In our third Advent article, Eley McAinsh spoke of the importance of learning to embrace the darkness. This week’s reflection is a counterpoint: being drawn to the light.
Both are necessary. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our lives, in the various forms it takes, while seeking the light.
Think about these things
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.Philippians 4:8
Paul is writing to encourage the Philippian church. He wants them to persevere in their faith and to be united as a community. Focusing on these good things is one part of his recipe for this, but first he mentions some other ingredients:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:4–6
We are to rejoice in the Lord. Following Jesus involves taking up our cross, but he is unquestionably worth it – and we can be joyful in that relationship of love. We are to be gentle and considerate in our relationships with others. We shouldn’t be anxious. And we should bring everything to God in prayer.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7
Rejoicing in the Lord, being gentle, pushing back against anxiety and praying continually – these things will guard our hearts and minds and enable us to take the next step: embracing the light.
Embrace the light
This year there has been much darkness. We shouldn’t ignore it, pretending that it’s not there or that it didn’t happen. And coming to terms with it takes different forms. Railing against suffering and injustice can be an appropriate, biblical response.
But Paul seems to argue for balance. We all know how easy it is to dwell on the negatives, to get sucked into the doom and gloom, to compulsively read the news articles and features that will leave us feeling rather worse than before – and to waste precious time doing so. Paul points us towards the good things. We are to seek out the positives, the examples of love in our communities, the unexpected breakthroughs – and not simply read about them, but also be agents of goodness ourselves. Rather than being reactive to darkness, we are to be proactive for the light.
It is so easy to be negative in thought, word and deed. To expect the worst, to assume the worst, to fear the worst and to see hurdles in our path. To be so busy being afraid and worried that we fail to see the blessings around us. It’s a question of where we focus our attention. And Paul claims that his tried-and-tested recipe of rejoicing in the Lord and prayer will help us in this.
In this season of Advent, we have the birth of Christ ahead of us as a shining light in our darkness. And in the life of Christ, we see Paul’s list of qualities embodied. Jesus our Saviour – true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.
I’m reminded of John’s vision in the book of Revelation:
Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.Revelation 1:13–16
His light will illuminate our lives if we let it, and we shall have peace.
An Advent prayer to Jesus
You are our eternal salvation,
The unfailing light of the world.
You are truly our redemption.
Grieving that the human race was perishing
through the tempter’s power,
without leaving the heights
You came to the depths in your loving kindness.
Readily taking our humanity by Your gracious will,
You saved all earthly creatures, long since lost,
Restoring joy to the world.
Redeem our souls and bodies, O Christ,
and so possess us as Your shining dwellings.
By Your first coming, make us righteous;
At your second coming, set us free:
So that, when the world is filled with light
and you judge all things,
We may be clad in spotless robes
and follow in Your steps, O King,
Into the heavenly hall.
Author unknown, 10th century