What are you afraid of? We’re all afraid of something. Illness? Unemployment? Mental math? There are certain existential fears we all share: death, abandonment, the college football rankings. Some fears are universal but many aren’t. Talk to ten people about fear and you’ll hear ten different stories.
We’re all wired differently, which means our fears are too. When I was a kid I had one particularly haunting fear: small spaces. More than once my mother had to reassure strangers that she wasn’t actually kidnapping me, it was just necessary to drag me onto the elevator. Oh, how I hated those chambers of death. Small spaces—dark rooms with no escape—these were the contours of my nightmares.
Years ago I fainted in the middle of the night and awoke on my bathroom floor in total darkness. I couldn’t see and, for a moment, I couldn’t move. I wigged out. My wife remembers. We were dating then and I called her and said, “Get over here, I’m dying!” She came, took care of me, and then told me to stop being dramatic. She tells me that about once a week.
Darkness can be scary. And in a way that is unique to it darkness unnerves even the bravest among us. To enter a dark house, to walk through a dark wood, to wade into dark water, requires infinitely more courage than it does under the safety of light.
But darkness is where the Christian New Year begins in December, that month when our days get short and our nights very long. Advent is the time we prepare for the coming of a baby whose life will burn so bright it’ll light the whole world. But Advent begins—where we all begin—in the dark.
Consider this Advent reading from the gospel of Mark: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then you will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
Most of us, myself included, spend Advent drinking eggnog and buying stuff we don’t need. But Advent offers darkened moons and falling stars and shaken heavens. Why? Because Advent knows that our lives, like the month of December, will get darker before they see light.
One of the people I love most in this world has had a hard year. She said to me, “Ryan, I want to pull the covers over my head and wake up on December 26th.” “Yeah,” I said. “I know that feeling.”
I think Jesus knew it too. Which is why he spoke of darkness. We’re like servants, Jesus says, tending our master’s house while he’s gone. And he might come home at any moment. So we wait and we watch. And there will be days when we do pull the covers over our heads.
And that’s OK. But here’s what we don’t do. We don’t stop believing. We don’t stop hoping. We don’t stop watching for the light. Rob Bell was asked why Advent still matters and he said, “Because cynicism is the new religion of our world.” Which means we better not get our hopes up because it’s never going to get any better.
It’s easy to feel that way when we see the violence in Ferguson and are reminded of how far we still must go if we’re ever going to love one another as brothers and sisters. Sometimes what I fear most is that the darkness will never end.
But then I remember what Jesus said about the sky falling and the heavens shaking and how it would be then that the Son of Man would come in great power and glory. The whole earth may crumble, Jesus says, but the One whose hands fashioned that world, will do no such thing.
I think that’s the heart of Advent. Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s easy to believe we’ll be let down in the end and there’s nothing worth waiting for. But Jesus says, “Hold on. Wait. Watch. Because I am coming and I am worth the wait.”
I don’t know what lurks in your darkness. But I know something about it. It’s scary. I also know it might not go away soon. Advent reminds us of that. But Advent says something else. This: God may be light, but He comes in the dark.
There is no dark water He won’t wade into; no dark night He won’t spend at our side. We may be afraid of the dark, but He isn’t. He made the dark and it He moves.
As a teenager I was still frightened of small, dark places. So my dad decided he and I were going to learn to scuba dive. Because if there’s one thing a claustrophobic kid wants to do it’s breathe air out of a tiny hose a hundred feet under water. But we did it.
To pass the course we had to dive in a cold lake with visibility often no more than a few inches in front of our faces. Near the end of the dive, our instructor led us to a tunnel and pointed at it. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see where it ended.
I knew what I had to do. I swam toward it and entered the darkness. And kicked like crazy until I came out the other side. My dad has always praised my courage that day. He was so proud that I went for it. But I’ll tell you the truth. I was scared out of my mind.
The only reason I swam into that tunnel of death was because my father was behind me. I knew that whatever happened, I wouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t see him but I felt him. He was there and I knew he’d be there until we reached the other side.
Christmas is coming. The Christ Child is on His way, coming to bring light to our weary and darkened world. But today is Advent.
So may we experience the season, trusting that our Father in Heaven does not wait to meet us on the side of light, but walks with us now, this day, in the dark.