"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows - light! Sunbursts of light!"
- The Bible in contemporary language-The Message, by Professor Eugene H. Peterson
How can any of us forget Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. On the fateful day, death and destruction poured from the sky and a veil of evil overcame the light.
Innocent people were struck down by a blind hatred of unimaginable proportions. Thousands of unsuspecting people - men, women and children would never again see the light of day. In just a fleeting moment our national confidence had been shaken, our symbol of military might violated and our vulnerability was gravely exposed.
As the author C.S. Lewis once wrote of another time, "We had to look to see what was in the basement."
This was a time in all of our lives where it seemed that all the light had gone out and we were plunged into total darkness. There didn't seem to be one single ray of light.
Perhaps the gravity of this hopelessness can be best illustrated by this story: An artist once drew a picture of a winter twilight. The trees were heavily laden with snow and off to one side he drew a house, a dreary, dark house, lonely and desolate in the midst of the storm. It was indeed a sad sight. Then with a quick stroke of yellow crayon, he put a light in the window. The effect was magical. The entire scene was transformed from one of loneliness, despair, dreariness and sadness into one of comfort and cheer.
The birth of Jesus Christ is just such a light that we have needed during this Advent season. His coming makes all the difference in our world today. It doesn't matter what you and I might think about the world situation today, whether we agree or disagree concerning the war in Iraq, for example. Without Jesus as savior and Lord, we are a people walking in darkness.
That is what has made Advent so wonderful for us this year. We were thrilled with Christmas anticipation and could say with John, "The light is still shining in the darkness, for the darkness has never put it out." (John 1:5)
As we enter the new year the meaning of Advent goes right along with us. It heralded the entrance of the divine into human history. It was heaven descending to earth. It was a great event casting its brilliance before it. Yes, God coming to us is always marked by surprising events - a single star, the drama on the plains of Bethlehem and the marvelous birth of the Christ child. This is why we have exalted in the message of Advent.
Someone has referred to the time between Christmas and New Year's Day as "that blessed lull." It is that small window of time where we can experience quietness and measure of peace. It can be that way for all of us if we continue in the spirit of Advent.
This interlude might also be a time to refocus our thinking, check our commitment and replenish our faith. It is the opportunity given to us to get our priorities straight as we face the challenge of what is ahead of us in 2006. It becomes a sort of "time out" to take stock, a time to assess our success and hash over our failures.
It could well be a very rewarding interval. But to be even more precise, as we approach the new year, it is an opportunity to search for more in our lives. It could be a yearning to discover something of deeper meaning than we have ever known previous to this time in our lives.
Ask yourself, what you are searching for in life? Are we looking for pure entertainment? Maybe we want an easy way into heaven other than the way of the cross. Each of us has a hole in the heart that only God can fill. The ancient cry of St. Augustine must still become our cry:
"Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."
We are all on a spiritual pilgrimage. Let us carry the message of Advent with us as we bid farewell to the old and greet the new. I hope we will all see the ending as a new beginning and travel with Christ, who is the Prince of Peace and the hope of glory.
Philips Brooks, in writing that beautiful hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," put it all in perspective: "Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fear of all the years are met in thee tonight." Glory and honor and praise to his holy name.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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