Those who have been reading for a while know of my struggles with the feelings of darkness that, at times, seem to be crushing the life out of me. I have shared openly in these pages how I have been battling depression (and yes, I am under a doctor’s care and am taking anti-depressants as prescribed), but I feel there is a larger story to this darkness than just a physiological aspect. This is God-ordained darkness. Yes, God, who is himself Light, orders darkness for some who follow him. And yet we are to trust him and rely on him, even in the darkness.
Much of God’s mysterious work has been done in the dark. The earth started off in darkness. God met Abram in darkness to establish his covenant with man. God wrestled Jacob under the cover of darkness. Darkness shrouds God’s people in many, if not most, of their dealing with him. I wish it were not so. I wish the God who created the sun and moon and stars had not also created the blackness of space. I wish the God who made white (the presence of all colors) had not also made black (the absence of all colors).
And this has what to do with advent? you ask.
Advent is the time of waiting. And when one is in the dark, that is about all one can do. Wait. But even in the waiting there is action. Those who walk in darkness, says Isaiah, are to trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. Trust in. Rely on. Action, even when one cannot see the path they are on.
This is the place in the program where your announcer is supposed to tell you that “it is darkest just before the dawn,” and that “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Sorry, but I don’t have those positive words for you. Suppose your darkness—or mine—is how things will be from now on? What if God calls some to walk in darkness with no hope of seeing the sun again? Could that be?
Charles Spurgeon suffered greatly from depression. He knew darkness intimately. Spurgeon found Isaiah 50:10 to be a verse he could relate to. He wrote,
In the darkness of sin and ignorance we no longer walk; but with the darkness of trouble and perplexity we are sometimes surrounded. The Lord is our light and our salvation, and therefore we do not walk in that darkness wherein the prince of darkness rules supreme; but yet at times we are in the gloom of sadness, and we see no light of consolation. Be not, therefore, surprised as though some strange thing had happened to you, if you find yourself in darkness; for this text warns you of what you may expect. The darkness which is spoken of in the text includes providential trial of many sorts. Bereavement. Poverty. Slander and reproach. Sickness. Desertion by friends. The worst cloud of all, I think, is deep depression of spirit accompanied with the loss of the light of God’s countenance. Surely, at some time or other, all the children of God walk in darkness. Personally, I have often passed through this dark valley.
It is a fact that some of the best of God’s people frequently walk in darkness; ay, some of them are wrapt in a sevenfold gloom at times, and to them neither sun, nor moon, nor stars appear. As the pastor of a large church, I have to observe a great variety of experiences, and I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment among the very choicest of God’s people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to Heaven by night.
This brings us to the darkness of advent, that dark night when the heavenly host appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of the Christ. It was out of the darkness that news of the Light was given. And now the people that went about in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2, Knox) We are waiting, waiting, waiting for Emmanuel, God With Us, the Light. For those who have plenty of light, this Light probably means very little. But for those who dwell in darkness, we cannot wait to see the Light.
I am in a very dark place, anticipating the day when the Light will dispel the darkness and I will be free to bathe in sunshine again. Will it be this Christmas morning? I don’t know. Last year at our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I stood holding my lit candle with a very heavy heart, for I knew as soon as I blew out the flame I would be walking out in darkness again. Will it be the same this year? I don’t know.
A word of warning: Don’t try to work up feelings of light just because it is Christmas. For some of us, Advent is a very long season.