I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.
There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
-Barbara Brown Taylor
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark and right at my throat
‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, for the devil in me
Florence + The Machine, “Shake it Out”
In the middle of a front lawn down the street from me sits a giant Nativity set. It’s built from whitewashed wood with two giant floodlights staked into the ground in front of it. Every evening the lights click on like a monster’s giant eyeballs and blind Mary and Joseph, along with everyone passing by.
I wince when I walk past, for many reasons. It’s just so…bright.
The nativity story itself is incredibly dark. Refugees moving across the land at night. Shepherds in dark fields. Philosophers traveling through the cloak of night to find the baby. The deep night. The first century dark of night before cities washed out the stars kind of night.The story unfolds under a canopy of darkness so, why the constant urge to brighten up this scene? As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “there is so much to learn in the dark.” She says, “…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
We like to think that the great atrocities of life only happen at night. We link terror, violence, and injustice to shadowed corners where humanity betrays itself. In an effort to outrun that dark we flip on all the lights. Perhaps a bright enough hue will make the hard stuff disappear. So, we look around our world and in an act of panic and denial we flip on the lights but all we’ve managed to do is make it so bright we blind ourselves. It is no mistake that Messiah was born at night.
Our dominant culture in the US shines such a bright spotlight on Christmas that all we see is an enamored mother, doting father, and submissive livestock. The light washes out the poverty, greed, genocide, fear, and anger that gave rise to this scene in the first place. The light ignores the systems that shoved a pair of unwed adolescents toward a feeding trough to give birth to God and the light washes out the fact that this was how God CHOSE to enter our world. The light blinds us and we cannot see.
Advent demands we dim the lights to learn the stories that live the shadows. It demands we travel deep into the dark where the root of listening, reconciliation, and repentance is born. Advent demands we learn to see others. Advent begs us let our eyes adjust to the dark so we can learn the truth about the terror of who we really are and the tragic world of oppression we have built.
So, step outside this Advent season and turn off all the lights. Be still. Lie on the ground and look for the understanding you will never see during the day. Enter the darkness and let your blind eyes be open.
Rev. Tracey Bianchi is sometimes a writer, sometimes a preacher, sometimes a pastor. She’s not activist enough, she does not pursue justice enough, she’s way too in love with comfort, and she is eager to change but also finds it super hard. So, in the meantime, she lives in the Chicago area with her family and tries to figure it all out.