Moving from Darkness to Light

by Elder Michael J. Adee, Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church

There is no other time like the season of Advent. This is a time of anticipation and realization. It is the “already, but not yet” tension of our faith: Immanuel, God is with us and yet, God’s realm is not fully realized. Advent reminds us of our deep longing for God to come close to us, for God to reveal the divine in human form, in the Christ in the manger, the Christ in the world, and in each other.

“Those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are of any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness,” as Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us.

“Advent recognizes a profound spiritual path — that we need nor fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Under the blue cope of heaven, alert for the signs of dawn. Watch. For you cannot rush the night. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers,” offers Diana Butler Bass.

Since the discovery of the most contagious infectious diseases in modern time, Covid-19, resulting in a global pandemic and one at our own doors, darkness has been our communal experience like never before.  Accompanying the loss of millions of lives has been the politicization of science,  public health care, common sense and caring for the common good.  

Where is Immanuel in all of this? Where is the presence of God in this time? Where it has always been… moving from darkness into light. As the writer of Genesis has described, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.

During the early part of the pandemic, when being indoors with groups of people was not safe, I discovered that I could still go to church, not inside a building, but online via Zoom. The church that loved me back to faith in the early 1990’s, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio was offering Sunday morning worship via Zoom. Instead of going to church, church came to me on my Chromebook at my dining table overlooking my front yard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I must confess that I often ate my breakfast, an English muffin, a vehicle for butter, with a cup of good coffee while I watched church online.

I sang the hymns, listened to the pastoral prayers, heard the sermons and strangely, magically felt connected to church and that loving, affirming faith community which is 1,385 miles away. The experience of Zoom, first, and then live stream worship, is not unique to me, of course. I imagine millions of people across our country have their own stories about church during the pandemic. The unexpected gift, like the surprises revealed during Advent, was that I decided to rejoin Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church as a member, not just online, so I transferred my letter of membership this summer.

Last Advent, the deacons at Mount Auburn organized a remarkable giving of an Advent at home kit that included the Advent wreath candle holder with 4 purple candles and 1 white one. They kindly mailed my Advent at home kit to me. This was another way to hold each other in community.

During Advent, and nearly every time I light candles or see them in a church, I think of the commitment and call of Howard Thurman…

  • I will light candles this Christmas,
  • Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
  • Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
  • Candles of courage for fears ever present,
  • Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
  • Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
  • Candles of love to inspire all my living,
  • Candles that will burn all year long.

Michael J. Adee is an Elder at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church and he serves as Director of the Global Faith and Justice Project. His home is Santa Fe, New Mexico.