As our days grow imperceptibly longer and brighter, we know that those in far northern latitudes still endure the darkness of twenty-four-hour nights. Although darkness can be experienced as soothing and even comforting, it can also occasion anxiety, confusion, and a sense of being lost. Thus, the people that walked in darkness and have seen a great light, are people for whom darkness was oppressive and something they desired to escape. Each one of us is born into the same darkness that was theirs and, like them, a great light has shone upon us also. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that two great lights have shone upon us.
For many of us the first light was not something we personally recall. For that light was the radiant light that enfolded and penetrated our very being at the moment of our baptism in infancy. This rather common experience stands in contrast to someone like Saint Paul, who in the darkness of ignorance and misdirected religious zeal was actually persecuting The Light that had begun shining with such brilliance over all the earth. Despite the bright sunlight of midday, a still brighter light blinded Saul and threw him to the ground. Nevertheless, whether it this dramatic light that so powerfully overcame Saul, or the one that shone more gently on us in baptism, it might be thought of as only the first installment.
In our Christian mystical tradition, the second installment is the light we experience without initially realizing that we are, in fact, beholding a great light—a light that is nothing less than God himself. And because it is God (and not any created light) our physical eyes simply cannot see it. This light which is never not shining upon us gradually has to supersede the kind of created light that blinded Saul. Like Saul unable to see with his physical eyes, those who respond to God’s call to deeper conversion, have to initially surrender to this apparent “darkness” and blindness that is actually the unmediated encounter with the reality of God.
For those who do surrender and trust this “bright darkness,” the great light that is eventually “seen” is found to have been not separate from the darkness, but rather synonymous with it. This is the happy lot of those who attain true purity of heart. For as the True Light, Jesus Christ, assured us, blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. However, we don’t just see the great light, but as Saint Irenaeus declares, those who see the light are themselves in the light and share in its splendor. Sharing in its splendor is becoming like God for as Saint John assures us we shall become like him for we shall see him as he is.
This may all seem far removed from shepherds keeping the night watch, or an infant being born in a stable. Yet, one of the primary reasons for the Savior’s birth was (and is) to heal and reeducate our inner sense of sight that once did freely behold that Light, that is Life, and that is God—a light that, tragically, became darkness for us. In extending my (and the community’s) Christmas greetings to you our friends, my sincere wish for you and for us is that we who may walk in what we still experience as darkness will open our hearts to the purifying love of the newborn Christ. Then with hearts made pure that apparent darkness will reveal its true nature as Light and as God, so that it may also be said of us, the people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light!