Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the Lord’s glory has shone upon you. Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you. – Isaiah 60:1-2
We’re approaching the halfway point in our Advent journey. To get to its true value, we must dive beneath the high-contrast dark/light, waiting/receiving, seeking/finding symbols to locate them in our own contexts. And the journey between Advent’s extremes can be very different for each one of us, depending on when, where, and how we find our way.
Isaiah’s wake-up call to Jerusalem—coming out of a 70-year nightmare of foreign captivity—resonates with anyone who loves Christmas hymns about angel choirs rousing a weary world out of its slumber. What Isaiah and the carols don’t mention, however, is how unsettling being awakened by bright light can be. The Advent call to rise and shine is a kind of “glory alarm” that startles. It may take time to adjust our sight and get our minds clear before the promises of hope, love, joy, and peace come into view.
One my favorite Advent companions, the 20th-century mystic and pastor Howard Thurman, captures this sensation. “There are times when the light burns, when it is too bright, or when it is too revealing. Somehow I must accustom myself to the light and learn to look with steadiness on all that it discloses. I will not yield to the temptation to regard the light in me as being all the light there is… Even in darkness I will learn to wait for the light, confident that it will come to cast its shaft across my path at the point of my greatest and most tragic need” (“I Seek Truth and Light,” Meditations of the Heart).
Advent’s wake-up call is a very specific promise to each of us in our respective contexts. Let us arise to the light, peer into its brilliance, and patiently wait for our eyes adjust to new sights around us, knowing the light we possess is not all the light there is. Light often breaks into our lives from unusual places and unexpected sources in unpredictable ways—kind of like the God of Creation showing up in a borrowed cow crib surrounded by perfectly imperfect strangers. The glory alarm is shining. Our light has come. Time to open our eyes!
With much love,