Lighting the Candle
I love you, LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies…You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.
Psalm 18:1-3, 28
During Advent and Christmas, in the northern hemisphere, the earth tilts away from the sun. The nights are long and the weather is cold, and we like to light candles, put up bright lights, and throw another log on the fire. The lack of light this time of year can be especially difficult for those suffering from from SAD, or “Seasonal Affective Disorder”. Also known as “winter depression”, or “winter blues”, the most effective treatment for SAD is light therapy.
But there is more to darkness in our lives than the physical darkness of the sun saying good-bye for the winter. There is the spiritual darkness of our brokenness, fear, despair, loneliness, and spiritual oppression. The most effective treatment for this kind of darkness is: light.
In today’s text, the psalmist David again speaks knowingly of God’s power to transform our darkness into light. Bible commentators believe that this psalm comes from late in David’s life as he reflects upon his many struggles and heartache, as well as the victories God has given him. It is significant that in II Samuel 22 there is another form of this psalm, but it is written in David’s youth. This suggests that at different times in his life David reflected and observed the gracious hand of God with him. Through it all, David says that he has experienced God as his rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, and salvation. He can truly say that the Lord had saved him from all his enemies.
Notice that David does not simply praise God for having kept his lamp burning through the darkest nights, but praises God for even turning the darkness into light. Only one such as David, who has known the darkest times, can know the light that God’s presence can truly be. It must have been what the Apostle Paul described as “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). There is simply no human explanation for the peace that God’s people can experience in the hard times. God does not promise this side of heaven to spare us all heartache, but he does promise to always be with us.
A remarkable testimony to God turning the darkness into light is a hymn composed by Athenogenes, on his way to martyrdom. His hymn, Phos Hilaron (“Joyous Light”), is the earliest known Christian hymn still in use in the church today. It is found in a document from the late 3rd century and was known as the “Candle Song”. It was sung by Christians in the morning, evening, before meals, and at candle lighting.
O joyful light, from the pure glory of the eternal heavenly Father,
O holy, blessed, Jesus Christ.
As we come to the setting of the sun and see the evening light,
we give thanks and praise to the Father and to the Son and to the
Holy Spirit of God.
Worthy are you at all times to be sung with holy voices,
O Son of God, O giver of life, and to be glorified through all creation.
MOMENT OF SILENCE AND REFLECTION
We praise you Lord Jesus for being our light in the darkness. We thank you for the faithful men and women who have borne testimony to your light. As we walk through valleys of deep darkness, be our light, and give light to our pathway. Amen.