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The Speed of Darkness – A Christmas Blog By R. Scott Rodin

A Christmas blog about darkness? Really?

Let me explain: Jesus was born in the physical darkness of a stable. He came into a social darkness of poverty, oppression, and fear. He entered a politically dark culture under cruel Roman rule. His first cries rang out in a spiritual darkness where the spirit of the law was covered over by the religious authorities who used the law to hold onto power and position. If we are to be honest about celebrating the first Christmas, we must take the presence of darkness then and now seriously.

Darkness in Scripture

Darkness plays a role in Scripture that reflects its ontology; darkness is a parasite. It exists as the antithesis of that which has existence. Scientifically, darkness has no proper existence. It is defined by what it is not. You cannot go into a light room and project darkness into it. You cannot create darkness; you can only enable it by turning off the Light.

Based on this understanding of darkness, here is a riddle.

If you walk into a room and it is entirely dark, what three things could have caused it?

First, the room could be devoid of any source of Light. The room remains dark without a Light bulb, a candle, or an open window.

Second, the light source in the room has been obstructed. A sheet over a lamp. A shade over the candle. A curtain on the window. There is light; it has been prohibited from overtaking the darkness.

Third (this is the tricky one), you have your eyes closed. The room is flooded with brilliant Light, but for you, all is black.

Think about the application to our age of spiritual darkness.

Cultural Conflicts

Some people in our culture have never been introduced to the source of true Light. Darkness is all they know, and so it’s not darkness to them. They are not looking for a source of Light because no one has told them it’s dark. They may suspect that Light may exist. They may even quietly long for something more than the shadows that hover over their daily existence. But they have no real sense that there is a light that can reveal to them the true darkness that they have mistaken for reality.

For others, they know there is a light. Still, they have allowed obstructions to obscure it in their life: anger over past experiences with ‘religion,’ doubts about the logic of religious doctrine, consenting to the current self-focused cultural mandate that shoves God to the periphery, etc. In these and other ways, the Light that shines bright for them is kept behind a shade, forbidden to chase the darkness from their lives.

And for some, especially those inside the church, the Light is in all its brilliance. Still, they refuse to see it, to experience it in all its glory, because it requires an open-eyed honesty and vulnerability they refuse. Why? Because this Light confronts before it warms. It convicts before it transforms. It draws repentance from our lips before it inspires praises from those same lips. The Light is the presence of the living God. And standing in His presence always results in a crisis in our soul. Many pew dwellers in our churches today want nothing of this crisis, just as many pastors are happy to oblige. The theologian Karl Barth describes this as ‘evasion,’

“It is the form of sin which properly speaking is possible and powerful only in this age. It takes place as man desires and attempts to avoid Jesus Christ as the true witness encountering him. Man would rather escape this encounter. He fears the One who encounters him and the implications of the encounter. He starts back from what it will mean not to be his own but to belong to the Savior and Lord, to be a man reconciled to God, to live in covenant with Him, to be justified and sanctified only but very really by the grace of God. He fears the upshot of all this. Evasion means trying to find another place where the truth can no longer reach or affect him, where he is secure from the invading hand of its knowledge and from its implications.”

Church Dogmatics IV.3.1, pp.435

For Us Today

As we celebrate Christmas, I want to encourage us to think about how light shines in darkness in our culture, church, and lives. Isaiah proclaimed,

“There will be no more gloom for those in distress. In the past, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. Still, in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan – The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Isaiah 9:1-2

Jesus claimed,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

Jesus announced,

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

Light has crashed into the darkness. Jesus is the Light. And He shines out to the world through us.

Our Call to Action

We must take these claims of Isaiah and Jesus seriously and see them as challenging as we confront the three causes of darkness in our day.

  1. Consider the people we encounter daily who are convinced that darkness is light. They have bought the deception that there is nothing (and no one) to seek beyond their experience that may be a source of warmth and Light. It is all a damnable lie. They embrace the darkness, believing it to be reality, like a blind man holding tight to the arm of a statue, waiting for it to help him safely across the street. How can the Light of Jesus shine through us this Christmas as a first real glimpse of the glory and reality of the Light that shines for all people? Can our love, grace, and compassion shine into their darkness? Because of you, will someone see that Light for the first time this season?
  2. Then consider the people who need someone to lift a shade, pull back a curtain, or remove a sheet to allow the Light they know is there to flood their souls. They are desperate to be freed from the pain and disillusionment that is keeping them in darkness. They are in bondage, wanting to be set free, even if they outwardly deny it. No one wants darkness when they know there is light. Is someone around you hurting? Are they growing cynical, calloused, or resistant to the Light? How might God use you to lead them to the manger this Christmas? Might God use you to lift a shade, be it ever so slight, and allow His Light to begin to shine into their darkness?
  3. Finally, we should be heartbroken over the churches that will be filled on Christmas Eve with well-intentioned churchgoers who, with eyes closed, will hear a sanitized story about an event that happened long ago and the birth of a prophet who came to show us how to be good people and live a prosperous life. Will pastors dare to bring the message of the spiritual crisis we must all experience as we approach the manger of Emmanuel, God with us? Will they challenge us to reflect on our sins in His presence? Will there be a call to repentance? An invitation to surrender? Likely not. Millions living in darkness will file into churches with their spiritual eyes closed and leave without ever having been invited to open them. They are the evaders Barth described. They are in the pews next to us. They are in our places of business, social circles, and family. How might God use us to invite them to open their eyes this Christmas?

Why the Speed of Darkness?

I titled this blog the ‘Speed of Darkness’ because science has shown that darkness travels at the speed of Light. As quickly as the Light recedes, darkness floods in. There is no delay. These two, alone, mark our existence: light and darkness. Christmas is the celebration of the victory of the one over the other. Good Friday is where the victory was enacted, and Easter is where it was fulfilled and sealed for eternity. But the Light that overcame the darkness shone first and brightest when

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:14

It was of this incarnation, God in the flesh, Emmanuel, that John wrote,

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.”

John 1:4

May it be so this Christmas for you and through you, for all those upon whom God’s Light will shine.

Merry Christmas to you!

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R. Scott Rodin is the Senior Consultant/Chief Strategy Officer for The Focus Group. Over the past thirty-eight years, Scott Rodin has helped hundreds of organizations improve their effectiveness in leadership, fund development, strategic planning, and board development. His books and articles have been translated into over twenty languages, and he has taught and consulted with ministries across five continents. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education and as board chair for ChinaSource.

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