The prophet Isaiah – whom we might call the prophet of Advent – knew the light of God’s presence. But he also knew darkness. One of the reasons Isaiah speaks so deeply to us in the Advent season is because we know both of those things, too.
In Isaiah 9, the prophet describes the righteous reign of the coming king visiting “people who have walked in darkness.”
That’s us. We have known not only the light of God’s presence, but also the dimness when God appears to be absent. We have walked through it and lived through it. We have fumbled about in the dark, trying to find the light switch. And we have cried out with the prophet, “God, why don’t you open the heaven and come down?” (Isaiah 64:1).
Our instinct when we find ourselves in the midst of such darkness is to search for the light. We can’t find it quickly enough. In some ways, we’re all still afraid of the dark.
Barbara Brown Taylor, the noted author and preacher that many of us enjoy and appreciate, has urged another approach. In her recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor offers a spirituality of the dark, asking, “Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well?” After all, it was God who created day and night (light and dark) and declared the whole of it “good.” Night can give us courage. It can help us see the world in new ways. It can offer us quiet space for reflection on things unseen and uncertain. As Taylor reminds, “Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.”
This is the origin of our Advent theme, “The Longest Night.” While everything around us rushes toward the light of Christmas, we will take the time and space to remember the nighttime of Advent. Instead of being preoccupied with flipping the switch and turning the lights on, we’re taking time through worship, community and service to come to know the God who is present and working in the night as well. Multiple opportunities for involvement are found on the following pages, and we hope you and yours will plan to be a part of this Advent season, “The Longest Night.”
Faith is a long night, especially for those of us waiting and anticipating the hope of the coming Christ. At times this waiting is, as St. John of the Cross has written, a “dark night of the soul.” It’s like “whistling in the dark,” Frederick Buechner describes. Or, as the prophet Isaiah described before any of the rest, it’s like “walking in the darkness.” Once you’ve walked through the darkness, you know how much light can mean. So this Advent we echo Isaiah’s hope and faith, and anticipate the coming Christmas:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)