“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
At this time of year, few verses seem more fitting than these oft-quoted words from John 1:5. Early sunsets make for darker days. Reflections on the incarnation of Christ often funnel to tranquil images of the peaceful night and the dotted lights of the stars shining in the sky.
Yet my reflections on this verse this year have tied to an assignment I have next week. Our presbytery youth leadership team asked me to do a workshop at their upcoming high school winter conference. My assigned topic: Depression and Despair: Finding the Light of God in the Midst of Darkness. Quite a theme to guide my meditations as I close the year.
Such a title forces me to reflect on light and darkness not as a picture of tranquility, but of the radiance of light invading sorrow. And the reality is, at this time of year, and at any time of year, the sorrow of darkness is a more apt description of where so many are.
Recent studies show startling trends in rising depression rates among college students and decreasing rates of reported self-happiness in the United States. Others – like many in the congregation I pastor – face the grief of loss of parents, grandparents, friends, and others.
Darkness is real.
To understand, I’m taken to Job. Job reflects as much as any of the Biblical writers on light and darkness. In his reflections, one can trace a narrative of indeed how light shines in darkness. Consider his meditations. Consider where your own experience or that of those you love is found in Job:
Job 3:3-4: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it."
Here we find a desire for even the day of birth to be seen as darkness. Despair causes our entire existence from birth to the present to be seen as dark.
Job 10:20-22: "Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”
Job looks to his future and sees only a world of darkness. Despair causes our existence from now until death to be seen as dark.
Job 17:12: "They make night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’"
Here, Job refers to the words of his unhelpful counselors, turning his light to darkness. Despair is enhanced when those near us seem to bring more shadow than light.
Job 30:26: "But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came."
Job recalls longing for light, only to get darkness. Despair is enhanced when our longings for light get replaced with a dark cloud.
Job's darkness is real. And sadly, Job's shadow of loss in reflection on the past, the future, unhelpful friends, and failed hopes is cast over the likes of so many, perhaps you, from one generation to the next.
Is there hope? Yes. In the words of another speaker in Job. The Lord replies to Job out of the whirlwind. Not surprisingly, the Lord turns to the theme of light and darkness.
Job 38:19-20: “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?"
The Lord, and only the Lord, knows and rules the pathway of darkness and light. Job's darkness is real. Our darkness is real. And so is the omnipotent power and presence of He who rules the darkness and rules the light. He is the one who on the first day of creation brought light from darkness. He is the one who in new creation has brought the light from the darkness of the grave.
And so, in despair, our only hope is to rest in the God of light.
This season, you, me, all of us, must rest in the same truth. That the God of the light and the God of the darkness know what He is doing. That the God of the light and the God of the darkness knows how to bring light out of the darkness we face. That the God of the light and the God of the darkness has caused that light to shine in the person of Jesus Christ. And though we cannot see the future, or perhaps cannot see the light at all times, He shines the light nonetheless.
In other words, we must reflect on another of Job’s reflections on light and darkness. Speaking of the LORD, Job writes (12:22): “He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light.”
In the birth of Christ, in the shining forth of the gospel, God brings deep darkness to light. May you find that light, now and forever.
 See Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic, Becoming Whole (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019), 30-31.