When OSL staff first started talking about this year’s Advent theme, “Treasures of Darkness,” we found ourselves struggling to understand ourselves.
We wanted to look for good things in the darkness. But we kept running into our own assumption that darkness is bad, and light is much better.
For Christians, a preference for light is almost hardwired into our faith. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus refers to separation from God as “the outer darkness.” In the Gospel of John, the evangelist writes of Jesus as the “true light, which enlightens everyone.” So it’s natural for Christians to assume that darkness is the opposite of God.
To be sure, darkness can be a reason to fear. Anyone who has stubbed a toe in a dark hotel room can testify to that. Kids worry about monsters under their beds. People who have listened to the snapping twigs while huddled in a tent in bear country will share an even sharper fear of the dark. If light is understanding, darkness is fear and sorrow and the unknown.
But for the people of God, light was not always preferential to darkness. In the Hebrew Bible, God appears to the people Israel as a pillar of fire by night and a column of darkness by day. When Solomon dedicated the Temple to the LORD, he says, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.” We can find dozens more examples in the Bible. Even if we prefer to understand God as a glorious light, God might prefer to remain in the dark.
In the dark, God can work unseen. In the dark, God can make plans and quietly bring them to fruition. In the dark, God is freed from our expectations. In the dark, God can watch over us when we are asleep and powerless. Truth be told, we often experience God this way—we believe God is there, and we trust God is at work in our lives, even when we don’t see.
This Advent, we’re not trying to entirely reprogram your brain with “Treasures of Darkness.” Indeed, many of our devotions are written just the way you might expect: God is a light in the darkness, a lamp at our feet.
But as you move deeper into Advent, you’ll notice our devotions grow darker. Like people whose eyes adjust to deepening night, our writers find increasing comfort in situations where they cannot see the path. There they find that God is present even when God is cloaked in mystery.
As you read, you may just find yourself growing more comfortable with darkness. Believe me: God is there, waiting for you, holding hidden treasure.
Pr. Justin Kosec
“Treasures of Darkness” illustration by Gary Gaede