“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of light.” John 12:36
Light is a cardinal theme in the Gospel of John. He introduces the word early and returns to it often. The Light is Jesus Himself, who was with God and was God from the very beginning, created the world, and then came into it (1:5). The words of Jesus, “I am the Light of the world” (9:5) are found only in John. We find more “light” in John’s gospel than any other.
Not surprisingly we also find a lot of darkness. Darkness and night are also key themes in the gospel and signify all that stands in opposition to the Light. Even the sympathetic Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night” (3: 2), indicating his spiritual darkness. The shadows can be much more sinister, for when Judas left Jesus to betray Him, he went in the night (13:30).
Advent is a time to celebrate The Light. We remember and joyously welcome again the good news of Jesus’ birth. We sing of it, decorate our homes and sanctuaries in honor of it. Christmas surrounds us! The Light has come.
Yet we also sense the shadows. Sometimes we are well-meaning, like Nicodemus. Other times we willingly embrace what is clearly against The Light and not at all in our best interest. Any proper spiritual exercise during Advent requires both embracing what is good and letting go of what is bad. We cannot celebrate The Light fully unless we become aware of, and turn away from, the darkness and night that are a part of every one of us.
That is where Henri Nouwen’s prayer comes in. Nouwen was one of my favorite authors. He died in 1996, but his influence continues strongly through works like The Return of the Prodigal. He chronicled his battle with depression in A Wounded Healer. He was a saint in the truest sense of the word.
He penned the following prayer, and I wanted you to have it to use during Advent. It invites God to help you discern all forms of the shadows, and turn clearly and more completely to The Light of Christ.
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do, seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things, look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways, long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy, seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" Amen
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 5, 2011