“In Advent we are studying God’s strange ways, so very different from our own. God does not come to claim his kingdom with imperial might, overwhelming the opposition; he comes in vulnerability, unobtrusively, changing the world in ways we cannot imagine. The angels spend Advent saying ‘Don’t be afraid’, just as they do to the shepherds. It is not their own terrifying presence they are reassuring us about, but the breathtakingly daring action of God. ‘Do not be afraid’, say the Advent angels. ‘God knows what needs to be done. Come to the manger.'” (Jane Williams)
“The whole history of God’s dealings with his people is involved in this: Moses and Elijah are also driven towards us by the same energy. But Jesus alone stands in the very heart of it, it flows through him and from him. It is the light that comes from him that is reflected on the robes of his companions. They lived hundreds of years before him, yet what makes them radiant, what makes them agents of God, is the light coming from Jesus, so that this icon—like the story it illustrates—confuses our ordinary sense of time. In the Gospels, the transfiguration story is introduced with the apparently innocent words, ‘after six days’ (in Matthew and Mark), or “after about eight days’ (in Luke). From early times, commentators have said that this is an allusion to the days of creation: the transfiguration is the climax of the creative work of God, either the entrance into the joy and repose of the seventh day or the beginning of the new creation, the eighth day, depending on what kind of symbolism you want to use. In Jesus, the world of ordinary prosaic time is not destroyed, but it is broken up and reconnected, it works no longer just in straight lines but in layers and spirals of meaning. We begin to understand how our lives, like those of Moses and Elijah, may have meanings we can’t know of in this present moment: the real depth and significance of what we say or do now won’t appear until more of the light of Christ has been seen. And so what we think is crucially important may not be so; what we think insignificant may be what really changes us for good or evil. Christ’s light alone will make the final pattern coherent, for each one of us as for all human history. And that light shines on the far side of the world’s limits, the dawn of the eighth day. When Jesus is transfigured, it is as if there is a brief glimpse of the end of all things—the world aflame with God’s light.
“In the strength of that glimpse, things become possible. We can confront today’s business with new thoughts and feelings, reflect on our sufferings and our failures with some degree of hope—not with a nice and easy message of consolation but with the knowledge that there is a depth to the world’s reality and out of that comes the light which will somehow connect, around and in Jesus Christ, all the complex, painful, shapeless experience of human beings. The Orthodox hymns for the feast of the Transfiguration make the point often made the Orthodox theologians: Peter, James, and John are allowed to see Christ’s glory so that when they witness his anguish and death they may know that these terrible moments are freely embraced by the God-made-human who is Jesus, and held within the infinite depth of life. It is surely not an accident that it is Peter and James and John who are also with Jesus in Gethsemane: the extreme mental and spiritual agony that appears there is the test of what has been seen in the transfiguration. We are shown that God can be God even in the very heart of human terror: the life of Jesus is still carried along by the tidal wave of that which the dark background of blowing blues and reds in the icon depicts, the life of God.” (Rowan Williams)
December 25, 2001
“Never be afraid of God. All He can do is love.” (St. Therese in vision to Marie-Michel Marcel Van)
Light In Darkness
Depression, grief and unemployment: Having experience these hardships, Rónán Johnston shares how he found light in the midst of darkness and where we may find hope.
How often do things seem to be working out for us, when suddenly, out of the blue, some disaster, large or small, seems to put paid to our hopes and plans?
During my time, there have been a number of these experiences, such as the first time I was unemployed. One week, I was a national TV presenter, and the next I was collecting the dole. People pointed and whispered. In 2004, my mother died after contracting a post-operative hospital infection. Later in the noughties, the international economic downturn wiped us out for a decade.
Each disaster made us ask the questions: “Lord, are you really here? Do you still love us? Do you still have our best interests at heart?” In other words, just like in the Garden of Eden, the enemy has us wondering if God is true to His word.
It is, I fear, the human condition. We live in a “valley of tears” (Psalm 84:6), and yet we resolutely hang on to the idea that life should somehow be simple and straightforward. If we constantly run into opposition, there is surely something wrong with us.
Longing For Wholeness
However, is this viewpoint biblical? From the start, the Scriptures make it clear that life is difficult. We are told the man will labour (Genesis 3:19) and the woman will long for her husband (Genesis 3:16). This continues right through to Revelation when John sees a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). Jesus promises us: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) We get the feeling that things are not quite as they should be in our world.
Each of us have a longing for the wholeness of Eden within us, like a great genetic imprint put into us by God. The motivational writers of the world rightly tell us that it is a sign we are made for more (true) and, in order to attain it, we simply need enough discipline and “want it enough” to follow through (false).
The scriptures, as well as the devotional writers, remind us that we will see Eden again. However, we need to learn that there is darkness in this valley, where we live and move and have our being. One of our principle needs must be to learn how to experience the redemptive light of Jesus in that darkness.
How, then, can we see the light in the darkness? These three principles may help us:
1. Feel it. Allow the grief of the pain. Pretending to ourselves that everything will be okay, while secretly broken-hearted, is not the same thing as “giving thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
2. Dig in to the promises of God. Find them-they are in there. For example: I will never forget you (Isaiah 49:15); I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you (John 14:18); My God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19); Even if we are unfaithful, still he is faithful, because he cannot be untrue to himself (2Tim2:13). Learn them, inhale them and get them deep into you.
3. Hold tight! He is coming, and He will vindicate you. No pain lasts forever, and it will eventually come to an end. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Having come through all things victorious, we develop resilience and build up trust. We press into Him, and we do not hide from Him during the most painful times.
- Rónán Johnston is a psychotherapist, a writer of soundtrack for film, TV and theatre and a worship leader from Dublin, Ireland. Further information about his work can be found at http://www.ronanjohnston.com
“There is no need to be afraid; in five days our Lord will come to us.” (Morning Prayer, 12/21)