Published in the Austin American-Statesman on June 13, 2020
Darkness and light. Their daily and seasonal dance mirrors our own movements in and about the two realms.
This past December in our South Austin neighborhood, some of our neighbors wrapped holiday lights around tree trunks and others draped overhangs with icicle lights. My wife placed electric candlelights in our five front windows that face the street. Even though fewer neighbors placed lights than in previous years, light shone forth and vanquished the night darkness nonetheless.
I needed those December lights to shine. A number of folks in our society – some leaning left and others right of the political divide – agree that we are living in dark and difficult days. The coronavirus pandemic by itself causes many of us to shudder and fear. But these pre-pandemic problems haven’t disappeared: hyper-partisan divides, stagnant social and economic inequalities, an erosion of humane values, and climatic changes. All of these issues combine to produce a general sense of gloom felt by many, myself included, for the future.
My focus on the future took on a personal enhancement because my wife, Denise, and I became new grandparents in the hot summer of 2019. As I rocked my months-old granddaughter in my arms toward the end of last year, I was struck by how often and easily she smiled back at me. I wondered as I smiled back at her: Doesn’t she know about all the problems going on in the world today? Doesn’t she know about the potentially perilous state of the future? How is it that she can smile while the world despairs?
Of course, she doesn’t know about the world’s problems, nor does she have to know. One of her important tasks at this point in her little life is to smile at her grandfather, thereby reminding him that God is still at work sending divine light into the world – the type of light that vanquishes the darkness every single time.
Christians observe Advent during the short days (in the northern hemisphere) of light in December, waiting in celebration for the promised light of Christ to arrive and vanquish the darkness in the world. Appropriately, my granddaughter’s smile of light graced the sermons that I gave at different churches in December. Congregants smiled back at me as I explained my theological interpretation of her smile, based in the words of the Christian Testament: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not able to overcome it” (John 1:5).
Maybe times have always been this difficult. Five or ten years from now, hindsight will reveal whether these current days are truly as difficult as they seem to some of us.
Yet we know that fellow humans in past times suffered and endured much worse than what we are living through today. How did they hold onto hope in the midst of difficulty? As do we, they saw the sun rise in the morning and scatter the darkness. The daily cycle of darkness and light infuses the human soul with life and hope because it affirms the possibility of change within the larger frame of stability. Such is our hope: life goes on, large-scale chaos doesn’t rule, each day holds the potential of a new start.
And now the spring sun coaxes the blooming of wildflowers as the days lengthen. The seasonal darkness of winter has faded away and the flowers gracing my yard – bluebonnets, poppies, lilies and roses – reflect in a transformed state the invigorating light that called them forth.
Soon I will hold my granddaughter again and we will both smile for a camera in front of the flowers. Captured will be a perfect picture of light, flourishing beauty, and vulnerable grace. Our hope for the future is yet alive as the light continues to shine.
T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).