Sunday, December 22, 2013

Light and Darkness

It is quite likely that this will simply be my Christmas post. Apologies to the liturgically strict, since it is going up on the 22nd.

But I wish to tie it to a wonderful Advent hymn. I cannot seem to find a performance of this hymn anywhere on Youtube. I would post it if I could. It's very beautiful. The lovely, minor-key tune is Bangor, but as far as I can tell, hymns using it do not appear in any evangelical hymnals. The other text that I know of is for Passion Week and is "Alone Thou Goest Forth to Die." Try to find the tune somewhere. If nothing else, there's a simple midi here which gives you some idea.

The Advent words, which I already discussed here, are these:

O very God of very God,
and very Light of Light,
whose feet this earth's dark valley trod
that so it might be bright:

Our hopes are weak, our fears are strong,
thick darkness blinds our eyes;
cold is the night; thy people long
that thou, their Sun, wouldst rise.

And even now, though dull and gray,
the east is brightening fast,
and kindling to the perfect day
that never shall be past.

O guide us till our path is done,
and we have reached the shore
where thou, our everlasting Sun,
art shining evermore!

We wait in faith, and turn our face
to where the daylight springs,
till thou shalt come our gloom to chase,
with healing in thy wings.

As I noted in the older post, the association of Jesus' actual birth date with the darkest, coldest time of the year is probably ahistorical and is hence an addition of tradition. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Tradition is important, and this is one of the most powerful. I often think of that line from "Lo, How A Rose"--"She bore to men a Savior when half-spent was the night." It has so much richness to it. The literal middle of the night, the dark and wintry night of the year, and the deep darkness of human evil. The translation, too, adds something. The German simply means something like, "Halfway through the night," but the translation "half-spent" conveys not only the darkness but the exhaustion of human sin and history.

Which brings us to something that was not invented by man: The association of the Incarnation with light. That has been given to us both by Our Lord on earth and by the Holy Ghost in the inspired prologue to the Gospel of John. Just before healing the man born blind (John 9), Jesus says, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

John, echoing his Master's words, tells us again and again that Jesus is light:

"In him was life, and the life was the light of man, and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not."

"[John the Baptist] was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world...."

And in John's first epistle, he says, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

[Digression on just one of many reasons why I hate postmodernism: When I was in graduate school in English, I once received a high-falutin' lecture from a fellow student, who happened to be white, on how insensitive it had been for me to use the word "black" when describing evil in a class presentation on the problem of evil. We were studying 18th century literature, and I had made a presentation on Pope's Essay on Man. I used a tapestry metaphor, saying that dark colors may be used by the weaver as part of the beauty of the pattern. I pointed out how painful it is, nonetheless, to be the one actually suffering. I expressed this by saying, "But you probably wouldn't want to be the black," using hand motions indicating that I meant black thread. That was what was allegedly so offensive. She was, naturally, unmoved by my pointing out to her that darkness has long been a metaphor for pain, suffering, and evil. That came as no surprise to me by that time. It was always part of the raison d'etre of postmodernism in the humanities to tear down those stark dichotomies which are the very food of a sane man's mind. Good/Evil, light/dark, male/female, parent/child, Creator/creature, beauty/ugliness, truth/falsehood. Any powerful and true description of reality, especially any that has its roots in the very vitals of the human psyche, that speaks with rhetorical power to the way things are, must be torn up and destroyed. Postmodernism is evil because postmodernism lies and tells us that there is no evil. Postmodernism is dark because it tells us that darkness and light do not exist. Postmodernism is a lie because it teaches man not to believe in lies. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Make sure your children know that, and know that there is light and darkness, and how to tell the difference, so that they can love the light and flee the darkness. End of digression.]

Those of us living in the north have a tangible symbol of the darkness of this world. But no matter what region you live in, if you are a Christian and have your eyes open, you can see spiritual darkness all around. If you live in Syria or other places where Christians are under physical persecution, you know it in one way. If you live in the West, you know it in a different way. We are surrounded by darkness. But we must not be disheartened by it. Jesus also told us that we are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). John points out that he that commits evil hates the light, because by it his deeds are reproved. (John 3) So we must expect disapproval and even hatred and real persecution from the world and should not marvel at it (I John 3:13). But that's not the end of the story.

Our Lord came to this earth to bring light. No matter how long it is, no matter how many thousands of years pass, He will come again, bringing the final light of judgement. And in the end, those who are His own will be with Him in that Land where there is no night, where Christ Himself is the light.

We wait in faith and turn our face to where the daylight springs, till thou shalt come our gloom to chase, with healing in thy wings.

Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus.

A Merry Christmas to readers of Extra Thoughts.

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