Light and dark are integral to both the Genesis and John’s creation story. I find that most everyone knows the first verse of the bible by heart: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” even if they don’t know the next line. “… and God separated the light from the darkness…” But this major act of the first day of creation, ‘let there be light,’ rolls off our tongues, and is upper most on our minds. What could we do if we didn’t have light, after all? The agents of Light, sun and moon, are actually not created until the 4th day. So, it’s as if God jumps the gun, because God needs, a reading light, or an oil lamp, to get through the work of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday!
Here in the city, it seems we are never without light, and so we hardly have a chance to know true darkness. Street lights, which come on automatically at dark, keep us safer, but we give up the contrast Genesis takes for granted, “the darkness and the light.” And, here in the city, every night when I turn out the lights before going to bed, there shines in my window a light from my neighbor’s living room just a few feet away in the next building, who always seems to stay up later than we do!
As post-moderns, we can’t live in today’s world without knowing one of the greatest discoveries of our time, Black Holes. I am not a Star Trek or science-fiction buff, but if there is anything that is the opposite of light in our space-age world, it is black holes!
NASA provides this description on its website: “Most black holes form from the remnants of a large star that dies in a supernova explosion. If the total mass of the star is large enough (about three times the mass of the Sun), it can be proven theoretically that no force [in the universe] can keep the star from collapsing under the influence of gravity.”
“Black holes are among the most mysterious objects in the universe, making them the subject of much research, discussion and science fiction. …Recent theories have posited that every black hole contains a universe — and that we're inside a black hole right now — and that the universe itself started when a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole.
Notice the words “mysterious,” and “theoretical” here. There is quite a bit of conjecture and controversy over Black Holes. But one thing for sure, they are the opposite, the inverse, of our brightly burning Suns, or Stars. They are darkness, with their own physiology and nature, and are a bigger part of our universe than first imagined – “standard equipment,” as Hubble scientist Douglas Richstone says. (http://www.weather.com/news/science/nine-mind-bending-facts-about-black-holes-20131014)
Some of us Christians are fooled by this contrast between light and dark, thinking, if Light is good, therefore dark must be bad. And so we conclude, erroneously, and to our own detriment, that God creates only the light things, and dark things in our world have to be evil. This dualistic doctrine has always been condemned as false, though it continues to be a tempting one to believe – usually because it helps us defend our own self-centered position.
In the book of Exodus (ch. 20), after Moses came down the mountain with the 10 Commandments, verse 21 says, “Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” Moses is not afraid of the God who makes darkness, and neither is the Prophet Isaiah, who declared on God’s behalf, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness,” (Isa. 45:6–7).
In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “Here is a helpful reminder to all who fear the dark. Darkness does not come from a different place than light; it is not presided over by a different God. The long nights [at this time of year…] point us toward the God for whom darkness and light are alike, [as the Psalmist says (139)]. The God who creates darkness also creates fertile seasons for those who walk by faith and not by sight. Even in the dark, the seed sprouts and grows—we know not how—while God goes on giving birth to the truly human in Christ and in us.”
When I visited Pam and Julian’s new-born son, Michael Julian last Sunday, born the day after Christmas, we marveled at how perfect he was, in all his tiny new-born-ness. Perfect, all except for his missing eyelashes, I guess! Michael was born two weeks early, though Pam hastened to add, he is considered full term! His eyelashes were the only thing missing, the only thing God didn’t quite have time to grow in the womb, we decided.
Michael kept his eyes closed the whole time I was there, like he was still dreaming of that perfect inner dark world, not yet ready to face the true light that flooded this new reality.
As we grow and take shape in our mother’s bellies, we are missing one thing, the light of day. But, not the light of Christ – the Word that is the life and light of all people. For even the light, shines in the darkness, and God watches over us in the dark of the womb, and all our dark times, until that moment when we are ready to become flesh in this world, and grow and receive “grace upon grace.”
The new-born Jesus, born to Mary, and the Word made flesh, enters this world in the dark of night, just as the new life begun in Jesus’ resurrection, germinates out of the darkness of the night. Coming to full term on the third day, Jesus rose out of the darkened tomb before sunrise, before “the women went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week while it was still dark.”
The darkness often causes us to fear. And it is not uncommon to have dark days that we can’t conquer alone. But darkness itself is not our enemy. Darkness is God’s creation too. We cannot know the light without the darkness, just as you cannot paint a picture of the sun or the stars without a dark background. Here in this world we seek the true light because we know the darkness, a lack of illumination, is real too.
The true light cannot be overcome by the darkness, as Jesus said. In that simple and powerful credo, we place our hope. No matter how dark our days, we know God is with us – because, we know the Son, the Word made flesh. And in this light and life of Christ, we bathe ourselves, knowing we are born of that spirit too, full of grace and truth.