Light in the Darkness: A Series for Advent Part One – Darkness

Darkness, to our sight, corresponds to silence, in our hearing. It is the absence of any stimulus to inform, direct or encourage us.

But darkness also entails a moral component. Darkness, by its very nature, spreads a covering over sin (see John 3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35, 46; Eph. 5:11-14).

Furthermore, darkness is symbolic of Satan and evil, as Jesus stated during his arrest in Luke 22:53: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”1 The Apostle Paul also referenced this theme regarding the depravity of the human heart in Ephesians 5:8, stating: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Other passages that use the same imagery include Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 27:45 and Acts 26:18.

Beyond that, darkness may picture hell itself—even the eternal lake of fire (see Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

The word darkness appears 99 times in the Old Testament and 42 times in the New Testament. Darkness represents ignorance and frustration—even despair (see Isa. 42:6-7; 58:10: 59:9). Darkness is ominous and threatening—indicating impending danger (see Isaiah 8:22; 45:7; 60:2).

The declining daylight at this time of year reminds us in a tangible way of the darkness that God’s people felt as they waited for their Messiah to arrive. This was sensed most keenly during the 400 silent years that followed the last utterance of true, Biblical, prophetic revelation that was given before Christ.

When we comprehend how His coming as a human infant occurred in such a cold and dark world, it adds all the more to our understanding of His humiliation, and also to our amazement at His condescension. It also stirs our hope—as we, even today, still experience the brutality of a cold and dark world.

These emotions are captured skillfully in several beloved Christmas carols.2 None have depicted it more clearly than Dr. John Morison (a Scottish minister who lived in the latter half of the 18th century) did when he wrote “The People That in Darkness Sat” in 1781. The first verse states:

The people that in darkness sat
A glorious light have seen;
The light has shined on them who long
In shades of death have been.

Of course, Morison based his text on Isaiah 9:1-2, which is also referenced in the New Testament in Matthew 4:15-16 and Luke 1:79.

Other great Christmas hymns that encapsulate this sense of longing and desperation to come out of the darkness are Christina Georgina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and the beautiful—almost mysterious—hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

Finally, the haunting carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” contains these lines:

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Ever since the Son of God became incarnate, “the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). From that day to this,

It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

As the darkness deepens in our world—just as it did in the days after the prophets had vanished—the light shines brighter and farther.

That darkness confronts us this Advent season. May we celebrate Christ’s first coming within it, and may it motivate us to ready ourselves for His return.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang.

Notes

1 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 The texts of all the songs referenced here are in the public domain.

Paul Scharf 2019 Bio


Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email pscharf@foi.org.

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There are 6 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the advent angle, for multiple reasons, but one of the biggest is that the way Baptists tend to lump everything Christmas-related together, run it through a juicer, and drink several glasses every Sunday for the whole month of December (often starting in November) wastes such a great opportunity to teach so many things--gospel most of all.

The traditional Advent approach tells the story patiently and emphasizes the backstory and the need before the light comes.

I might even go out and buy four candles.

We don't need to go rejecting a good idea just because the Catholics and Lutherans do it. Biggrin

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, traditionally, you light a fifth candle on Christmas Eve.  :^)  I believe it's called the Christ candle, appropriately enough.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'll need one more then!

All the photos I've seen show four... but maybe the fifth is usually separate and added in? 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

I just always grew up with five.  Since it's not mandated by Scripture, I think we can hold off on collecting wood for burning people at the stake.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I'm assuming the difference is entirely cultural.  As a kid growing up in the U.S., I always saw advent wreaths or advent candle displays with 5 candles.  However, with all my trips to Germany to visit family, I can say I've *never* seen an advent candle holder there with 5, and my wife told me that they don't use 5 at all and never heard of that until coming to the U.S.

Dave Barnhart

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Thanks Aaron!

I grew up with the tradition that Bert referenced above. The central, Christ candle, was lit on Christmas Eve.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

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