If we know someone is coming, we wait for them. After a while, waiting becomes longing. Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light. Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.
We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years. Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70] For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional. The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things. Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life.
The Bible picks up on this connection and is filled with the language of light and life. When, in the beginning, God creates life, God begins by creating light. We heard in the Psalm  that “for with you [O Lord] is the well of life, and in your light we see light”. John, in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, makes the connection with Jesus explicit: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
John boldly asserts that Christ—the very Word of God–is the light and life of all people. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” We sing in an ancient hymn that “wherever love and charity dwell, God himself is there”. God is present wherever love is present, because God is love [1 John 4: 8]. Likewise, wherever light and life are present, Christ himself is there, because he is light and life. Even when we don’t know him by name.
He is light, he is life. He is also Truth [John 14: 6]. Wherever light and truth are, Christ himself is there. Light, life, truth: wherever these things are, Christ himself is there. He promised that his Spirit would lead us into all truth [John 16:13]—and truth is light and life.
At the personal, individual level, we recognize the life that emerges from the light of truth. Acknowledging the truth about ourselves, saying true words about ourselves, intellectual honesty, emotional transparency, are a source of life. “For with you [O Lord] is the well of life, and in your light we see light”. The Psalms are full of truth about ourselves, full of emotional honesty and transparency—even the truth about our ugliest impulses. Rage, resentment, violent retribution, even the cursing of others: it’s all there in the Psalms. If we pray with this kind of honesty, and live with this kind of truth telling, we approach the presence, the presence of light and life. Truth telling—shedding some light on the situation, as we say—leads us toward fuller life.
Our common life in the family, in the church, in the body politic partakes of the same dynamic. The light of truth is the light of life. Although there are many places on this earth where the light of truth and the light of life are desperately needed, I have to tell you about where I’ve just been. I still have the dust of Jerusalem on my shoes. Jesus still weeps over the city, as he did once from the Mount of Olives [Luke 19: 41-43]: “If you, even you, had recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” He says, weeping over the city.
Having seen, yet again, what can be seen in Jerusalem, I need to say something about it. Speaking the truth, as best we can, brings light. And light brings life. A grim subject for a time when we’d rather be decking the halls with boughs of holly, but I’ve been to the Holy Land ten times now and silence is not an option. I’ll try to distill a very complicated subject into a few key points.
If you go to Jerusalem you can see why Palestinians have reached a point of deep frustration, even cynicism (although things seem to be relatively calm these days). The State of Israel’s project of building enormous settlements on confiscated Palestinian land has continued unabated, with total disregard not only for the Palestinians but also for the international community which condemns the settlements. The sheer size, the grandiosity, of the Israeli settlements ringing Jerusalem on confiscated Palestinian land is eye-popping. Gilo, Har Homa, Ma’ale Adummin, Modi’in—I could go on. Then there is the Wall, built ostensibly for security, but often deep inside Palestinian territory, effectively annexing land and aquifers to Israel. And there are the hundreds of Israeli settlements deep inside the West Bank, often with access roads for Israeli use only that effectively destroy territorial contiguity for the Palestinians. And the Israeli settlements right in the middle of Arab areas of Jerusalem and cities like Hebron, which then require the presence of the Israeli military.
Now, I need to pause to make a clear distinction between the policies and actions of the State of Israel and Jewish people in general. The Jewish people deserve our deepest admiration; the Jews have contributed enormously to the human enterprise, out of all proportion to their numbers, and often in the face of tremendous suffering, often at the hands of Christians. But, to speak with an unvarnished truth, the State of Israel strikes me as being stuck in a stage of arrested emotional development, with a kind of self regard that can only see itself as the center of the universe. The State of Israel does not represent the kind of wisdom, justice and compassion that I associate with the essence of Judaism. (Of course, our own country has had its stage of infantile narcissism—we look back in horror at the way our indigenous peoples were pushed out of the way, justified by the so-called Doctrine of Manifest Destiny—and motivated by commercial interests and sheer greed. The parallels to present-day Israel are striking and deeply disturbing.)
There are many Jews in Israel and around the world who are horrified by what the State of Israel is doing in their name—I know some personally. But these Jewish advocates of justice and compassion rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, are actually being cut off at the knees by our own congress—a congress under the thrall of an enormously powerful lobby that demands complete submission to the right wing agenda of the State of Israel. With the collusion of our congress, the State of Israel has become a rogue state, accountable to no one. Again, I stress the distinction between the Jewish people in general and what is being done in their name by the State of Israel. And I need to mention the formation of a new Jewish lobby, called J Street, that seeks to restore authentic Jewish values to the political process. The J Street lobby is opposed to the military occupation of Palestine and the building of settlements not only for humanitarian reasons, but also because these things are toxic and corrosive to the soul.
Jesus surely weeps over Washington, D.C as he does over Jerusalem. “Darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.” The behavior of the State of Israel at least can be seen to have roots in the horrific sufferings of the Jews: the abused (some of them) becoming abusers. The enabling of Israel’s self-absorption by our own congress has its roots in sheer greed and the lust for power.
So we see some of the dynamics, some of the moral failings familiar to us from our personal lives being played out on a global scale—microcosm and macrocosm. In our personal lives, seeing truth, speaking truth as best we can is essential to the dawn of light and life. Likewise, in public life, seeing truth, speaking truth as best we can, is prerequisite to the dawn of light and life.
And we know this light, this peace, this truth, this Word of Life by name. We await his coming. We long for his light and life in these hearts of ours. We long for his light and life to illuminate the world around us.
Come, then, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Come with your Spirit of Truth. “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus: your people need you.