1 December 2019
Field of darkness comes to light
In August I was one of those people, visiting at dawn as part of a coach tour from Adelaide to Darwin. Uluru was always going to be the centrepiece of my journey; everything else was accessorising, at least in my pre-trip mind.
However, critical to this experience, for me, was not the looming presence of Uluru (which you can’t see in the dark, of course), but simply the desert environment. While much of Australia is desert, to me it was a completely unfamiliar environment.
I wrote in my journal:
“… thousands of lights … lit up a field in the desert. We walked across the dunes in the darkness and the field revealed itself in all its glory.”
There’s another story which sees fields overcome by glorious light, and an angelic voice to dispel the fear of this unfamiliar phenomenon.
“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.” (Lk 2:8-9)
For these shepherds, living lives that probably resembled those lived by generations before them, finding themselves in a field of light was a game-changer.
“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11)
The gospel of Luke suggests that the lives of the shepherds changed, because, literally overnight, they had become evangelists. Their encounter with The Light changed everything.
In the southern hemisphere, the celebration of the season of Christmas − which, for the secular world, ends at midnight on December 25 and for the Christian world, begins at midnight on December 24 – coincides with long summer days. We don’t have snowy fields; in fact, even actual darkness is at a premium.
When parents take their children to see Christmas lights (maybe even Griswold style, thanks to the Hollywood-isation of the festive season), they may have to wait until well after bedtime to take pyjama-clad little ones out.
If you’ve experienced a northern hemisphere Christmas, as I have, you will have developed a new appreciation for Christ being welcomed as “a light to the nations” (Is 49:6). You will have been one of “The people that walked in darkness [who have] seen a great light” (Is 9:1).
The symbol of light, integral to so many of our Christian rituals, means more when one has experienced darkness. This darkness may be literal, or it may be a dark night of the soul. It seems that many who became saints also experienced times when they felt alienated from God, robbed of light.
As I walked through the field of light at Uluru, I was reminded of those who, despite living difficult lives in oppressive times, believed in the promise of a saviour. We too live in difficult times, although for many of us, life is quite comfortable. We hesitate to own our faith, because we know ridicule or simple disbelief may follow.
We can be easily distracted from the promise of Christmas by baubles and brouhaha, playlists and parties, recipes and rsvps. In fact, the tyranny of lists can overwhelm us completely! When all you are seeking is a place that is warm and safe to give birth to your firstborn, you don’t need a list.
When you have come to know and love the God-man that firstborn son became, you have been enlightened and you want to enlighten others.
You may not walk through a field of light in the desert, momentarily dazzled by sightlines that snake across the sand as far as the eye can see, but you walk in the footsteps of the one whose birth was announced by angels and circulated by shepherds.
“…they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Lk 2:17-18)
Maybe this Christmas is a time to look for the lights of truth, kindness, hope and joy amidst the desert of fake news, cruelty, despair and sorrow. The lights are there, but you need some darkness to really see them.
And having found them, don’t keep them to yourself!
“Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” (Lk 2: 20)
Photo courtesy: Beth Blake.