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Shadows are cast over each of our lives. Shadows that, while under their cover, may feel like the world might overtake you. Enveloping you. These shadows come unexpectedly at times. Other times they are engrained in the cultures and spaces we live in. We must do what we can to navigate beneath these clouds, these shadows, pleading for light to break through. Darkness cannot overtake the light, but that doesn’t mean shadows don’t change our world. Might we hope for a light unfading.
In the centuries before Jesus, numerous shadows stretched over Israel. For hundreds of years the Jewish people had lived through the cycle of freedom, occupation, foreign rule, and oppression by multiple people groups. They lived in freedom from Egypt before being conquered by the Babylonians. Their land was destroyed. Ransacked. The temple brought to ruins. They were oppressed in another land. They were exiled from their destroyed homes, forced to live in a foreign land, under foreign rule.
God felt their longing for freedom and heard their cries. In time, they were allowed to return to their home from Babylon. As they rebuilt the temple, they felt the shadows begin to dissipate, only for new shadows to cover their land. A shadow pulled over the land by the conquering of Alexander the Great. Israel, having had enough, revolted and gained their freedom for a time. But the shadow of oppression fell once again over Israel, with Rome now taking over and subjugating them to Roman rule under Herod. Freedom continued to be elusive as time went on. If they became free again, how long would it even last? Where is the God they called on to relieve them of their captivity? Why is this happening to a people whose faith is in the one true God?
It wasn’t simply external forces causing fear, turmoil, and division among the people of Israel. Differences in what it meant to live a life faithful to the one true God spread across the nation, creating strain, dividing neighbors, and shifting stories and worldviews. Not only did they have the weight of foreign rule and oppression to live under, they also had great divisions around how they lived out their faith. There were questions and disagreements about why God saved them from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Greeks, but was not saving them now. What is God waiting for?
Questions and confusion flooded their minds. What did God expect from them? What was he asking of them? How would God free them from the hands of their oppressors? Did they need to live more righteously? Would that move God to save them? Does everyone need to? Or would a righteous few be enough? Or, did God want them to use the violence that they used to take their freedom back from the Greeks? What did God want of them? There was no clear path forward. No easy answer to save themselves in a world of unending turmoil. This was the world Jesus was born into. Uncertainty. Fear. Upheaval. A world that was far from safe.
Young Mary was brought up in the midst of this swirling confusion. Just a young girl, and already being asked to do something that will change the course of history. When will God act to save his people? Is this it? She believes it is. A swirling mix of emotions as Mary thinks of Joseph. Her mind is made up, but how to tell the one person you will marry that you are pregnant. Who would believe that this child was not his or another’s, but rather, divine?
She contemplates the reactions they will receive in claiming this miracle. There will be excitement from those who know her, love her, and know and love God. But what about the others? What about the ruler Herod? Surely he won’t accept a rival to the status he has claimed. The only option is to leave until it’s safe again. What fear Mary has in what could happen to her family – to her child. Yet she treasures something else within her heart, the anticipation of what her Christ child will bring into the world.
As Jesus grows, she watches him meet people in their distress. A place she had been, just years ago, with Jesus as they were refugees in Egypt, to keep him safe from being murdered. Now, she looks on proudly and lovingly as her child cares for those who proclaim their faith. How beautiful to see her son enter into the broken and hurting areas of people’s lives. The beauty that guides his footsteps towards others. To sit with them, to eat with them, to walk with them, to care for them in their greatest needs. Our Christ doesn’t avoid other’s pain, but rather embraces it, enters into it, and experiences it himself.
Christ came into a world that wasn’t ready for him. It was broken, unwelcoming, oppressed, and war-torn. Its upheaval ripped apart relationships and destroyed lives, shattering everything in its path. Likewise, so many of us live in a fractured, confusing world. A world in which we don’t always feel ready to meet with Christ. And yet, he is there. He is the light in the darkness of the shadow. He is there in our brokenness, in our pain, and also in our joys and celebrations. He is there when everything is burning down around us, and he is there on our most joyous days. His light never leaves us.
There is no place we can go, nothing we can do, where we don’t meet him again on our path. Let us cling to Christ. For his body breaks with ours, when we are crushed. He is the light in the darkness. In our agony and despair, He is with us. He loves us. He weeps with us. May we not run from that pain, but rather embrace Christ resting within it. Jesus didn’t say we would have a life without hurt. But he promised his love and his presence throughout all. A presence that transcends understanding, and meets us where we’re at without expectation. A light that is unfading.
When Jesus was born, the people of God found themselves confused about how to live faithful lives. That swirling confusion troubles our souls as well. They asked what God expected of them, what could be done to save them. What does God ask of us? When the shadows overtake us, light fades, it recedes, and we are covered in darkness. We can no longer find the light.
In Him was life, and that life was the Light of all peoples. And that Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not subdue it. John 1:4-5
When the shadows have come and the world has gone cold, Jesus is with you. He is there. He cares for you. He will never leave you. No matter what you’ve done or how you live your life, he is there and loves you. His light will not flicker, nor his love fade. He remembers His promise of mercy. He will illuminate your darkness with a light that can’t be overtaken by the shadows. There you will find the warmth of God’s tender affection for you. The light of Christ that does not fade.
May the Lord of all light meet you in your seasons of darkness. May His unfading light illuminate the shadowy corners in your soul so that you may experience the warmth of his light, love, and presence ever so sweetly. Let us look to our Christ for the source of life and love as we face a broken and torn world. May you believe that your feelings are true and worthy, and that you find joy in him as you proclaim your faith and look forward to the day of renewal.
These are invitations to deeper engagement and reflection. As far as you find them helpful, may you find time to reflect on them in solitude, quiet, and with the tender gracious presence of God.
- Reflect on a time you met Christ’s light in a dark part or period of your life. Spend time thanking, rejoicing, and praising God.
- Can you identify areas in your life, currently, where it’s difficult to see God’s light shining? What is it like to be with God in that place?
- Acknowledging God is always with you, loves you, and will never leave you, lament with him the areas of life that you feel are crushing you. Allow his light to be present there with you.
- Pray that God would show you a fresh perspective on when you first met him
- For Ministers: What practices and ways of living help you be a light for others when their life falls apart?
This Lectio Divina is “the Word became Flesh” from John 1:1-14 and is read by Paul Prins. It is from the Urban Monastic Translation of John. It is read three times and concludes in 15 minutes.
After the First Reading Meditate.
After the Second Reading Pray.
After the Third Reading Contemplate.
When shadows darken my world,
the light of Christ is with me.
I am not alone,
Jesus sits with me.
Overlay Images: Paul Prins taken 14 & 18 October 2004 in rural Wisconsin, USA
Base Image: Paul Prins taken 24 November 2022 in the Marais of Paris.