Light in My Darkness
Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, December 17, 2000
Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:1-7 Light
in the darkness
there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past
he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the
future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea,
along the Jordan.
people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in
the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged
the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people
rejoice at the harvest, as people rejoice when dividing the plunder. For
as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that
burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their
oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled
in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be
on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government
and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over
his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and
righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of
hosts will accomplish this.
John 1:1-14 The light shines in the darkness
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and
that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness did not comprehend it.
came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a
witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all people
might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness
to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming
into the world.
He was in
the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not
recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not
receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his
name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of
natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of
became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of
the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
Apocalypse Explained #151.4 The Lord is the light of the world
passage from John, "The Word" means the human side of the
Lord, since it says, "the Word became flesh, and lived among us,
and we saw his glory."
also clear that the Lord made his human side divine, since it says,
"the Word was with God and the Word was God, . . .
and it became flesh," that is, it became a person. And since all
divine truth comes from the Lord's divine humanity, and this is his
divinity in the heavens, "the Word" also means divine truth.
That is why he is called "the Light that gives light to everyone
coming into the world."
is divine truth; and because people changed from being internal to being
so external and materialistic that they no longer accepted divine truth
or the Lord, it says that "the darkness did not comprehend the
light," and that "the world did not recognize him."
people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in
the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
face it: so far we've been doing a lot of struggling in our Advent
sermons. And in truth, a lot of us in this congregation have been
struggling lately. Yet in all our struggles, there is always a light at
the end of the tunnel. The dark night of the soul does not go on
forever. And the Advent season is all about the light that comes into
put up our Christmas lights so that they will shine in the winter
darkness, those lights are outward expressions of a far brighter and
more beautiful inner light that shines into the darkness of our
souls if we are open to receive it. It is the inner light of the Lord's
brilliant truth shining into the darkness of our confusion and
Keller knew all about the kind of light I am referring to. As she
describes very movingly in her book Light in My Darkness
(originally published as My Religion), her darkness was both
literal and metaphorical--both physical and spiritual. Physically, she
had been blind and deaf from a very early age. She lived in a world of
darkness and silence.
her younger years, she lived in a dark and silent world emotionally and
spiritually, too. The darkness and silence that cut her off from seeing
and hearing the world around her also cut her off from the human world
of conversation, sharing, learning, and growing in mind and spirit. Her
opening words in Light in My Darkness read:
nearly six years I had no concepts whatever of nature or mind or death
or God. I literally thought with my body. Without a single exception,
my memories of that time are tactile.
I was impelled like an animal to seek food and warmth. I remember
crying, but not the grief that caused the tears; I kicked, and because
I recall it physically, I know I was angry . . . .
But there is not one spark of emotion or rational thought in these
distinct yet corporeal memories.
like an unconscious clod of earth. There was nothing in me except the
instinct to eat and drink and sleep. My days were a blank without
past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation, without
interest or joy.
awakening came when her teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through her
darkness and silence to communicate with her through words spelled into
her hand. This opened up the world of human knowledge to her, and her
mind became an insatiable sponge, soaking up all the information and
learning that she could get access to.
awakening to human, material knowledge was not enough for her. She
longed for another awakening to the world that is unseen even to those
with their physical eyes intact. She longed to know about God and
spirit, to experience them in her own soul. She read the Bible,
talked to Christian pastors, and learned many things about the Christian
religion. But so many things in the Bible continued to baffle her, and
the more her thinking matured, the less satisfied she was with the
picture of God she was getting.
came into her spiritual darkness when John Hitz, a dear friend of hers,
introduced her to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Here, at last, she
found a theology and a God that satisfied all of her longings and
questionings. Here, at last, was the great light that she had been
looking for to dispel a darkness of the soul that had come to trouble
her far more than the darkness of her physical eyes.
want to read more of Helen Keller's journey from darkness to light,
please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Light in My
Darkness. You will not find a more moving and inspiring book
us do not have to contend with physical blindness and deafness as Helen
Keller did. However, even those with working eyes and ears can
experience the spiritual darkness and silence that troubled her
so much, until she found a religion and a spiritual path that satisfied
her longings. And even those of us who have found a faith that satisfies
us still have our times of darkness, uncertainty, and spiritual
struggle--as we've discussed for the last two weeks. We all have our
times of darkness when we long for new light and love.
Keller's experience of finding light in her darkness is a perfect
reflection of the very story--the very event--that we are celebrating at
this time of year. As our Christmas lights attest, the Advent season is
a time of the light shining into the darkness. And the great light that
shines into the darkness especially strongly at this time of year is
none other than God with us. It is the God of the universe, the source
of all light and life, being born to us as a human being: as the Lord
Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John
8:12). This is the light that the Isaiah prophesied when he wrote:
people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in
the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
connects this light with the Lord Jesus in words that at first seem
obscure and metaphorical, but grow more and more luminous as we gain a
deeper understanding of what truly happened in Bethlehem two thousand
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were
made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was
life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in
the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. . . .
The Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the
glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
unpack this wonderfully condensed passage with Swedenborg's help.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." In Apocalypse
Explained, Swedenborg gives us two meanings for "the Word"
in this passage. To take his second meaning first, "the Word"
is the divine truth.
the light that shone in Helen Keller's darkness. Her greatest darkness
was not her physical darkness, but her spiritual darkness--her groping
for understanding and answers when the world seemed like a dark and
violent place, and God seemed arbitrary and cruel for creating it so.
And the light that shone in her darkness was the great light of
spiritual truth. In reading Swedenborg's writings, she found that God
is, indeed, a God of pure love and pure wisdom, with nothing evil or
false in him; and yet that God allows evil in the world in order to
preserve human freedom, so that we can choose for ourselves whether we
will follow God or not, and whether we will have a relationship with the
Lord or not.
the light of divine truth shining through Swedenborg's writings and
illuminating all the difficult passages of the Bible and all the
difficult passages of life that gave Helen Keller the light that most
longed for. And isn't this the light that we also long for? When we are
hurt and struggling; when we are lonely and depressed; when we don't
understand why life has dealt us the blows we have experienced, don't we
crave understanding more than any material possessions or
physical capabilities? As we search for answers and gain the
understanding we long for, we experience the beautiful light of divine
truth shining into the darkness of our souls, and illuminating our
is another and more personal side to the "Word" that John
speaks of. He writes, "The Word was with God, and the word was
God," and "The Word became flesh, and lived among us."
This, Swedenborg explains, refers to the human presence of the
Lord. We are not dealing with some abstract, disembodied truth. No, the
Word was not only with God, but the word was God. Divine
truth is just as much a part of God as our thoughts are a part of us.
Divine truth is the thinking, understanding, and wisdom of God.
And far from being a "second Person" of the Godhead, as in
traditional Christian theology, God's mind and Person are one, with
thoughts, feelings, and actions completely unified to accomplish the
Word--which is the divine truth, the divine mind--became flesh and lived
among us. And once again, we can see the parallel in Helen Keller's
life. The truths that lit up her world did not come to her in abstract
and disembodied form. Rather, they were carried to her by the human
presence of people who loved and cared for her. First her teacher, Anne
Sullivan, opened up her mind to the world around her, and to the affairs
of humankind. Then her dear friend John Hitz opened up her spiritual
mind to the greater glories of heaven and hell, the higher meanings in
the Bible and in nature, and the presence of the Lord as pure love, pure
wisdom, and pure compassionate presence with all of his creatures. It
was the human presence of these and other teachers and friends that
opened Helen Keller's mind and heart to the human presence of God.
human presence of God is what we celebrate at Christmas. "The Word
became flesh and lived among us." God was not content to remain an
abstract, invisible presence, directing human affairs from behind the
scenes. God saw the darkness in which we humans here on earth were
walking. God saw our sorrow and pain, our groping for answers when
everything seemed dark and inexplicable. And God loved us with a pure,
compassionate love beyond anything we can ever comprehend.
see someone we love hurt and suffering, what do we do? We go to that
person to give comfort, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, some encouraging
words. Skeptics look at the Christmas story and consider it a fairy tale
of wishful thinking. But it is only wishful thinking if we don't believe
in a God of love. Because if, as the Bible tells us, God is love,
then it would be just as impossible for God not to come to us
personally as it would be for us to stand by and do nothing while our
close friends and family members, our own children, suffer and struggle
loves us. And God will not stand by and allow us to suffer hurt,
pain, and the darkness of the soul without reaching out to us personally
to give us comfort, understanding, and the answers we seek. On that
first Christmas two thousand years ago, God reached out to us in the
ultimate way: by being born among us as a flesh and blood human being.
God "parted the heavens and came down" (Psalm 18:9), to use
the memorable phrase from the Psalm. He did not leave us comfortless but
came to us, showing us personally his love and his truth, so that we
would never need to be without the presence of our Creator and our
the great wonder of Christmas. This is the light that shines in the
darkness, and the darkness has neither comprehended it nor overcome it.
This is the light of which all our Christmas lights are merely a pale
shadow. "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming
into the world." And "to all who receive him, to those who
believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God."
unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government
will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of
his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on
David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal
of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
of the Lord of hosts is the Creator God's great love for us. That love
shines through in the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is
the true light; and we may gain that light in our darkness by coming and
worshipping the child of Bethlehem. Amen.
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