Advent: Waiting for the Lights to Come on in a Power Outage
By Randy Thompson
Winter has arrived early here in our part of New Hampshire. On the plus side, the final stages of leaf raking and fall clean-up were taken care of by the snow. However. . .
We’ve had three significant snow falls in November, and it’s now just barely December, and who knows what December has to offer us. The last snowfall, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, was memorable for several reasons. First, we had nine inches of snow. Secondly, it was the wettest, heaviest snow I’ve ever had to contend with; even our snow thrower, which usually dispatches snow effortlessly thirty feet into the woods, had a hard time with it. Finally, this particular storm was memorably because the power went out for eleven hours. Besides no lights, radio, TV or internet, that means there’s no water from the well and no heat from our propane boiler. (Thank heaven for our woodstove!)
I was able to keep busy for much of the day by removing fallen tree limbs from our driveway so the plow guy could clear it and by digging out the driveway in front of the garage and a walk way to the back door. (The trees took a beating from the wet, heavy snow.) With my work done, or at least as much of it as I could do that day, I came inside. Of course, by then, the sun, short-lived as it nears the winter solstice, was setting, and it was dark and gloomy. The oil lamps helped a bit.
As I sat in the dusky shadows of our living room, trying to read using a flashlight, my thoughts wandered off from my reading. When will the lights go back on, I wondered. How much longer? I knew they would go back on, but had no sense as to when. The power company had been vague on this point, when we reported our outage. There were trees and electrical wires down all over the place, and they had a lot of work to do.
When you sit in the dark, your chief concern is, when will the lights come on again? You still have things to do, of course, and life goes on, but it goes on differently. It goes on in the dark, and you find yourself thinking about–hoping for–the power outage to be over. You want the lights on. You want your radio and TV. You want your internet service! You want hot water or any water at all from the tap.
And, when you sit in the dark and there’s no internet, TV, or radio, and it’s hard to read, you find yourself with fewer distractions, and what distractions there are, you can’t see them in the gloom.
This is the positive side of sitting in semi-darkness. Distractions are not plentiful. You’re forced to come to grips with the shadows that surround you. Yet, God is able to speak in and through shadows.
Sitting in the dark, it struck me that I was unexpectedly experiencing the meaning of Advent, the season of the church year when John the Baptist figures prominently with his call to repent, and when we look ahead not so much to Christ’s birth but to his Second Coming, and when we realize we are living in the time between Christ’s first Advent, which we celebrate at Christmas, and his second Advent, for which we now hope. It is the season when we are repeatedly reminded of the words from John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood [or “overcome”] it” (John 1:5). In short, it’s the time when we hope for the lights to come on, that Christ will return, and there will be light, and a new heaven and a new earth.
We live in a world experiencing a long-term spiritual power outage. The lights are out, and people walk in darkness, alone, hopeless. The lights are out; people too often prefer this darkness. The lights are out, and we are alone in our selfishness, arrogance, greed, and hard-heartedness. We all have eyes, but many see nothing. At least, not God.
Yet, we are not alone, not really. There is a light, shining in this present darkness, shining in the lives of those whose hearts have been warmed by that light and in whose lives it is reflected, shining like oil lamps in dark places. There is hope, as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordon,
Galilee of the Gentiles–
the people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
(Matthew 4:15-16, Isaiah 9:1-2)
So, there is a light, and though it’s dark out, that light is a dawn light. It’s dark now, but more light is coming, and that light is a person, who was raised from the depths of death’s darkness and will, someday, light up the world, making all things new.
And so we live expectantly, sitting in the shadows of our lives, going about our daily business. We live in the glow of oil lamps, in the certain hope that it’s dawn not dusk, and that the lights will indeed come on, and “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Lady Julian of Norwich, 14th century).