In these winter days, we are well aware of the physical contrast between light and darkness. We are at a time of the earth’s rotation when there is more darkness than light in our days. Gradually, we are gaining a little more light each day, but if the skies are overcast with snow or sleet, our days can feel dreary and oppressive.
Some people suffer a serious reaction, physically or psychologically, to the long, dark days of winter, and this winter there is more reason to feel downhearted. The worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus is placing everyone in danger. For almost a year, the virus has surged in waves from nation to nation and from community to community. Millions of people have become ill and died.
It is difficult to comprehend the enormous impact of the pandemic on the global population, but it is not difficult to realize the devastating effects on communities as neighbours, friends and families seek isolation. Many people have lost loved ones to a lonely death because they were prevented from comforting them. The physical danger and mental strain of this historic pandemic are made more worrisome by the cold darkness of winter.
The contrasts of darkness and light were a constant reality for the ancient people of the Bible. They accepted that days and nights, light and darkness, were not in their control. We, however, live in a society which is mostly light, even during the night. By artificial means, we have light on our streets, in our homes and where we work. We have office towers of light piercing the night sky often preventing us from seeing God’s starry heavens. In a power failure, we are people walking in darkness and we search for a candle to lead our way.
When the prophet Isaiah writes about darkness, he talks of the physical and spiritual aspects of life. He speaks to the Hebrew people who are suffering both the physical darkness of oppression and the spiritual darkness of estrangement from God.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of darkness — on them light has shined. (9:2)
The people lost faith in God’s care for them and they were surrounded by people who did not believe in God’s existence. That description is similar to our society today. For people seeking faith, light became the symbol of hope in God’s divine presence. However, if light is the symbolic image of God with us, then is darkness, as the absence of light, the image of God’s absence in our lives? Is God ever absent?
In psalm 139, the psalmist says to God,
Darkness is not dark to you: the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.
The mystical people of the Middle Ages who felt close to God understood that darkness holds divine mystery, and that God is in the darkness as well as in the light.
The world in which we are living now challenges our faith in God because we are living in the darkness of fear and suffering, but if we believe that God is with us in this darkness to strengthen and sustain us, we can have courage to keep hope in our hearts. We also can comfort and encourage others to have hope. Kindness and community support can alleviate loneliness, anxiety and despair as we endure the cold darkness of these winter days.
Someone once said that an excellent prayer is simply, ‘O God’, because we turn to God in that moment searching for God beside us. In whatever form of darkness we encounter in our lives, God is with us to comfort and encourage us to see our way forward into brighter days of warmth and renewed hope.