body was crippled but her mind was fine. She spent the first years of her life in the prison of her body as her mind slowly degraded.

She was put into the institution where I worked and people discovered she was really quite intelligent. When I was there, she had learned to spell out words by pointing a stick attached to her head at the letters of the alphabet. She composed poems.

So I thought of her. What was it like for her to grow up, laying in a bed, being ignored, her mind thinking and exploring but nowhere to go? She was in bed, not for a couple weeks, but for all the years of her life. She was a prisoner in her body. What was God’s purpose in her life.

A couple years ago I toured the orphanage on the top floor of the hospital in Meknes. When women come to give birth to a baby they do not want to keep or are not able to keep, they leave the hospital and the baby is taken upstairs. We walked through the rooms of the orphanage which was difficult in itself. But the most disturbing room was where the children with cerebral palsy are kept. We walked in and I tried to be kind and compassionate, but I was overcome with the unjustness of their lives and had to leave the room and go out in the hallway.

How is it fair that some people are born into such terrible lives? On the scale of things, my flu is such a minor scratch that it is not worth talking about. But I lay in bed, thinking of these things and sunk into despair and hopelessness.

And then, as I was gaining strength, I read Annie’s post on her blog: Snacks from the Cruise Buffet. If you are not following her postings, you are missing out on a great spiritual encouragement. Let me read her post from Friday, December 9, 2011.

Waiting in the Advent dark
Anyone who has woken up in the middle of the night and has not been able to get back to sleep understands how desolate darkness is. Time becomes suspended. The numbers on the digital clock seem stuck. There is silence, emptiness, deep shadows. The day feels very far away. There is no one else around to comfort you or share the misery of sleeplessness. You are on your own.

Of course we know that eventually the sun will rise again. We have to wait but we are certain it is only a matter of time before the day will begin. It’s like our Advent waiting. We mark off the weeks, knowing that there are only four of them. The Advent wreath with its beautiful candlelight pretties up the shadows, so we don’t feel so alone. Each time we add another candle, the light increases , a sign that we are making progress, that time is moving, that the end–or the beginning–is coming. Even better, we know where the story is going. We know that the angels are coming to sing in bright glory and the darkness will be overcome. And in the meantime, there are presents to be bought and cookies to be made and decorations to be hung. The waiting is festive.

However sometimes there can be dark places in our lives where the promise of coming light seems impossible. A place that is so dark and lonely, there seems to be no hope and we easily fall into doubt, thinking “what if I am a fool for believing the promise?”

I have a few places in my life right now where I am waiting in the dark. Living in the time of ‘not yet’ is not easy. It’s not comfortable or peaceful or infused with happiness. Anxiety buzzes. Fear spouts. Terror blooms. A terrible darkness comes to my heart as the night moves inside. It feels awful not to be in control. But even worse, there is no laboring to be done. With my hands idle, my mind races around going over one scenario and then another. Unlike a woman waiting to give birth, I have no idea how long I will have to wait. And what if I’m waiting for nothing? What if the rains don’t come and the sun doesn’t shine and the seed I’ve planted in the ground doesn’t come to life? What if I’m only waiting for a death?

I try not to dwell on it. My impulse is to fill the time, to find a way to distract myself from the awfulness of not knowing. But I can’t help it and every so often I go and check the soil where I’ve planted a seed. The ground is still dead, the earth is still dry. I begin to hear the whispering accusation: “Is God really going to take care of you?”

I hope so, I think so. But to trust God and to remain open to Him during the darkness is not something I would ever choose. I want to fix the darkness. I want to solve the problem. I want to make things happen. But in the darkness, I hear God say, “Wait. Wait. I am coming.”

So I keep waiting–I don’t really have a choice, but I start to feel dread. What if my advent doesn’t bring me the salvation of a kingly triumph that I’m looking for? What if it is more like a weak, vulnerable baby born in a stable? Or what if it is like a suffering servant who goes through an even greater darkness?

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). [Matthew 27:45-46]

In Jesus’ agonizing cry, I find a response to my dread. Because as I remain in the hopeless dark, I find a great High Priest who waits with me. He knows the shadows even better than I do. He is able to sympathize with my terror. He knows what it is like to be tempted to despair.

And He also knows what it is like to wait. Countless times He has waited for me to come to Him and receive the mercy and grace I need. He has waited through my stubbornness and self-pity and rebellion, as well as my brokenness and pain. And in this awful advent of mine, He is waiting again for me to call out to Him, so I will know I am not alone. For He is Emmanuel: God with us.

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We will end our Christmas Eve service tonight by lighting candles and singing Silent Night. This is a tradition, but it is not without meaning.

Who, does the Bible say, is the light of the world? Jesus, right? Jesus is the light of the world and we find this statement in John’s gospel. (John 9:5)
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

But notice that he said, “As long as I am in the world…” Jesus was the light of the world when he walked the roads of Palestine. But what about now?

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus taught his disciples,
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

When we light the candles at the end of the service, it is a recognition that we are the light of Christ in this world. What this means is that in the darkness of the world, we are to bring light. When we care for someone who is ill, we bring light into their darkness. When we encourage someone who is depressed, we bring light into their darkness. When we are kind to someone, patient with someone, respectful of someone, we bring light into their darkness.

And just as the light of the Advent wreath increases by one candle each week, so does the light of Christ grow as people are brought into his kingdom. When a Christian who has fallen into a pattern of sin turns around and repents, the light of Christ grows in this world. When a Christian who has been lazy and apathetic about her or his faith is renewed in faith, the light of Christ grows in this world.

Tonight you may be one of those who is desperate for some light in the darkness of your world. It may seem that the darkness is closing in and it seems there will never be any hope for you. The circumstances of your life may be overwhelming. I want to tell you that the light is increasing. Daybreak is coming. The darkness will not last forever.

It may not be dark for you tonight but it may be that there does not seem to be much light either. I want you to know that light is increasing. Because you have surrendered your life to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work in you. You are not without hope. The light in you is increasing. Surrender again. Open yourself to the songs of Christmas and let your heart be once again renewed.

It may be that your heart is filled with joy. Praise be to God who uses you to bring light into the darkness.

We are the light of the world. We are light, not because we have figured it out or because we have uncovered the mysteries of life. We are light because we have received the gift of Jesus that came at Christmas. The light does not come from us. We are not the sun. We are simply the moon that reflects the light of the sun and lights up the darkness of the night.

There is hope in the darkness because of Emmanuel, God with us. Light has come. The night will not last. Be filled with hope and share your hope as you bring your light into the darkness around you.