Wednesday, December 15, 2010


See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn… Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy. (Isaiah 60.2-3,5)

Arise and Shine Now

Yesterday I spent a priceless half-hour on the phone with a young hip-hop artist diagnosed with a debilitating condition. I entered the conversation in my capacity as a healthcare writer inquiring about his progress on a treatment my client manufactures. But our talk soon surpassed his resurgence after starting medication. Despite setbacks and sorrows—his crowd rapidly thinned once it became apparent getting his health restored would delay his success—he kept returning to a theme: “It taught me a lot about my circle, my family and friends, and me.” With his career back on-track, I asked if he had a message for younger fans with similar illnesses. “I want to tell them this is the first of many challenges they’ll face,” he answered. “But if they learn from it, they’ll wake up grateful for each day, just like me. It will keep them glowing.” Not “going." Glowing.

After the call, I closed my notes to find my browser open to Isaiah 60. I’d had the passage up for some time without getting to it. The first few verses took my breath. “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” verse one reads, “and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” That’s the verse we know—the one we sing and recite at this time of year—God’s glistening promise to restore Jerusalem’s glory after decades of debilitation. Yet revisiting the text in the wake my conversation startled me. Its message is not a forecast. It’s an invitation to arise and shine now. Its promise hinges on courage to defy circumstances—to keep glowing: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but LORD rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn,” verses 2 and 3 say. Verse 5 declares, “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.” Just as the musician’s attitude chastens us for nursing self-pity and pessimism when life takes a cruel turn, Isaiah challenges our belief that light and joy are contingent on God’s blessings and goodness. Both insist we’ve got it backwards. Blessings, healing, and deliverance don’t make us shine. We don’t wait for brighter days before stirring from our stupor. First we glow, and then we grow.

Taking Back the Night

We jump on Advent’s juggernaut, hurtling through darkness with eyes trained ahead. Salvation is coming. We long to be there when it appears. We ache once more to see nascent glimmers of redemption in Christ’s newborn eyes. Finding our hope cradled in Bethlehem’s manger, we instinctively raise our sights to Calvary’s cross. The moment hums with excitement about the future: this changes everything. In our forward-focused enthusiasm, however, we can’t forget there’s more to Christmas than a new dawning. It’s also about taking back the night. Fears and dangers that left us scrambling for shadowy corners or trembling behind bolted doors can torment us no more. Injuries and injustices that haunted us shrivel under our radiance. That’s right, our radiance—the glory of God that rises upon us in darkness. The Christ-Child is our light. John 1.4 tells us in Jesus “was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” Christ’s gift of redemption pivots on enabling us to perfect God’s reflection in our lives and world. We are created to glow. The glory rising over us gives us power to destroy darkness in our present, future, and our past.

Now we have a choice. Either we treat this metaphorically, which puts it with other prophetic poetry we unpack at Advent. Or we embrace it as a real thing—a phenomenon we experience and practice all year. What does that mean? As far as we run from our pasts, our pasts are never far from us. I suspect most of us seldom finish a day without bumping into a reminder of fears and losses that vexed our nights before Christ illuminated our lives. Holidays and homecomings are notorious for plunging those of us who’ve escaped unhealthy pasts into dizzying darkness. We timidly enter these scenes, needlessly availing ourselves to prejudices and pressures by dimming our lights. But we weren’t created for low light. God made us to glow. We shine because light has come to restore what we lost. Whether darkness invades our minds with a passing memory or surrounds us in settings we’ve outgrown, we keep glowing, never faltering in our quest to take back the night.

No Posturing Needed

But, realistically, how do we manage this? Should we act like memories and night haunts don’t menace us? We’re talking about incredibly mean stuff here. We’ve got scars that brushes with the past repeatedly rip open, wounds that never completely heal. All it takes sometimes is a word, a look, a voice—even a room or smell—to hurl us into the blackest of nights. Are we supposed to adopt an impervious posture to keep glowing? Can we even do that? Here’s where faith in God’s promises becomes critical. Remember Isaiah 60.5? “You will look and be radiant.” Who we were when we lived in darkness is not who we are now. God’s glory has risen on us, shattering our night. Our light has come. We found it in a manger. It changed us forever, enabling us reroute our future and empowering us to reclaim our past. No posturing is needed. We simply have to be. We look radiant when we reencounter darkness because we are radiant. It's that simple. Darkness holds us no longer. And we have only one lesson to retain from its meanness: when we glow its power fails. Through this season and always, be radiant. Glow.

God’s glory rises on us and we glow. Our radiance defeats our darkness. It’s not a posture or pretense. It’s who we are.

Postscript: “Walk in the Light”

I mentioned in an earlier post how this Advent keeps sending me down well-trod musical paths from my youth. As I worked on today’s reflection, I couldn’t shake this glorious rendition of the classic hymn, “Walk in the Light,” by a treasured late friend and musical genius, Thomas Whitfield. I slapped together a quick video, but the beauty—the triumph—is in the song!


Walk in the light, beautiful light

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright

Oh, shine all around us by day and by night

Jesus is, Jesus is

The Light of the world.

No need to worry, no need to fret

All of my needs Jesus has met

His love protects me from hurt and from harm

Jesus is, Jesus is

The Light of the world.

If the Gospel be hid, It's hid from the lost

Jesus is waiting to look past your faults

Arise and shine, your light has come

Jesus is, Jesus is

The Light of the world.

Jesus is the Light of the world

Jesus is the Light of the world

Jesus is the Light of the world

He's ever shining in my soul


Philomena Ewing said...

Extarordinary Tim. I have been reading the posts from newest to oldest and my previous comment on fade to black is answered here !!
I love the way you temper the light with the realism of our lives but you never shirk from the path we have to take ... into the light . Amen to that !

Tim said...

Now that I read them back-to-back, Phil, they do seem to be all of a piece, don't they?

My folks taught us when the Word consistently steers us in the same or a similar direction, it's time to sit up and take notice. The Spirit's saying something to you right now, where you are, they stressed.

I'm so grateful you pointed this out. It's been a little wacky for me lately and I doubt I would have picked up on it. I've got some serious listening and praying to do!

Peace, joy, and light always,