“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
As John begins his marvelous Gospel, he speaks of Jesus coming into our world. He speaks of God, he speaks of Word, and he speaks of light.
That light is a powerful image and one that so keenly comes through on a day like December 14th, right in the midst of Advent. Because light, for many of us, has become increasingly precious and rare. The winter days have shortened. The darkness has crept in. We yearn for that light just like the world longed for the “light of the human race” (John 1:4), the light that shines with the coming of Jesus on Christmas Day.
But today’s not Christmas, not quite. The light that will shine hasn’t come, not yet. And that means that we’re still in the midst of Advent. This time of waiting and preparing, this time, we can say, of darkness. Now, putting it that way might not sound so great, especially since often we speak of darkness only in a negative sense, but today might help us to think of things just a little differently. Because today’s not just any old day of Advent. No, it also happens to be a special feast, the feast day of Saint John of the Cross.
Now, unlike John the Evangelist, Saint John of the Cross focused less on the light and more on the dark, reflecting on what he often called the “dark night of the soul.” A time of feeling totally disconnected from God. A spiritual darkness or emptiness prompted by our Lord that can leave a person feeling lost, even abandoned.
Sounds bad, right? Well, it’s not great, but it’s also not the end of the story because as Saint John of the Cross so eloquently expressed, that darkness is not meant to plunge us into an enduring despair. It’s a time when we’re challenged to grow in our desire for God, and we realize how beautiful it is to be close to Him, an absence meant to make the heart grow fonder. This darkness, then, is not a depressing end but a step toward the light of our Lord. The light that eventually comes to gets us out of the darkness, the light that we so eagerly await.
And that’s what makes Saint John so perfect to consider and celebrate during the darkness of the Advent season. Each year we’re asked to enter into that darkness just a little bit, to remind ourselves, before Jesus comes, of what it’s like without that light. To look at the empty manger and feel the pain, the discomfort, the separation of not having Jesus there.
It’s a separation that Saint John of the Cross understood so well and one that we, too, can learn from. So it might be helpful to let ourselves join Saint John in that darkness, to feel the waiting, the separation, the “not yet” of being apart from Jesus. Not because we like the dark. Not because we don’t like having Jesus here. But because the more we realize that we lack, the more beautiful, incredible, and truly full of light our lives will be when he finally arrives on Christmas Day.
(Image: St. John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán)