Waiting in Darkness
1John 4:16-21 NRSV God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
When I was small I recall waking in the wee hours of the morning into a house that was pitch black. I must have been dreaming of dark things, too, because I was filled with fear. I desperately wanted to get to my parents’ bed and crawl in with them, but it was a big house and I was mighty afraid. So afraid, in fact, that I slowly made my way from my bed to theirs keeping my back pinned against the wall the whole way for fear that if I walked in the middle of the room or hallway something was going to get me from behind. I still remember the feel of the cold walls as I pressed my back against them and sidestepped all the way to my parents’ room.
Jump forward 30 years and I am totally immersed in the complete dark of a vast, cold, worship space. It is 3:30 a.m. and I am keeping vigil for Christ at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Vigils, as a daily time of prayer, invites us to trust in the darkness — to believe that God will meet us in the silence and in the stillness of that early, dark hour. I am totally at home in the dark of Vigils, feeling that in some mystical way the darkness and the warmth of the comforter I have wrapped around me is womb-like. I am abiding in God, in the dark.
These two moments of darkness are shaped profoundly by the presence of fear and love: As a child, fending off night terrors and fearfully journeying to the place of love. As an adult child of God, immersed in the sense that God is with me in a most intimate expression of loving embrace.
We begin our Advent journey at a time of increasing darkness. Each day gets shorter and each night gets longer until the Winter solstice (December 21). Advent is a season of the church in which we are engaged in the art of waiting in the dark. This first week of Advent begins with the story of Herod who let his fear prevail and lead him to the brutal slaughtering of the innocents [see Matthew Chapter 2]. Each of us has to deal with the fears that would lead us to fail in our calling to love. First John instructs us that “perfect love casts out fear,” and further that, “those who love God must love their sisters and brothers also.”
My prayer this Advent is that we all will find a way to befriend the darkness and to look for the presence of God even in it. It is possible to make peace with our seasons of darkness and to embrace the God who loves us enough to enter into the darkness with us and stay with us through the night until the dawn.
Gracious God, you are Lord of all things -- of both light and darkness: You say to us what you have always said to your disciples, “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.” Help us to embrace your perfect love and cast out the fear that leads us to sin — that we might become beacons of love and light in a darkened world. We ask it in the name of the Christ-child who arrived in the bleak midwinter to restore our hope and complete our redemption. Amen.