"...in the land where death has cast its shadow, a Light has dawned."
As I took my morning walk (after a delicious Christmas breakfast!), I listened to Matthew's account of the Christmas narrative. This of course doesn't last very long so I listened a few chapters on and came to the verse above. It struck me with such joy and poignancy that it brought me to tears. Perhaps this is partly because I and several of my dear friends have felt Death's bitter sting more deeply this year than some other Christmas's. I felt it most sorely last night when my family and I attended the annual Christmas Eve celebration with my Dad's family. This was the first Christmas without my Grandaddy, and it is this time of year that I hold my most precious memories with him. It just wasn't the same without him.
There was extra country ham left on the platter. There was no Christmas Eve football game rumbling in the background. His chair sat empty half of the night, still situated opposite the blank TV screen. There was no rib-cracking hug in greeting and farewell. I didn't even bother bringing my violin...it was him that I had played for every year since I was 8. No one asked the questions he always leveled at us grandchildren about our grades at college. He would have been proud of the answer this year. He would have been so proud of the job opportunities that are opening up back in Wheaton...a pride he would have shown with a smirk around the left corner of his mouth, a raised eyebrow and a nod.
I miss him. But it is not merely his absence that stings, is it? It is this whole world - this life itself - over which Death has cast its shadow. As the Scripture says, "the sting of death is sin," and with the first disobedience, Death flung that shadow thick and dark over all creation. Bitterness and pride and lust and self indulgence grow rank and fester beneath our superficial veneers which still display evidence of pre-fallen splendor. It is into this darkness that the Word descended. He took on just such a veneer, with all it's constraints and weights and weaknesses. But instead of cloaking evil, this tattered mantle concealed God himself, the Triune Glory in created flesh, the Equal Son of the Almighty Father, our Emmanuel, the Light of the world.
My mind is overwhelmed at this image of light. There are so many examples in literature of battles between Light and Darkness. The relief is always immense when Light finally penetrates Darkness. And it always does, for "After night, comes Day!" Darkness is indeed the weaker foe. The absence of a thing cannot wage battle indefinitely against the presence of the real article. With Advent, the Real Article did appear. In the words of Milton:
And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame
As his inferior flame
The new-enlightened world no more should need;
He saw a greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axletree could bear.
The Light has dawned. He has conquered the sting of Death, but he has not yet dealt it the final blow. We have a hope which is stronger than any pleasure and more stable than any earthly security or comfort. And yet the shadows linger, and will continue to cloud and sicken and snare until that final day of Justice when all will be made fully new. That day, our Almighty Judge will mount His throne and say to Death and the shadows of sin, "Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!" And He will be right, and sin will be no more, and the shadows will be gone forever. Until that day, we have the immense privilege of carrying the Light of Christ ever deeper in to those shadows. May we be the Evenstar of Truth and lead, in beauty, many towards the great Light. With Him there there will be no need for any sun, and there He will wipe every tear from our eyes.