This last week we lit a candle in church. Most weeks we light candles, but for those in certain Christian traditions, this last week saw the lighting of the first candle in the Advent wreath of four. Each candle lit marks one more week of our path to Christmas. Advent has been variously described in the church, but I like those descriptions pointing to it as a time of deep yearning: for peace, for love, for hope, for joy, and above all for the arrival of God in our lives. In the season of advent we note that our will for what is well points us to that deepest of desires – God’s desire to be with us in even our darkest moments.
I like it that Advent occurs before the winter solstice in northern climes. As the sun makes its way further and further down the horizon, we begin to mark these days of yearning. In my walk home these days, I start in the light, but by the time I make it to downtown Kitchener the streetlights are on. What I find most intriguing, however, is the number of businesses that “arrive” for my observation. In the summer, when I walk home, many of the windows of the businesses do nothing more than reflect my image. When I look in the windows, I see me. But in this season of Advent, in this time of darkness, the lights in the shops flick on and when I look in the window I no longer see me, but the inner workings of this storefront or that. I suddenly discover that there are apartments above shops; there are people busy in businesses some 5 metres from my path. A world is at work on the other side of that mirror come window.
I suppose, in a way, this pilgrimage is a parable for faith’s journey. It starts in the light where I see me in the mirror, and ends in the dark where I see the other as my focus becomes outward-focused. We meander towards home, and along the way the darkness comes – but not the kind of darkness that extinguishes the light, but rather the kind that makes it finally visible. Or better yet, it isn’t so much the light that becomes visible as what the light enlightens. The other person, the unknown place now before my eyes as I slide from self-reflection to contemplation of God at work in the world.
Of course, I do not mean to romanticize darkness. There is a darkness that is dangerous. But there is also a darkness that eases the eyes, that slows the pace and focusses the gaze. This time of the sun’s slippage is a transition time. As the sun crosses the border of the horizon we are allowed to look into another world, and so see our own world in a new way. I imagine that the experience of Advent in the Southern Hemisphere is rather different: rich, I am sure, in its own way. But for me, these days of darkening are precious indeed. I feel a little like we experience the reversal of birth. As we light the second candle next Sunday, I will hold my breath and listen for my soul being nudged further along into the shadows, into another corner where I will see yet another sight.