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The light in the midst of darkness

Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter

December 14, 2018

As the pastor of a downtown Norfolk, Virginia congregation, I am uniquely sensitive to the end of Daylight Saving Time. Our complicated roadways, congested tunnels, and lengthy bridges in Hampton Roads make night driving particularly challenging for our guests and members. Given the unpredictable weather, flash flooding is a real and dangerous threat. We’re surrounded by the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay. So, when the daylight decreases, we must adjust our activities.

The decrease in daylight reminds me of how much we need light.

Advent season also reminds us of our need for light—that is, the light of Jesus Christ.

Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. In our corporate worship, the four Sundays of Advent point us toward the “coming” of the Christ.

In Luke’s gospel, shepherds working the night shift, watching for sheep, end up finding the Savior.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:8-14 NRSV)

This familiar Christmas passage is good news for us when examined through the lens of the era in which we live.

Nighttime is generally associated with danger and peril. The darkness of the night has come to symbolize that which is sinister; it suggests a fear of the unknown. Criminal and dangerous activities often occur at night. There’s a murkiness and obscureness that goes along with nightfall. And yet, nighttime becomes the right time for God to broadcast an angelic declaration of good news.

Unfortunately, our nation is experiencing its own nighttime. It closely resembles the “midnight” that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced in his sermon “A Knock at Midnight.” King describes “a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn.” He speaks of a darkness that is both social and moral. He concludes by reminding the church of its ecclesial mandate to be spiritually redemptive and socially relevant.

We so desperately need to hear that clarion call today. We’re living in a period in which racism is given more than a wink and a smile—it’s openly validated and celebrated. We’ve normalized hate speech, and unabashed cruelty has become commonplace. And make no mistake, our president—while not solely responsible—has led the charge.

The Lukan passage of the shepherds and the angels gives us real hope. It proclaims “the glory of the Lord” that shines bright. The shepherds’ fears—like our panic and angst—are met with “good news,” “great joy to all people.”

Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, pastor emeritus of Metropolitan Baptist Church (Largo, Maryland,) has said that maybe there are some lessons God has to teach in the night hour “because we can’t absorb them in the brilliance of the noonday sun.” Not only does Scripture teach that God often utilizes the nighttime in order to get uninterrupted attention, but light shines brightest in darkness. In other words, now more than ever, we need to look to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

The candles we light during Advent remind us of the expectation, preparation and fulfillment of Christ, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:46). In both the Old and New Testaments, light is closely associated with holiness, truth and life. The Johannine writings press the indistinguishability of Jesus Christ and light.

The gospel of John reminds us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14 NRSV)

The days and weeks of Advent offers Christians a special opportunity to look intensely to the Light in the midst of darkness—be it global, national, communal or personal. If we but seek, we will find the inextinguishable presence of Christ shining brightly, beaming with hope, glowing with joy, blazing in peace, burning with love.

The Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter Sr. is senior pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.; adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Tidewater Community College; and volunteer chaplain with the City of Norfolk Police Department. He is author of “Journey With Jesus Through Lent” (Judson Press, 2017).

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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