Waiting in Darkness

Adapted from a reflection given at Salesianum School’s Advent Reconciliation Service by Joseph McDaniel, OSFS.

As winter draws near, our days grow ever shorter. The alarm rings in the morning, and instead of awaking to the glow of sunrise, we must begin our day in the shadows. As we exit our schools and workplaces, we enter into the quickly fading glow of sunset.

Our 21st century American society has found a way to continue our busy everyday lives even in midst of this early-falling darkness. In our cities, a white and yellow glow radiates from street lamps, offices, and homes throughout all hours of the night. We do not really have to deal with the darkness that naturally results from the changing of the seasons. We simply flip the ‘on’ switch, and continue business as usual.

This was not so for our spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel. In their time, the darkness of night was a force that could only be feebly reckoned with by means of hearths, torches, and candles. When the prophets described “a people who walked in darkness,” they knew what real darkness was. It meant being only able to dimly see what was before you, being unable to continue business as usual. They knew that they themselves could do nothing to bring themselves out of the darkness: there was no light switch. The only solution was to eagerly await and welcome the coming of daylight.

During this season of Advent, we commemorate Israel’s period of active waiting and anticipation of the Messiah. As part of our commemoration, it is necessary to acknowledge the spiritual darkness in which we ourselves sometimes live. In some ways, this may be an even greater challenge for us. Because we have the ability to illuminate a dark room or building by turning a switch or pushing a button, we may begin to operate under the illusion that we can remedy spiritual darkness with the same kind of ease.

The darkness we must confront could be a broken relationship, a struggle with anxiety or depression, an addiction or destructive pattern of behavior, a feeling I can’t really be loved by others or by God. All too often, we try and fix the problem ourselves by reaching for what we think is a light switch. Instead, the solutions that we often come up with only perpetuate the darkness. Gossip and negativity towards others will not make me feel good enough. Denial will not cure my addiction. Workaholism and self-criticism and will not cure my anxiety.

Like our ancestors in faith, an honest appraisal of our own darkness can lead us to realize that only God will provide the true light that we seek. Advent is a special opportunity to welcome into our hearts the Messiah who is able to bring light to the darkest corners of our lives: Jesus Christ. Through prayer, reconciliation, and service to others, we can invite the dawn of God’s light to break upon us, placing our hope in the God who guides us in the way of inner peace.